It's time to officially start our Top 25 Under 25 feature that we teased a couple of weeks ago. Last week mentioned some players that didn't make the list and now it is time to unveil the first five players on the list. Some of the writers here at Die by the Blade have been kind enough to share their thoughts on each player. Read below to see what they had to say.
#25 Connor Hurley (Age-17) - Center - 6'1" 171 lbs.
Dave Oleksy - Hurley finds himself on this list because of his unbelievable upside. The Sabres drafted Hurley in the second round of the draft, making him the youngest player to be drafted by an NHL team. Hurley finished out his high school season before joining the Mukegon Lumberjacks of the USHL at the end of the season. It could be years before the Sabres truly find out if Hurley will be an NHL caliber player, but his undeniable tools made it impossible for the Sabres to pass him up. Hurley is a player to watch in these rankings and see if he can climb as quickly as the Sabres would like him to.
#24 Andrey Makarov (Age-20) - Goalie - 6'1" 193 lbs.
Dave Oleksy - Makarov is a bit of a late bloomer. He struggled in his first season of Canadian Junior Hockey, playing with the Lewiston MAINEiacs in the QMJHL. He had a 3.37 Goals Against Average and only a .890 save percentage in 27 games played with Lewiston. He eventually found a home in the Western Hockey League with the Saskatoon Blades and was named the Memorial Cup most outstanding goalie this past season. He has also put up good numbers when playing for Russia in the World Junior tournament the past two seasons.
Calvin - The goaltender certainly has a lot of potential - there have been months when he has absolutely sparkled out in the WHL and has been part of the Russian youth setup for some time now. His size though is a bit of a concern and we'd like to see him make some strides in his positioning this season. He's had two pretty bad postseasons with Saskatoon as well, and that could be a bit of a red flag with him.
#23 Luke Adam (Age 23) - Left Wing - 6'2" 206 lbs.
Dave Oleksy - Adam was heralded as one of the top prospects in the Sabres organization a few seasons ago. After a torrid start to the 2011-2012 season, he cooled off and eventually found his way back to Rochester. Adam has struggled to find his game since his demotion and seems destined to be an AHL / injury call up for the rest of his career. Still, it seems to be too early to give up on a once promising career.
Calvin - His arrival in the NHL was unheralded, but he has had his shining moments when on a line centering Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. Adam is a known quantity, and unlikely to break his AHL journeyman / lower 6 ceiling any time soon. Short of a Gary Roberts-driven transformation, I don't see Adam spending any time in Buffalo unless we have a forwards holocaust.
#22 Kevin Sundher (Age 21) - Center - 6'0" 170 lbs.
Dave Oleksy - Sundher, a former 3rd round draft pick, seems destined to be an AHL player for most of his career. Sundher improved as the season went on, but he had less than spectacular statistics in his rookie campaign with the Amerks. Sundher could someday become a fourth line contributor, but I think he will remain a contributor at the minor league level for most of his career.
Calvin - Another center with limited upside. His 6'0", 175lb frame does not suit a physical game and while he has been a prolific scorer in the WHL, it hasn't carried on to the AHL. Very unlikely we ever see him in Buffalo.
#21 Jerome Gauthier-Leduc (Age 21) - Defense - 6'2" 194 lbs.
David Oleksy - I think JGL was always a bit of a long shot to make it in the NHL. He excelled as an offensive defenseman in the QMJHL, but that game hasn't translated into the AHL. He will have to improve in his own zone to ever be considered an option in Buffalo. The next couple of seasons will be important in his future development.
Calvin - I can't think of JGL without remembering another triple-barrel name.. Marc-Andre Gragnani. JGL absolutely set the QMJHL on fire in 2011-12, leading defenseman scoring while being relatively safe in D as well. Size is not his strength, and while he is expected to be a decent powerplay quarterback, his defensive abilities need more work. The Sabres drafting two high-profiled dmen does not help his case, the best he can do is work on improving his game at the Amerks and hope to be an injury call-up.