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

Buffalo Sabres AHL prospects
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It’s been almost four months since the first edition of this article and much has changed. The reason for that is: top prospect Jack Quinn was out for almost the entirety of those four months. It didn’t feel right to write something on the Buffalo Sabres AHL prospects if Quinn wasn’t playing. Now, the 20-year-old is back and the reasons to be optimistic about the future Sabres can continue! This time, with their AHL players in the Rochester Americans.

Reasons To Be Optimistic About the Buffalo Sabres AHL Prospects

When talking about the future of the Sabres, a few names might pop up. Owen Power, the first overall pick of the 2021 NHL Draft is probably the first one for any hockey fan. However, if the question “Which players are the future of the Sabres and are not on the team yet?” is asked to a Buffalo fan, Power won’t be the only answer. Three other players will be a certain answer: Jack Quinn, JJ Peterka and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Let’s take a look at what those three are doing with the Americans.

Top Prospects in the AHL

Jack Quinn (RW/LW)

When Quinn was drafted eighth overall in the 2020 Draft, a lot of people threw a fit because Marco Rossi was still available. The two young players were linemates in the Ottawa 67s of the OHL. However, while Quinn had 52 goals and 89 points in 62 games, Rossi had 39 goals and 120 points in 56 games. That’s a considerable difference in fewer games. Rossi was the obvious choice for Buffalo. But when it came down to the real thing, Kevyn Adams announced Quinn’s name with a satisfied look on his face and left Sabres fans in shock. What did he see in Quinn that Rossi didn’t have? Apparently, chemistry with his other prospects.

Proving Himself Worth It

Quinn’s road to the NHL has not been an easy one. Last season, he got a season-ending injury after only 15 games in the AHL. In those 15 games, his performance wasn’t that impressive and didn’t help to cheer fans up. He had two goals and nine points and things were not working. But, when it came down to the current season, Quin felt like he had unfinished business in the AHL. It sure helped that his linemate-to-be JJ Peterka was about to begin his first season in Rochester. From then on, they have been explosive.

Throughout the 26 games Quinn played so far this season, he has 19 goals and 38 points. The reason why he has fewer games than his teammates who will be mentioned here is that in December he got mononucleosis and missed an entire month of play. Then, after playing his first two NHL games – and scoring his first goal – he got another injury and had to stay out for another month and a half. The kid can’t catch a break. But, the good news is: Quinn came back and already has three points in two games. The only obstacle keeping him from the NHL is finding a way to stay healthy – and surely he’ll try as hard as he can.

JJ Peterka (W/C)

Peterka quickly became a fan favourite after making his debut for the Americans this season. The 34th overall pick in the 2020 draft played for two teams last season, the EHC Münhen of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, and the EC Salzburg of the ICE Hockey League. After accumulating 36 points in 42 games for both teams, he finally came to North America to start his path to the NHL. And so far, he hasn’t disappointed.

Playing the majority of the time in the top-six for Rochester, Peterka has13 goals and 46 points in 47 games this season. The 20-year-old winger has proven himself to be a very skilled playmaker who can do it all. On a team like the Sabres, which has an absurd amount of centres (and keeps finding out their wingers can also play centre), a skilled winger is more than welcomed.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (G)

The first thing to say about Luukkonen is that his AHL stats don’t tell the full story nor can be used to tell his NHL success. Mainly because he played in the NHL and looked great. That said, his record and stats will be noted here for the sole purpose of comparison.

Luukkonen is a long-awaited promise for the Sabres. The 22-year-old was selected 54th overall in the 2017 draft and fans have been dying to see him in the NHL. That, of course, is due to the disastrous goaltending they’ve had for the past three seasons. The biggest problem with Luukkonen, however, is that he can’t stay healthy. Whenever he played in the NHL, he got an almost instant injury that kept him away.

With that said, this season he has a 2.74 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and a 2-5-2 record in nine games in the NHL. Compared to his 3.36 GAA and .894 SV% in 20 games with Rochester, it’s easy to say he performs better in the bigger league. Of course, it’s hard to determine whether he’ll be good long-term in Buffalo with the small sample of 12 games played. However, even though Luukkonen has less-than-ideal stats in the AHL, he’s proving himself to be a reliable goaltender whenever the Sabres needed him – even if his record of 3-8-2 doesn’t tell the full story.

Updates On Other Prospects In North America

In the first part of this article, Devon Levi, Erik Portillo and Owen Power were the highlights. The three stars among NCAA Sabres prospects have done a lot since November and it’s surely something worth revisiting.

Devon Levi (G)

Back in November, Devon Levi had an 8-3-0 record with a 1.55 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage in his first year with Northeastern University. Three and a half months later, he has 10 shutouts, a 20-8-1 record and the Hockey East regular-season title after being in Beijing a month ago with Team Canada. In 29 games with the Northeastern Huskies, Levi has a 1.45 GAA and .953 save percentage and is one of the favourites for the Hobey Baker award. It’s safe to say he’s having a blast and enjoying himself while he doesn’t sign his NHL contract.

Levi will jump straight to the Hockey East semifinals on March 12, having won the regular-season title. The Huskies will face the lowest-seeded team, which will be announced after the quarterfinals games on March 9.

Erik Portillo (G)

Portillo and the Michigan Wolverines are off to the Big Ten’s conference semifinals after eliminating Michigan State this past weekend. He finished off his regular season with a 2.06 GAA, .929 SV% and a 27-9-1 record. The funny stat for him? Portillo posted a 23 save performance, getting a shutout, and had two assists on Saturday game against Michigan State. It was his first multi-point game in the NCAA. Portillo actually has four points this season with Michigan. Talk about a player who can do it all!

Owen Power (D)

Power was one of the four Michigan Wolverines to go to the Olympics in February. He had one assist and skated a team-high 21:38 of ice time during the five games in China before Canada was eliminated. Now, Power will try to help Michigan conquer the long-awaited National Championship – and he’s not too worried about his NHL contract just yet.

“That’s definitely not what I’m worried about right now,” Power said during a conference call last week. “I’m worried about my season here and winning a national championship. I think I’m ready (for the NHL) and good to go, but like I said, not what I’m worried about right now.”

The Sabres are surely watching him closely and anxiously waiting to hand him a pen and a dotted line for him to sign his name as soon as Michigan is done.

For those who might be interested, next Saturday, both Power and Portillo will have to face the team that swept the Wolverines just two weeks ago: Notre Dame.  This game will seal another week in the NCAA or maybe a very soon professional debut for one  (or both) of them. Time will tell!

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