Welcome to the 2021 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2021 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2021 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed. Today, we look at the 2021 Buffalo Sabres Prospects.
What we will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2021-22 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
2021 Buffalo Sabres Prospects
Have the Buffalo Sabres finally hit rock bottom? After a disastrous season, the team has started a full-scale rebuild. Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen have been traded, and Jack Eichel will be next, it’s just a matter of time. The team also lost starting goalie Linus Ullmark, and backup Carter Hutton in free agency and replaced them with Craig Anderson and Aaron Dell. Everything seems to be lining up for another rough season in Buffalo, but at least there is some hope on the horizon.
2021 Draft Picks: Owen Power, Isak Rosen, Prokhor Poltapov, Alexander Kisakov, Stiven Sardarian, Josh Bloom, Olivier Nadeau, Viljami Marjala, William Von Barnekow Lofberg, Nikita Novikov, Tyson Kozak
2021 Graduations: Rasmus Asplund, Will Borgen (Seattle Expansion),
2021 Top Buffalo Sabres Prospect: Owen Power
The Sabres drafted Power with the 1st overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Power. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Dylan Cozens
Center/Right Wing — shoots Right
Born February 9th, 2001 — Whitehorse, Yukon
Height 6’3″ — Weight 187 lbs [191 cm/85 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1st round #7 Overall at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft
With the WHL season delayed, Cozens did not play at all before joining Canada’s World Junior camp. He played a key role on the team though with eight goals and 16 points in seven games as Canada won the silver medal. He was named to the tournament all-star team. Cozens joined the Sabres for the NHL shortened year and looked good for a 19-year-old with limited ice time. He scored four goals and 13 points in 41 games.
Cozens is a very good skater, especially given his size. His first step is well above average and his acceleration is very good. He also has very good top-end speed. He is able to keep up with the play and this allows him to play a 200-foot game. Cozens’ agility and edgework are outstanding. He is able to make quick cuts and change directions quickly. This makes him especially difficult to defend off the rush. Cozens balance and power are good at the junior level but lack something in the NHL. It will only get better as he continues to add muscle to his frame though. This will allow him to be effective in controlling the puck down low.
Cozens is a pure goal scorer. He has an excellent wrist shot and a quick release as well as the soft hands to finish in close. Cozens also has a good snapshot and slap shot. He is not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice, establishing his position at the top of the slot, where he can fire in one-timers or provide the “high-screen” that many teams are using to great effect in recent years. With the puck on his stick, he is not afraid to take it to the front of the net.
Dylan Cozens also sees the ice very well. He controls the puck in the cycle game before dishing to an open teammate. His hockey IQ is excellent, as he anticipates where his teammates are headed and is able to set them up for good scoring chances. He can control the puck and has the patience to slow down the play and the instinct to speed it up in order to create openings depending on the situation. His vision and skill allow him to quarterback the power play on the half boards. Without the puck, Cozens finds soft spots in the defence and gets himself open to make a play. He is also effective at battling for loose pucks in the corners and along the boards.
Cozens will need to add muscle to what is currently a lanky frame. This will help him to be more physical on the forecheck, as well as to better support his defence down low. Cozens is willing to play a physical game and not afraid to throw his weight around in all three zones. He works hard in his own end, and he tends to be in the right position and make the right reads. His positioning and smarts are outstanding though. He is already a very smart defensive player and a good penalty killer at the junior level. The NHL game seemed a bit quick for him at times, but this improved as the season progressed. Once he gets there, he should be a good defensive player. Once a turnover is created, he can transition the puck up the ice quickly.
The Sabres are retooling and this should lead to a spot up front for Cozens again. With players like Eichel and Reinhart gone, it could be good for the Sabres to let Cozens take a second or third-line centre role, and develop on the job at the NHL level. There will be growing pains, but it will be worth it in the long run.
