After a brief winter break and technical difficulty hiatus, the Weekly Prospects Wrap-up is back! With the bye week almost finished for the parent club, it is about time that the first half of the season for the minor and junior league-ers be reviewed.
Altogether it was a sound start to the season for some top Sabres prospects. Casey Mittelstadt, Linus Ullmark, Victor Olofsson, and C.J. Smith were just some of the names that were repeated with praise weekly here these first few months. Some others were disappointing and others had some surprising first halves.
Add all of those together and that creates a ranking. For this short and specific ranking, previous seasons and performances were taken into consideration with the current season taking place.
1. Casey Mittelstadt, C, University of Minnesota (NCAA)
What more needs to be said about Casey Mittelstadt’s performance at the 2018 World Junior Championship? Tournament MVP, tied for the lead in scoring, a phenomenal goal against Team Slovakia, and all around great offensive work that brought Team USA a bronze medal.
Some may have proclaimed Casey as the Sabres number one prospect after the draft and before the season was underway, but there is no doubt anymore. Agility, soft and quick hands, confidence in his game, he is such an exciting player to watch.
2. Brendan Guhle, D, Rochester Americans (AHL)
Brendan Guhle has used speed and an offensive bite to help carry the Amerks to a 23-9-8 record. Guhle is ranked second among rookie defensemen in points in the AHL at the moment.
This first half Guhle has done tremendous work on his defensive zone game. His gap work and separation game are miles ahead of where they were in his junior days. After this complete season with Rochester, Guhle should be a force from the get-go with Buffalo.
3. Alexander Nylander, LW/RW, Rochester Americans (NHL)
He started out the year with a tough injury and it does not seem like he is back to his full capability just yet. After a great showing in his first game back this year against Binghamton in a 10-3 win, Nylander hit a lull until reaching the 2018 World Junior Championship.
It was not the flashiest tournament for the skilled winger, but Nylander’s performance showcased the creativity that the Swede has in his game.
4. C.J. Smith, LW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
Being a late signing last season Sabres fans never truly got the chance to see what Smith could provide at the professional level. They were in for a treat.
Smith has brought offensive skill, transition creativity, and two-way ability to the new and improved Amerks.
5. Linus Ullmark, G, Rochester Americans (AHL)
It is debatable whether or not Linus Ullmark can be considered a prospect, but what is not debatable is his stellar play this season to go along with his promising start in the AHL.
2 shutouts on the year, 17 wins, leads the AHL in minutes played (1607:57), shots faced (851), saves (790), and 4th in save percentage (0.928). That, along with his 44 save performance against the Columbus Blue Jackets this season with the big boy club, should provide some assurance in the event that Robin Lehner is dealt at the deadline.
6. Rasmus Asplund, C, Farjestad (SHL)
Rasmus Asplund hasn’t created headlines this first half but is still putting together a quality season together in Sweden. On the offensive side and defensive side of the puck.
By no means is five goals and 19 assists in 35 SHL games something to overlook, either. It is clear that Rasmus has been developing his hands and playmaking ability.
7. Marcus Davidsson, C, Djurgardens (SHL)
It was known when Davidsson came into the Sabres organization in the 2017 NHL Draft that he would bring a two-way edge to his game, but his offensive skills are highly underrated. As a net-front presence or on a fastbreak Davidsson can really dish and make quick shots.
There is a little more work to be done with Davidsson as he has a good base in his skating and shot, but there could be more there.
8. Justin Bailey, RW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
Justin Bailey had a brief stint with the NHL team earlier in the year, where he played well in my opinion. His speed kills and his stickwork is impressive but after injury and demotion, he has not been able to find dominance in his eight AHL games this season.
The second-half will be crucial for Bailey. If he can really push through and bring the Amerks to the next level it should do great things for his development.
9. Nick Baptiste, RW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
While seven goals and 10 assists in 33 games down on the farm in the first half are not nearly where Baptiste should be, his style of play and his fundamental game still at a quality level; however, lacking the goal scorers touch is really not helping Baptiste’s cause.
There is still time to get on the scoresheet, but Baptiste is going to at least need to get into the top three in Amerks scoring for me to take him seriously.
10. Cliff Pu, C, Kingston Frontenacs/London Knights (OHL)
Had it not have been for the month of September and October, Cliff Pu could possibly higher on this top ten or even on Canada’s World Junior team. To be blunt, Cliff Pu was playing terrible hockey at the start of the year. Boy did he turn his season around though.
51 points in 42 games and some incredible highlights to boot. Cliff Pu is back to playing like his old self, although he has recently hit a three-game point drought.
Looking into the second half of the 2017-2018 season no one thing stick out among all Sabres prospects to improve but speed and skating ability is one thing that is clearly going to be a factor in success in this organization. The prospects listed in the top ten are good skaters, but a name like C.J. Smith is an example of a player that could definitely improve stride lag.
Brandon Hagel, who has just returned from a fairly lengthy injury needs to be better. Seven goals in 29 games are just not good enough from a winger who scored 31 of them last season. Perhaps the injury hindered his play, but nonetheless, Hagel needs to loosen up and simplify his game.
Due to recency bias, I had to talk myself out of including third-rounder Oskari Laaksonen in the top ten, and rightfully so. He is currently playing his way onto Ilves’ top-six and while doing so is giving a glimpse of some of his best hockey. A puck-mover and transition defender that does great things with the puck at the point, but provides help at the other end. He has been playing some sheltered minutes in his first few Liiga games, but he has already recorded his first point and has looked good while doing so.
Cannot wait to see what Casey Mittelstadt does next. Exciting player, as I have said many times, who makes the viewer focus on him with his ability to take over the game.
Interested to see what Linus Weissbach can do against some tough opponents coming up to finish out the season. He has made some magical plays a couple of times during the first half against some lesser competition.
Lastly, curious what the Sabres will get back prospect-wise at the trade deadline. Picks are expected and when trades do go down it will be interesting to see which eligibles they will be able to target with said picks.
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The Weekly Prospects Wrap-ups will continue now that I am able to access my account again, so make sure to come back at the end of the week.