Sabres prospect Joel Armia. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Die By The Blade's 2012 NHL Draft coverage kicked off this morning with the reveal of our SB Nation mock draft pick, and with that we're going to kick our draft coverage into high gear as we close in on June 22.
Before we got too far into picks and projections, we thought it would be a good idea to evaluate where the Sabres stand in terms of their prospects at each position before we begin the arguments around what holes are most important to fill. So without further ado, let's start down the middle.
The Sabres are clearly weak in the center position, especially when it comes to size. Catenacci has definite playmaking ability (he scored 33 goals in the OHL this year) and while both Varone and Sundher have shown potential, only Sundher cracks 6 feet, and then just barely. Colin Jacbos is bigger, but took a step backwards in the WHL this year, and Isackson just finished his freshman year at Minnesota. This position is even weaker after not re-signing Steven Shipley, so look for the Sabres to address it early and possibly often.
Aside from Marcus Foligno, who has as good a chance as anyone of starting the season up in Buffalo, this is a very weak group. Legace wasn't very impressive in his first season with the Amerks, Boychuk is big, but scored just 2 points in 26 games with Rochester. Navin is still in college. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Sabres use one of their first four picks to help shore things up at left wing, especially when you consider the relative strength on the other side.
At right wing, things are finally starting to look a little better. Armia is a top offensive prospect, but keep in mind that reports have come out already that he'll be spending another year honing his game in Europe. Tropp has made an impact with the big club already, and has a chance to begin the season in Buffalo as a fourth line banger. Szydlowski played 53 games with Rochester, but scored only 8 points, all assists. Jonathan Parker has the worst plus/minus of any Amerk this season, and tallied six points in 37 games.
Mark Pysyk - RHD
Brayden McNabb - LHD
TJ Brennan - LHD
Jerome Gauthier-Leduc - RHD
Drew Schiestel - LHD
Nick Crawford - LHD
Matt MacKenzie - RHD
Alex Biega - RHD
Alex Lepkowski - LHD
Big Joe Finley - LHD
Defense is where the meat of the Sabres prospects are located. Buffalo is stacked with defensive prospects, with a special emphasis on puck-moving offensive defensemen. Pysyk is a good all-arounder who captained his team to the Memorial Cup tournament this season. McNabb and Brennan are the hard hitter and big shooter of the group, respectively. Gauthier-Leduc set the world on fire offensively and had big playoff numbers to boot. Lepkowski and Finley have the size and potential combo going, and MacKenzie, Biega, and Crawford all show some promise at different stages of their careers. With McNabb and possibly Brennan fighting for roster spots in Buffalo, the Sabres may be looking at a LHD before RHD if they decide to go D. I wouldn't be shocked to see them take a blueliner in the first two rounds, but this is the clear area of strength in their pipeline.
Knapp and Lieuwen are both big boys, following the recent trend of NHL netminders. Knapp was first in goals against in the CCHA, and clocks in a monstrous 6'6'', 225 pounds! Lieuwen is a mere 6'5'', 191 pounds, and had a solid year in the WHL. However, both are expected to be in Rochester next year, which would leave the minor league and college ranks dry of goaltending prospects. Expect the Sabres to address that, possibly in the later rounds.