#3 Prospect Jack Quinn
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born September 19th, 2001 — Cobden, Ontario
Height 6’0″ — Weight 176 lbs [183 cm/80 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1st round, #8 overall, at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
With the OHL Season also delayed, Jack Quinn went to the Canadian World Junior Camp before playing a single game this season. He made the team and scored a goal and five points in the tournament. Overall though it was a bit of a disappointment as Quinn saw fewer minutes of ice time as the tournament went along. He then joined Rochester in the AHL. Quinn impressed in his AHL time with two goals and seven assists for nine points in 15 games.
Quinn’s skating drastically improved between his first and second OHL season and that continued this year. He is much faster and has better acceleration and this has made him far more dangerous. They now rate as good to very good. His edgework and agility have also improved. Combining these skills, Quinn is able to make quick moves on the defence, and once he gets by them he can accelerate to the net. He is also stronger on his skates, with better balance, and the ability to fight through checks and get to the front of the net. This also helps him to win battles on the boards. This is an aspect of his game that should continue to improve as he matures and becomes stronger in his lower body.
Quinn is a sniper who can score in a variety of ways. He has an excellent wrist shot and a quick release. He often uses his quick hands to pull off a toe-drag just before shooting, varying his release point and creating issues for goalies. Quinn can also score with a snapshot, one-timer, and even on the backhand. He is also good in close to the net, with the quick hands to pounce on a rebound, bang in a pass from a teammate, and tip in a shot. Quinn has the smarts to find the open spaces in the defence and get open for that pass from a teammate.
While mainly a goal-scorer, Quinn has become a more complete player over the last two years. He has become a better playmaker, showing off his vision and passing skills. He has also worked to become better on the boards, winning battles and creating more scoring opportunities. With his improved stickhandling and skating ability, Quinn has become much better at maintaining possession and working the puck in the cycle game. He shows high-end hockey IQ as he often makes the smart pass with the puck on his stick. Once he moves the puck, he finds open space for a give-and-go.
Quinn is a hard worker who brings that effort and energy to all three zones. While he is not going to throw huge hits, he is willing to engage physically and battles for loose pucks. He effectively brings back pressure to support the defence against the transition game. Quinn has an active stick and works well at cutting down passing and shooting lanes. He is not afraid to put his body on the line to block a shot. His smart positioning has made him an effective penalty killer. He also brings the threat of offence. Once a turnover is created he is quick to get out in transition to create a scoring chance.
Quinn can still improve in a few key areas, including adding muscle to his frame. He should start the season in Rochester but if he continues to put up numbers, could find himself in Buffalo by the middle of the year. Even if he spends the entire year in Rochester, that’s not a bad sign as he is young and needs ice time to continue to develop.
#4 Prospect: Isak Rosen
The Sabres drafted Rosen with the 14th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Rosen. As no significant games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect: John-Jason Peterka
Right Wing/Centre — shoots Left
Born January 14th, 2002 — Muenchen, Germany
Height 5’11” — Weight 192 lbs [180 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2nd round, #34 overall at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft
Peterka spent another season with EHC Munchen in the top German league, scoring nine goals and 20 points in 30 games. He also playedd for Germany at the World Juniors, scoring four goals and 10 points in five games. Peterka even played at the Men’s World Championships, scoring one goal in six games.
Peterka has a very wide stance, but it does not seem to take away from his skating, in fact in some ways it helps. His low centre of gravity allows Peterka to fight through checks and maintain his balance. He is strong on his skates and tough to knock off the puck. However, Peterka will need to improve his upper-body strength in order to take full advantage of this and win battles along the boards and in front of the net. Peterka does not seem to lose any speed due to that wide stride. He has a very quick first step and excellent acceleration. His ability to change speeds can be a weapon that he can use to get past defenders on the rush. He also has very good edgework and agility. This allows Peterka to avoid defenders, both with as well as without the puck.
