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 2018-19 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.
TSP: Buffalo Sabres Prospects
The Buffalo Sabres had another disastrous season. For the third time in the last five years, the Sabres finished dead last in the NHL. There was a silver lining at the end of this season though. The Sabres finally won the NHL Draft Lottery and picked first overall for the third time in franchise history. That reward took the form of Rasmus Dahlin, a generational defenceman who fills the biggest hole on the Sabres roster. With his addition, things have started looking up for this roster.
The Sabres off-season also included the trade of Ryan O’Reilly, bringing a top prospect to the team as well as the St. Louis Blues 2019 first round pick. The Sabres also own their own pick and the San Jose Sharks first rounder (from the Evander Kane trade). The Sabres have gone through tough times but are poised to come out of that cycle.
Top Prospect: Rasmus Dahlin
The Sabres drafted Dahlin with the 1st overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Dahlin. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Casey Mittelstadt
Centre — shoots Left
Born November 22nd, 1998 — Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Height 6’1″ — Weight 201 lbs [185 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1st round, #8 overall at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft
Mittelstadt had an outstanding post-draft-season. He put up 30 points in 34 games for the University of Minnesota. Unfortunately, the Golden Gophers fell just short of qualifying for the National Championship tournament. It was his results in other areas that really stand out though. Mittlestadt had four goals and seven assists for 11 points in seven games at the World Juniors, helping the US team to the bronze medal and winning the tournament MVP. Following his college season, he signed with the Sabres, scoring a goal and four assists for five points in his first six NHL games.
Mittelstadt is an outstanding skater. He has excellent top-end speed, as well as the quick first step, and strong acceleration to take advantage of it. This strong skating allows Mittelstadt to get to loose pucks, create odd-man rushes and to play a strong two-way game. He has excellent agility and edgework, along with the ability to make cuts on a dime. His ability to quickly change speeds is another weapon that he uses to beat defenders. Mittelstadt has decent balance on his feet. He could stand to add strength to his lower body, which would allow him to win board battles and to fight through checks at higher levels.
Mittelstadt has excellent puck handling ability. He can beat defensemen one-on-one with a number of moves and has the soft hands to stick handle in a phone booth. He combines this with his skating ability to really create chances both on the rush or working down low. Mittelstadt is an excellent playmaker who creates passing lanes with his quick puck movement, stops and starts, and deceptive moves. He only needs a small opening and can make difficult passes through tight spaces, or the tough saucer pass. Add to this excellent hockey sense, and the intelligence to make smart plays with the puck, and Mittelstadt makes his linemates better.
He can also be a goal scorer. Mittelstadt has a varied arsenal of shots. His wrist and snapshots both feature good power, accuracy, and a lightning quick release. He can score from further out with a good slapshot. Mittelstadt also has the soft hands to finish plays in close to the net, including rebounds and deflections.
Mittelstadt’s defensive game has been good. He shows a strong work ethic and a commitment to backchecking and being involved in supporting the defence down low. He has also shown a willingness to block shots, though could improve his timing and technique. Mittlestadt will also need to get physically stronger in order to help defend against the cycle game and support the defence. He does have good positioning and anticipation and can use his stick to create turnovers and start the transition game.
Mittelstadt is a high-end prospect and should start next season as the Sabres second line centre. He will create a great one-two punch with Jack Eichel. Between Dahlin and Mittelstadt, the Sabres have two early contenders for the Calder Trophy.
#3 Prospect: Brendan Guhle
Defence — shoots Left
Born July 29th, 1997 — Edmonton, Alberta
Height 6’2″ — Weight 189 lbs [188 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2nd round, #51 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Guhle spent most of his first full professional season with the Rochester Americans in the AHL. He put up solid numbers with eight goals and 18 assists for 26 points in 50 games. Guhle would earn a call-up to the Sabres where he put up five assists in 18 games. The 21-year-old has set himself up to fight for a job in Sabres training camp
Guhle is a very strong skater. He has excellent speed and acceleration in both directions. This allows him to pinch down low, or to join the rush, and still be able to get back defensively. He also has very good pivots and edge work. Guhle maintains good gap control and is tough to beat to the outside. He has added lower body strength in the past couple of years, giving him more balance and power. This has helped him to win more battles on the boards and be stronger in front of the net. However, he will likely need to continue this improvement as he moves up to the NHL and faces even stronger opponents.
