Reasons To Be Optimistic About The Future Buffalo Sabres: NCAA Edition

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The Buffalo Sabres are in the midst of another losing streak. It’s not time to panic, of course, but it is concerning to see players like Dylan Cozens and Rasmus Dahlin having difficult starts. However, one thing that is clear about the Sabres — but not a lot of people remember — is that this season is not about making the playoffs or not. It is about adapting to the new head coach Don Granato and his system, learning how to play as a group and developing the Buffalo Sabres prospects.

Nevertheless, there’s been a small setback on that plan: the injuries. With Victor Olofsson, Casey Mittelstadt and Henri Jokiharju hurt, the adaptation year is not going as well as it could for them. But that doesn’t mean the future isn’t bright. In this series, we’ll take a look at Buffalo Sabres prospects that are doing great in their respective levels just to have a little bit of hope about what is coming next.

Reasons To Be Optimistic About the Buffalo Sabres Prospects

The thing about the Sabres is that their fans are tired. There have been some long years where the team gives them hope and then things start to go bad again. It’s understandable and valid. Not everyone has the heart to keep being disappointed over and over again. But one thing that people tend not to see is that changes are being made. The rebuild is trending toward a really good result. Even though they don’t have Jack Eichel or Sam Reinhart anymore, they’re building something worth waiting for.

It’s okay to look at this title and think “Are there any?” because right now, it doesn’t feel like it. The team hasn’t been in the playoffs for almost 11 years, they’re in a losing streak — again — and injuries are happening. The 2021-22 Sabres are not in a good position. However, it’s not the time to panic yet. It’s been 11 games in an 82 games season and a lot of their most important players are hurt. But that’s not the topic to be discussed here.

Key to Happiness: Focus On What Comes Next

Nothing major will happen this season, they’re not making the playoffs and definitely not winning the Stanley Cup. Nevertheless, what should be looked at in the current situation is in the future. That’s where things will start to get brighter. The Sabres have a pretty decent prospect pool and something that gives them a lot of power (and no, this is not a pun): cap space. Cap flexibility is probably one of the most important things in a rebuilding team and it puts the Sabres in a good position to sign veteran players to help their young core grow, develop and become great veterans.

Now, their general manager has made some mistakes in the past, that’s pretty obvious. Signing Taylor Hall and Eric Staal last season were two of them. The plan was to bring good players to help Eichel and no one saw a backfire coming. However, it happened and now Buffalo is ready to rebuild – again. It’s not easy to do it so many times and fail but it is the best decision management can make now. And it’s already looking promising when you stop looking at their NHL team and pay attention to what their prospects are doing.

Top Prospects in the NCAA

Owen Power (D)

When talking about the NCAA, Owen Power is obviously the first one of the Buffalo Sabres prospects you look at. If last season was good to give him the spotlight, this season has been phenomenal to make him keep it. He’s a 6-foot-6-inch defenceman who can do everything and that’s not very common for guys his size. His ability to skate is impressive, his defensive game is solid and his vision is unique.

All of the above made him a valuable player for the University of Michigan last season and Buffalo knew all that when they drafted him. Now, this season has proven that the guy can produce offence and succeed. He has two goals and 15 points in 11 games so far and is focused on working on offence even more as the season develops. Power alone is a huge reason to be optimistic for the future but let’s not stop there.

Erik Portillo (G)

The Sabres currently have two goaltenders in the NCAA and both of them are having amazing seasons. The first one is Erik Portillo, drafted in 2019 with the 67th pick overall. He got the starting job this year in Michigan, being teammates with Power for the second straight season. So far, he has proven to be worth the job title.

Portillo played all 11 games for the Wolverines recording a 9-2-0 record, 2.09 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage to start the season. The 21-year-old also had his first NCAA career shutout on October 28 against the Wisconsin Badgers. He plays a really aggressive game, coming out of his net to challenge players all the time. Portillo is also a very reliable goalie and his teammates know they can trust him to help them pile up wins.

Devon Levi (G)

The other goalie prospect in the NCAA is Devon Levi, acquired in the Sam Reinhart trade. Fans were not happy when the return for their beloved player was just a pick and a prospect but it might end up being better than they think.

Levi was Canada’s sweetheart during the 2021 World Juniors when he helped Team Canada get to the gold medal game with an undefeated record. Unfortunately, they ended up losing the game to Team USA and took the silver medal home. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the 20-year-old was nearly perfect, with a 6-1-0 record, three shutouts, a 0.75 goals-against average and a .964 save percentage.

The success he got with Team Canada wasn’t just momentary. After losing the entire NCAA season due to an injury that required surgery, Levi is shining with Northeastern University. So far, the young goalie has an 8-3-0 record with a 1.55 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage. He’s a collected, calm goaltender who reads the game in front of him with expertise and can steal games when needed. If his success translates to the pro level, Buffalo has a promising goaltender that can help the franchise for years to come.

Honourable mentions

Matteo Costantini (C)

Not a lot of people believed that the Sabres had a good 2020 draft but oh, how the tables turn. Jack Quinn is popping off in the AHL (and he’ll get his time to shine in the second part of this series) but their only NCAA player from last year’s class is Matteo Costantini. The fifth-round pick has been amazing for the University of North Dakota, scoring three goals and seven points in 10 games so far this season. He needs to add a little bit of weight but overall, he’s been good for North Dakota.

Ryan Johnson (D)

Buffalo had two first-round picks in 2019, number seven and 31st overall. The first one was used to pick Dylan Cozens, the second was Ryan Johnson. However, while Cozens is playing in his second NHL season, Johnson is playing his third season with the University of Minnesota. The 20-year-old defenceman has one goal and seven points in 10 games with the Gophers. However, he has been a little inconsistent and needs to be more aware of his surroundings.

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