Peterka marries his strong skating with excellent hands. He can make plays while moving at top speed. This makes him especially dangerous off the rush. He also controls the puck well down low on the cycle game. Peterka is a sniper. He has an outstanding wrist shot and snapshot, both featuring high-end power and accuracy. Peterka also has quick hands and the ability to disguise his release. When defenders back off to protect against his speed, he has the smarts to use them as a screen and fire the puck on the net. Peterka’s quick hands are also useful in tight to the goal as he can score with a deke or a deflection.
Peterka also has the ability to play the role of a playmaker. His ability to control the puck allows him to speed up or slow down the play to create passing lanes. He keeps his head up and sees the play extremely well, finding openings that others do not always see. Peterka is exceptionally smart. He makes the smart play with the puck and gets open without it. He loves to work the give-and-go type play to create space and generate a scoring chance for himself or a teammate.
Peterka’s defensive game is a bit of a work in progress. Playing in a men’s league he seems to shy away from engaging physically from time-to-time. It is hoped that as he adds more muscle to his upper body, and matures physically, this part of his game will round out. He is also inconsistent in his positioning. There are times he does a good job of watching his man and cutting down passing lanes, but there are others where he chases the puck and becomes a bit undisciplined. This is an area he will need some extra coaching.
Peterka is likely to spend another year in Germany. Expect to see him come to the AHL in 2022, and then move up to the NHL relatively quickly. While he has played some centre, his future seems to be on the wing. He is another high-end prospect in this Sabres group.
#6 Prospect: Ryan Johnson
Defence — shoots Left
Born July 24th, 2001 — Irvine, California
Height 6’0″ — Weight 173 lbs [183 cm / 78 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1st Round, #31 Overall, in the 2019 NHL Draft
Johnson had a solid sophomore season with the University of Minnesota, moving into a top-four role and putting up two goals and 12 assists for 14 points in 27 games. He also played for Team USA at the World Juniors, putting up a goal and four points and helping the team to the Gold Medal.
Johnson is an outstanding skater. His first few steps and acceleration are close to an elite level of this draft class. He moves well in both directions, with a silky-smooth stride that looks like he is gliding above the ice. The overall top-end speed could improve a bit but is still very good. From here Johnson adds in excellent footwork, strong agility, edgework, and pivots. This gives Johnson the ability to transition quickly from offence to defence or vice-versa. Johnson is able to pinch in the offensive zone and still get back defensively to break up plays in his own end. He is a bit undersized and needs to add muscle to his frame. This will help Johnson to fight through checks and help him in battles along the boards or in front of the net.
Johnson’s game is based on his skating ability and smarts. He can carry the puck out of dangerous areas in his own end, avoiding forecheckers and starting the rush. He is also very good at generating clean zone entries with his smarts and quick feet. His skating and stickhandling skills allow Johnson to generate offence off the rush.
Johnson’s offensive skills are inconsistent. There are times when he can make every pass, whether it’s the long home-run style pass to a breaking forward or setting things up on the power play. However, there are other games when he can’t seem to complete a pass for long periods of time. His slap shot also needs work, as it lacks power at this point. Johnson is more confident sneaking down from the point and letting off a wrist shot. He has good hands and a good release on his wrist shot.
Johnson is a very smart player and this helps him to play strong defence. He keeps himself between his man and the net, forcing opponents to the outside and into less dangerous areas of the ice. Johnson has a very quick stick. He is very good at poke-checking or stealing the puck away from an opponent. His positioning is very well-developed for his age as Johnson takes away passing lanes. Johnson takes good angles on his opponents, effectively taking away their time and space. Johnson is not known as a physical player, but improved this aspect of his game this season. He still needs to put more muscle on his frame and there is some hope he will continue to be more gritty with time.
Johnson heads back to the University of Minnesota for his Junior season. Another year of the NCAA schedule and time to continue to add weight to his frame will do him good. He could be signed and even play a few NHL games once his college season is done.