Guhle is a strong puck-moving defenceman. His strong skating is combined with good puck handling skills making him someone who can lead the rush. He is also willing to join as a trailer. Guhle has a good array of shooting skills that make him dangerous in this position, or at the point on the power play. He has a very hard slap shot and an excellent one-timer. He also utilizes a good wrist shot and snapshot, both of which feature a quick release. His ability to vary his shots, where he shoots from; and a willingness to go to both sides of the net and high or low all make him difficult to defend. He uses his agility to open up passing and shooting lanes. Guhle can control the play and quarterback things from the point.
Guhle improved his defensive consistency over his time in junior and this benefitted him in the AHL. However, there is still some work to do. He skates the puck out of the forecheck and makes a good first pass in order to start the transition game. Guhle also has solid positioning and funnels attackers to the outside off the rush. He can throw a big hit from time to time. However, he does not go chasing those hits and get himself out of position. He can sometimes make a silly giveaway, though he has reduced that tendency. He can get even better though. Correcting those issues with coaching and maturity will go a long way. Added strength will further help him clear the front of the net against pro players.
Guhle should get a good look at camp and is expected to make the Sabres this season. The team needs more puck moving ability and he can add that to the bottom pair. It will take some time but Guhle could become a top-four defender if he continues on his current path.
#4 Prospect: Alexander Nylander
Left Wing — shoots Right
Born March 2nd, 1998 — Sodertalje, Sweden
Height 6’1″ — Weight 179 lbs [185 cm / 81 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1st round, #8 overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft
Nylander had another underwhelming AHL season, but it is important to note that he was still junior eligible and was one of the youngest players in the league. He is still just 20-years-old. Nylander put up eight goals and 19 assists for 27 points in 51 AHL games. He also scored seven points in seven games helping Sweden to a silver medal at the World Juniors. The Sabres had Nylander up for three NHL games and he scored one goal, his first in the NHL.
Alexander Nylander is a tremendous skater. He has top-notch speed and great acceleration, as he is able to reach that top gear in just a few strides. Nylander has the ability to fool defenders by dropping his shoulder and exploding past them to the outside. Add in his excellent agility and the ability to change directions extremely quickly, as well as outstanding stickhandling ability and he can be a nightmare for defencemen off the rush. Nylander could stand to bulk up, especially in his lower body, which would allow him to be stronger on the puck and in board battles.
A strong playmaker, Nylander has the ability to handle the puck as well as make precise passes while moving at top speed. His wrist shot features a quick release, but he must add some upper body strength in order to add more power to that shot going forward. Once he does it will allow him to become a sniper in addition to his current skills as a playmaker. Nylander possesses soft hands. He finishes plays in tight to the net. He also has the instincts to get open in the zone and get his shot off. Nylander’s great vision and good hockey sense also make him a dangerous player when the play is in the offensive zone. He can thread the needle through small openings when passing to teammates.
Nylander’s stick handling allowed him to protect the puck in junior, and will be useful going forward but he must add more bulk to really succeed in being able to play the cycle game when facing bigger opponents in the pros. This was the biggest adjustment that Nylander faces in the pros. He does not have the same time and space that he had in juniors. Nylander is still adjusting to the quicker pace of the pro game.
Nylander also has to work on being more conscientious on the backcheck and not cheat to create offensive chances. His defensive game is a bit of a work in progress, but he seems to be eager to learn and he could go a long way with the proper coaching. Once he learns proper positioning and how to read the play defensively, he should be able to play a solid game in his own end of the rink.
While Nylander will be looking to make the Sabres out of camp, he likely needs more time in the AHL. The Sabres need to be patient with Nylander. He has high-end potential. He could be a mid-season call-up if things go extremely well.
#5 Prospect: Tage Thompson
Right Wing/Centre — shoots Right
Born October 30th, 1997 — Orange, Connecticut
Height 6’5″ — Weight 205 lbs [196 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 1st round, #26 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Traded to the Buffalo Sabres in July 2018
Thompson split his first professional season between the St. Louis Blues, and playing in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage. He scored three goals and six assists for nine points in 41 games with the Blues, where he averaged just under 12 minutes of ice time per game. He added eight goals and 18 points in 30 games with the Rampage. Thompson also played for Team USA at the World Championships scoring three points in 10 games.
