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Sabres fall in ESPN prospect rankings

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The Sabres don’t quite have the farm system they once did, but they still have some nice pieces for the future.

2016 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images

Each year, one of our favorite articles to argue over is ESPN writer Corey Pronman’s organizational prospect rankings. They’ve been fun for Sabres fans because, as the team has recently gotten worse, their farm system has gotten better.

Now, as the team has young studs like Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Rasmus Ristolainen firmly entrenched in their NHL lineup, and seeing as they’ve used other promising prospects like Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux in trades, their prospect depth isn’t quite what it used to be.

Last year, the Sabres ranked 3rd in ESPN’s annual rankings of prospect depth, and this year, they’ve fallen to 11th. Here’s what Pronman had to say about Buffalo’s system.

Buffalo went into May with a thin farm system. While a couple of their guys impressed this season, such as Brendan Guhle and Justin Bailey, you would've really struggled to identify 10 decent NHL prospects prior to the draft, where I thought they did very well. That said, there is still some depth issues here. The system falls off hard towards the tail end of the top 10, but the upper half is solid.

As we’re finalizing our Top 25 Under 25 rankings (spoiler alert) I have to agree with Pronman. This year was very easy to identify a top 10 or so, but after that, there’s plenty of question marks, and tough to make significant demarcations among the remaining players. Of course, the trade-off is that their best young players recently drafted are three of the best U-22 players in the NHL. So there’s that.

Pronman also ranked the top 120 individual prospects among all NHL teams, and the Sabres had two players on that list as well.

On Alexander Nylander (Ranked #11 overall)

His skill level and offensive hockey sense are elite. Nylander's speed is not elite, but it's certainly above-average and flashes a grade above on top of his being very agile on his edges. He also has a quality wrist shot. Nylander's defense could still use work. He exhibits a strong work ethic, and you can envision him cleaning up that area with proper development.

On Rasmus Asplund (Ranked #101 overall)

There are split opinions on Asplund within the industry, with some scouts seeing an NHL tweener and others seeing a player with a very good chance to become a top-six center. Asplund's best trait is his hockey sense. Asplund is also an above-average skater with great agility on his edges, and a good first step. His frame works against him, and his strength needs to go a long way before he's NHL-ready, but he shows the capability to be a solid defensive center, despite his size.

I’m very interested to see the growth of these two players over the next season. Nylander, who’s rumored to be starting the season in AHL Rochester, should see a bit of time in the NHL this year as either an injury call-up or early season trial, and will be integral to the Sabres ability to keep improving next year. Asplund’s two way game could help to replace, or enhance, players like Foligno, Girgensons, or Larsson should the organization sour on any of those players.

Give us your thoughts on Pronman’s rankings and on the Sabres very different looking prospect depth chart in the comments.