#7 Prospect: Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
Goalie — Shoots Left — Catches Left
Born March 9th, 1999 — Espoo, Finland
Height 6’4″ — Weight 198 lbs [194 cm/90 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2nd round, #54 Overall, in the 2017 NHL Draft
Luukkonen started the year in Finland, playing for TPS in the SM Liiga, while North American leagues made their plans for shortened seasons. In 13 games he had a 2.52 goals-against-average and .908 save percentage. He also spent time in the AHL, putting up a 3.60 goals-against-average and .888 save percentage across 14 games. When injuries hit the Sabres, he saw his first NHL action, putting up a 3.88 goals-against-average and .906 save percentage.
Skating and Talent Analysis
At 6-foot-4, Luukkonen has the ideal size that NHL teams are currently looking for. He also gets out well, cutting down angles and taking up a lot of the net. Luukkonen has strong legs, giving him an excellent push off the post. He gets side-to-side extremely quick. Luukkonen keeps his shoulders square to the puck when moving across the crease, and when tracking rebounds.
He is very good down low, with very quick legs. Luukkonen is a butterfly goalie who gets in-and-out of his stance extremely quickly. With his size, he still has his shoulders above the crossbar, even when playing in the butterfly. Luukkonen is also very athletic, which helps him to make highlight-reel saves on those rare occasions that he finds himself out of position. He has a decent glove and blocker to take away the top of the net. They have improved over the last couple of years but can still be even quicker. They aren’t bad, in fact, they are very good but they aren’t at the elite level his legs are currently at.
Luukkonen is part of the modern group of goalies who have very good puck handling ability. He can make the first pass to a defenceman, moving the puck out of danger and getting the transition game started. He also has the ability to make a long breakaway pass, catching the opponents out of position if they are in the midst of a bad change.
Luukkonen can still refine some areas of his game. Like many young goalies, he has not yet mastered rebound control. He can work on swallowing up more shots, as well as directing pucks to the corners. His puck tracking seems a step behind at the pro level as well.
Luukkonen has performed well in high-pressure situations, like the Under-18s, and World Juniors with elimination and/or medals on the line. He does not get flustered in the net and recovers quickly after letting in a bad goal. Luukkonen is calm and composed in the midst of traffic. He keeps the focus on his puck-tracking, not getting distracted by what is happening around him.
While the Sabres have said that Luukonen is in the goaltending competition at the NHL level, he simply needs more time. Don’t be surprised if it takes him 2-3 years before he’s ready for the starting job with the big club. The Sabres should leave him in Rochester so he can play a starter’s workload this year.
#8 Prospect: Mattias Samuelsson
Defence — shoots Left
Born March 14th, 2000 — Voorhees, New Jersey
Height 6’4″ — Weight 217 lbs [193 cm / 98 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2nd round, #32 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
Samuelsson had a solid first professional season after finishing up his college career at Western Michigan in 2020. He scored three goals and 13 points in 23 games with Rochester. He also played for his first NHL games. In 12 games with the Sabres, he had two assists.
Samuelsson has good balance and can use his size to outmuscle opponents. He is a good skater for his size, with decent speed in both directions. His acceleration has really improved and this has really seen his game take another step. It still could use some work, but it takes him fewer strides to reach that top speed now. This helps in races for loose pucks. His agility and footwork are decent. While they can use some improvements, he changes directions quickly enough in most situations, and his pivots allow him to quickly transition from offence to defence and vice-versa.
Samuelsson likes to join the rush as a trailer, looking to add extra offence. However, he is not going to lead the rush very often. Playing at the point, he has a good slap shot, but it is not a cannon either. Samuelsson has a knack of getting it on the net, even with traffic and facing pressure at the point. He also has a very good wrist shot, and quick release. Samuelsson loves to sneak in from the point and get off that wrist shot from inside the circles. His snapshot is also powerful and accurate.
Samuelsson is a good passer, especially in starting the transition game. He has good vision and the hockey IQ to make the smart play. At the blue line, he is not much of a quarterback. He makes the safe pass but is not one to make a lot of creative plays or set up teammates from the point.