Thompson’s skating is a bit of a work in progress but improved over the past year. It really isn’t that bad given his size. His speed is decent but the first step and acceleration could use a little work. He could also stand to clean up some choppiness in his stride. Thompson could add core strength and this would help improve his balance and help him to be stronger on the puck.
At 6’5″ tall Thompson has the size, and uses it to his full advantage in playing a power forward’s game. He is often the first one in on the forecheck, pressuring defenders into mistakes. He works very well down low, below the hash marks, cycling the puck and getting to the front of the net. Once there he can tip in pucks, pounce on rebounds, or fire in a pass from a teammate. Thompson also has an excellent one-timer, however, his wrist shot is an elite tool. It is powerful and features a quick release allowing him to score goals from further out.
While his stickhandling is good, and Thompson protects the puck well using his body on the cycle, he is a straight ahead kind of player, going directly from point a to point b and not one to try overly creative plays. His assists mainly come from hard work in the corners, digging out loose pucks and making smart, safe passes to teammates.
Thompson’s defensive game is excellent. He understands defensive positioning and uses his long stick and a big body to cut down passing and shooting lanes. He is fundamentally solid and very well-developed in his own end, no doubt as a result of being a coach’s son. Thompson has even been used as a defenceman on the penalty kill at Connecticut as his frame is particularly effective down low in his own end, though it is unlikely such a radical move will be repeated in the NHL. Thompson plays a physical game, but he does so with clean hits; as he doesn’t take a lot of penalties. He could stand to gain muscle and strength in all areas, he has grown quite a bit since we first saw him with the US NTDP and has not quite filled out his frame. That should come with time.
Thompson heads to camp looking for a spot on the Sabres, although he can be sent back to the AHL without having to go through waivers. While he got some valuable experience at the NHL level last year, he will need to earn his spot come training camp. It would not be a surprise to see Thompson given big minutes in Rochester rather than playing a bottom line role in Buffalo, and that could be a consideration, especially with the amount of youth already projected to be on the Sabres. Even if sent down, expect Thompson to be recalled if injuries hit the forward group. He projects as a winger in the NHL but played some centre in college.
#6 Prospect: Linus Ullmark
Goalie — shoots Left
Born July 31st, 1993 — Lugnvik, Sweden
Height 6’4″ — Weight 221 lbs [193 cm / 100 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 6th round, #163 overall, at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Linus Ullmark has emerged as a top goaltending prospect. He put up a 2.44 goals against average and .922 save percentage in 44 AHL games this past season. He also got some time at the NHL level and put up a 2.00 goals against average and .935 save percentage in 5 games.
Skating and Talent Analysis
At 6-foot-4 Ulmark has a frame that most NHL teams are looking for in their goaltenders in recent years. He is an extremely athletic goalie. He is a good skater. Ullmark plays deep in his net and does not always take advantage of his size by coming out to the top of the crease and challenging shooters. However, his quick reflexes and excellent butterfly technique allow him to still make the save. He has an excellent side-to-side push, getting across the crease quickly and in control. Ullmark rarely slides too far and gets himself out of position. His legs are strong and quick. He gets in and out of the butterfly quickly. Those fast legs take away the bottom of the net and force shooters to challenge him high. His rebound control is particularly good down low, a rarity in young goalies, as he kicks pucks to the corners.
Ullmark has a strong blocker and good glove, taking away the top of the net as well. His glove hand is quick, especially for a European goalie. Ullmark’s athleticism allows him to keep himself square to the shooter, and quickly recover to be in the right position to stop rebounds. Ullmark comes out of the net to play the puck behind his net. He is capable of making simple plays, stopping the puck and moving it to his defence. However, he is not the type to make long passes or get the breakout started.
Ullmark is calm and composed in net. Even when he is being shelled, he is able to keep his composure and provide a sense of calm to teammates. He maintains good focus and is ready for the next shot. He does not let bad goals get to him, and is quick to recover and is ready for the next scoring chance.
With the Sabres moving on from Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson, the path has been cleared for Ullmark to make the NHL team next season. While the Sabres signed Carter Hutton in free agency, it is expected that Hutton and Ullmark will battle for the top job and could even end up in a platoon situation. Ullmark will get every opportunity to prove himself at the NHL level.
