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Buffalo Sabres Top 25 Under 25, #9: Jake McCabe

McCabe will look to rebound from a sub-par 2017-18 campaign that was cut short due to injury.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. six writers and 718 readers ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2018 in the Buffalo Sabres organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.

In a year where many fans felt that Jake McCabe would reach new heights with Phil Housely behind the bench, his play left spectators with more questions than answers. A shoulder injury did leave him sidelined for 29 games last season and it’s unclear just how much that lingering issue played a role in his lackluster campaign.

McCabe’s struggles weren’t unique. The entire Sabres’ defensive corps left a lot to be desired in their first season under Housley, but his regression is still a cause for concern.

At the end of the day, he is what he is; a solid third pairing defenseman on a team full of them. It remains to be seen just how much he can improve with a stronger cast of players on the blueline, but for now, it appears that is where he is best suited.

2018-19 will be a critical year for the 24-year-old as he approaches his last season before becoming a restricted free-agent. This summer, the Sabres’ organizational depth on defense improved quite a bit. This may be his last chance to show that he has yet to reach his full potential.

Last season, McCabe struggled in his own end while failing to make notable contributions on offense. One thing he has going for him is his history with Housley, but if he cannot acclimate to the second-year head coach’s game plans, then he will be forced out by a young up-and-comer like Will Borgen.

It’s tough not to appreciate McCabe’s physical, hard-working style of play, but he needs to drastically improve both defensively and in his ability to make accurate passes up ice. There simply isn’t room on the Sabres’ roster for a defender who cannot aid the offense in transition.

#25 Sean Malone

#24 Brandon Hickey

#23 Marcus Davidsson

#22 Danny O’Regan

#21 Will Borgen

#20 Mattias Samuelsson

#19 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen

#18 Justin Bailey

#17 C.J. Smith

#16 Nick Baptiste

#15 Zemgus Girgensons

#14 Lawrence Pilut

#13 Victor Olofsson

#12 Rasmus Asplund

#11 Alex Nylander

#10 Tage Thompson