Samuelsson is a big defenceman, who plays a physical game in his own end of the rink. He throws big hits if an attacker comes down his side of the ice, and also battles hard in the corners and in front of the net. Samuelsson sometimes gets into penalty trouble by being a bit too aggressive though. If he learns to walk the line between being strong physically and taking penalties, he will be an absolute force. He uses a long, and active stick to cut down passing lanes and is not afraid to block shots. Samuelsson is a strong penalty killer. His hockey IQ and anticipation are strong.
Samuelsson could push for minutes at the NHL level this year, with the Sabres making a number of changes on their blue line. As a young defender, it would not hurt him to spend some time in Rochester and play big minutes at the AHL level either. He should be involved in a battle at the position.
#9 Prospect: Prokhor Poltapov
The Sabres drafted Poltapov with the 33rd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Poltapov. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#10 Prospect: Alexander Kisakov
The Sabres drafted Kisakov with the 53rd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Kisakov. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Sleeper Prospect: Arttu Ruotsalainen
Centre — shoots Left
Born October 29th, 1997 — Oulu, Finland
Height 5’9″ — Weight 185 lbs [175 cm/84 kg]
Signed as a Free Agent in May 2019
Ruotsalanien was absolutely tearing up the SM Liiga to start the year. In 19 games he scored 16 goals and 27 points. He then came to North America and immediately showed that his game could translate to the smaller ice. In 13 games with Rochester, he scored five goals and 13 points. Ruotsalanien also got time with the Sabres, putting up five goals and an assist in 17 games.
Ruotsalanien’s skating has made major leaps forward in the last two years and the rest of his game has followed. He was always a good skater but given his lack of size, wasn’t the dynamic skater that most successful smaller forwards are. Ruotsalanien improved his knee bend and put more power into his stride leading to a big increase in speed and acceleration. He also added better edgework and agility.
Ruotsalanien has a very good wrist shot and will look to shoot from anywhere on the ice. He works hard to find open space near the net and can convert a pass from a teammate with a quick one timer. He is also good at deflections and pouncing on rebounds in front of the net. Ruotsalanien can also play the role of playmaker. He sees the ice extremely well and can move the puck through tight passing lanes.
Some of his creativity is stiffled by the fact that Ruotsalanien does not have a lot of patience with the puck on his stick. He doesn’t slow the play down or control it at all, just moving it quickly with a shot or pass.
Ruotsalanien is willing to play gritty despite his size. He battles hard on the boards and gets to the front of the net. He’s stronger than many realize.
Despite his lack of size, Ruotsalanien is willing to play his physical game in all three zones. He is not afraid to back check and work to support the defence down low. The size can become a liability against stronger opponents, but Ruotsalanien uses good leverage and a quick stick and is not beaten that often. He reads the play well and can create turnovers. Once the turnovers are created, he can move the puck up the ice quickly and start the transition game.
The Sabres would love to see Ruotsalanien take one of their open forward spots in training camp. He’s spent plenty fo time playing in the top Finnish league and its not clear what he would need to work on with more AHL time. Due to his lack of size Ruotsalanien’s future may be on the wing, but he has the skills necessary to play in the NHL.
Other Buffalo Sabres Prospects To Watch
The Sabres have some depth in goal with 2019 Draftee Erik Portillo, and recent trade acquisition Devin Levi now in the system. They may not be ready yet, but with goaltending prospects being so volatile a strategy which utilizes a number of prospects is a good one.
On Defence, Jacob Bryson saw significant NHL time this past season but fell just outside of the top 10, which just shows the strength of the group. Oskari Laaksonen also remains in the system.
Up front, the Sabres hope that players like Matej Pekar, Linus Weissbach, Aaron Huglen, and Filip Cederqvist to fill their depth in future years.
2021 Buffalo Sabres Prospects Main Photo:
RIGA, LATVIA – JUNE 05: Owen Power #25 of Canada in action during the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Semi-Final game between USA and Canada at Arena Riga on June 5, 2021, in Riga, Latvia. Canada defeated the United States 4-2. (Photo by EyesWideOpen/Getty Images)