#7 Prospect: Mattias Samuelsson
The Sabres drafted Samuelsson with the 32nd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Samuelsson. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#8 Prospect: Marcus Davidsson
Center/Left Wing — shoots Left
Born November 18th, 1998 — Tyresö, Sweden
Height 6’0″ — Weight 192 lbs [180 cm/78 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2nd round, #37 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft
Davidson put up nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points in 39 games for Djurgardens last season. These are excellent numbers for an 18-year-old playing in Sweden’s top men’s league. He was not quite as impressive at the World Juniors with just one goal and three points in seven games in the tournament. He played more of a checking line role in the tournament, bringing home a silver medal.
Davidsson is more quick than fast. He has good speed, but a great first step and excellent acceleration mean that he reaches that top end speed extremely quickly, and is very effective in short races to loose pucks. He moves quickly through turns and accelerates with excellent crossovers. His agility and edgework are top notch and make him able to move quickly laterally both when attacking and in protecting his own zone. Davidsson has a strong lower body and has good balance. He uses this well in fighting for position in front of the net, as well as fighting through checks, hooks and holds. He is also good in winning battles along the boards and establishing a position in front of the net.
An excellent two-way centre, Davidsson does all the little things well. He gets in quickly on the forecheck and pressures defencemen into making turnovers. Once a turnover happens he can hit a teammate with a quick pass, drive the puck to the front of the net, or fire an excellent wrist shot on goal. He has the soft hands to score goals on those net drives, as well as to pounce on rebounds and get deflections. His shot is accurate but could stand to be a bit more powerful. His wrist shot and snapshot also feature a quick release.
He is relentless in chasing down pucks in all three zones and has the skating to be able to get to loose pucks quickly. Davidsson also has the vision and smarts to be an effective playmaker. He anticipates plays well and can make passes through tight spaces. His stick handling is effective in puck protection on the cycle game. Davidsson is a straight-ahead player though. He isn’t overly creative with the puck, but he does enough good things well that it is very effective.
Defensively, Davidsson is already good in the face-off circle. He shows a highly advanced ability to pressure puck carriers and to play a smart positional game in his own end. He uses his stick effectively in cutting down on passing and shooting lanes. Once he creates a turnover, he is quick to transition the puck up to the offence. Davidsson plays a smart game and kills penalties for the Swedish junior teams.
Davidsson is likely to spend at least one more season in the SHL with Asplund. Expect him to continue to earn more ice time with Djurgardens as well as to take on a big role at the World Juniors. When he comes over to North America, he may need to start in the AHL. Davidsson could be a couple of years away from NHL action but could be very effective when he gets here.
#9 Prospect: Rasmus Asplund
Center — shoots Left
Born December 3rd, 1997 — Filipstad, Sweden
Height 5’11” — Weight 176 lbs [180 cm / 80 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2nd round, #33 overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft
Asplund had another strong season as a 19-year-old in Sweden’s top men’s league. With eight goals and 28 points in 50 games, he was even considered for Sweden’s Olympic Team.
Rasmus Asplund is a strong skater. His speed and acceleration can give defenders problems on the rush, and his agility adds another layer to that. He can make a quick cut to get by a defender on the inside or take a defender wide, drop his shoulder and accelerate to the net. Asplund also shows impressive lower body strength and balance, as he skates through checks, and is difficult to knock off the puck. He will need to continue to add weight to play this style of game in North America.
Asplund has a variety of offensive tools. His stick handling and good balance allow him to create plays off the cycle game. He has a good variety of shots, showing a quick release, and a heavy shot with his wrist shot and snapshot, as well as good accuracy on his one-timer. Asplund reads the defence well and can find soft spots to get open and get his shot off. Asplund can be a playmaker by slowing the game down and drawing in defenders, allowing his teammates to find open space and create scoring chances. He has good vision and excellent hockey sense as he almost always makes the right play with the puck.
Asplund is a hard-working forward who uses his speed to get in quickly on the forecheck and create pressure on opposing defenders. When he creates turnovers, he can quickly turn those into offensive chances.
For such a young player, Asplund’s defensive game is well developed. He is strong in the faceoff circle, getting low to the ice and winning draws with both his quick reflexes as well as with leverage and strength. He reads the play well defensively, allowing him to provide support to the defence, and cut off passing and shooting lanes. While he is not a big hitter; Asplund is a willing and conscientious back checker, willing to get involved in the physical battles for loose pucks.
Asplund signed with the Sabres this summer. He has the potential to be an effective middle-six forward but is not NHL ready just yet. Expect to see Asplund start the season in Rochester. If he develops well he could earn some in-season call-ups but is likely looking at 2019-20 before he earns a full-time NHL role.
#10 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]
Luukkonen spent most of last season in the Mestis, Finland’s second-best men’s league. In 24 games he put up a 2.92 goals-against-average and 0.909 save percentage. He also played for Finland at the World Juniors but was disappointing with a 3.13 goals-against and 0.879 save percentage in five games.
Skating and Talent Analysis
At 6-foot-4 tall, 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 can get even quicker though. They aren’t bad, 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.
Luukkonen has performed well in high-pressure situations, like the Under-18s, with elimination and/or medals on the line. He does not get flustered in 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.
Finding playing time was a challenge last year. Too good for Finnish junior leagues, but not quite good enough to start in men’s leagues. At 19-years-old, Luukkonen needs to play and is moving to the Sudbury Wolves this year in order to get that playing time. He is a long-term project for the Sabres, but one with high-end potential.
Sleeper Prospect: Victor Olofsson
Right Wing/Left Wing — shoots Left
Born July 18th, 1995 — Örnsköldsvik, Sweden
Height 5’10” — Weight 168 lbs [178 cm/76 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 7th round, #181 overall, at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Olofsson had a big season with Frolunda in the SHL. He put up 27 goals and 43 points in 50 games. The 27 goals were enough to lead the league. He also added three goals and four points in six playoff games and four goals and eight points in eight playoff games. Spending a lot of time with Rasmus Dahlin, Olofsson proved his worth and even got a look for the national team on the European Hockey Tour.
Olofsson is a strong skater. He has good speed and acceleration, allowing him to get around the ice effectively. His edgework and agility allow him to weave through traffic and get away from defenders. He could stand to add lower body strength which would improve his balance and make him harder to knock off the puck.
Olofsson is a sniper. His wrist shot and snapshot are both extremely powerful and deadly accurate. He also has a very quick release. Olofsson is a smart player who manages to find open space and in order to take a pass and get a shot on the net. He also has a very good one-timer. While Olofsson is very much a shoot first player, he also sees the ice well and can set up teammates with good passes through tight areas.
Olofsson needs to add upper-body strength to succeed in the more physical leagues on smaller North American ice. He can have issues establishing a position in front of the net, or fighting for loose pucks in the corners. That said, he does not back down and is willing to be involved in battles.
Olofsson is willing to work on the backcheck, helping his teammates with backpressure. He is well positioned and looks to create turnovers and start the transition game. Olofsson is a responsible player who maintains his discipline and does not get caught out of position. This is another area where added upper body strength would help him get the most out of his game.
Olofsson earned a contract with the Sabres this spring. He is versatile enough to play both wings and this will give him an advantage going into training camp. He may need to start the season in the AHL, but Olofsson is pretty close to NHL ready. Even if he is sent down, expect to see him join the Sabres at some point this season. His excellent shot and his play on the wing is something that the Sabres need right now.
The Sabres have a ton of depth in their position. They are strong at forward with Cliff Pu, Nicholas Baptiste, and C.J. Smith further down the depth chart but all still having a chance to contribute at the NHL level. In goal, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was an excellent pick in 2017 and has high-end potential. He is several years away but provides some insurance if Ullmark does not have a strong transition to the NHL.
One year ago, the defensive depth did not look quite as good as the rest of the Sabres system. That has changed though, with the additions of Dahlin and Samuelsson. Guhle continued to improve and is a better prospect now than he was one year ago. Further down the depth chart Will Borgen has real potential as a mobile defensive defender. Jacob Bryson had a solid sophomore season at Providence, showing puck-moving ability. Casey Fitzgerald is the captain of Boston College and has the two-way ability. Overall, this is amongst the best prospect groups in the NHL.
Main Photo: DALLAS, TX – JUNE 22: The Buffalo Sabres draft Rasmus Dahlin in the first round of the 2018 NHL draft on June 22, 2018, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)