It’s that time of year again. The Sabres are effectively eliminated from the playoff race and fans are again forced to look to next season and beyond. Whilst the main focus will be on the draft lottery, the immediate focus may be on the undrafted free agent market. These players represent low risk moves and are unlikely to move the needle that much, if at all (think CJ Smith, Casey Nelson etc).
However, with both the Sabres and Amerks struggling for offense, it may be worth adding a player or two in the hope that someone has a positive impact. The Amerks in particular could use help up front as they work towards the Calder Cup playoffs. They’ll also have the option of signing the player to either an NHL ELC or and AHL contract.
The undrafted free agent class this year is an average one but we will look at three players who may be of interest.
Drew O’Connor – Dartmouth College
There are a lot of things to like about Drew O’Connor and he could become a highly sought-after college free agent. At 6-foot-3 and 190lbs, O’Connor has the size to cope with the step up to pro. He also skates very well for a player of his size without having standout speed. Whilst not being renowned for being a playmaker, he does have good hands but his main talent so far has been as a goal scorer.
O’Connor is currently the third highest goal scorer in the NCAA with 22. He is averaging 4.5 shots per game which also ranks near the top of the NCAA. These shots are coming from many different areas of the offensive zone, showing that O’Connor is equally comfortable using his slap shot or crashing the net for a tip or a rebound.
The video below is an example of the type of shot Drew O’Connor possesses. He beats the goalie cleanly from the top of the circle on the power play.
If O’Connor was to get an NHL deal, it would cap off his rapid rise. Two seasons ago, he was playing in the National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC) for the Boston Jr Bruins. It would be impressive to go from that league to the NHL in two seasons.
Ultimately, he may only end up being a minor leaguer but there is a chance that he could mature into a player who sees some NHL games. His impressive frame and keen eye for goal will have put him on the radar of NHL clubs and the Sabres should be one of them. He may not have shown enough yet to warrant an ELC from the Sabres but I could see him joining Rochester and having a positive impact.
Jeremy McKenna - Moncton Wildcats
Jeremy McKenna very nearly turned pro this season. He initially signed with the Stockton Heat of the AHL before being returned to junior. Since his return, he has scored at a high rate on a very good junior team. Although overagers tend to dominate major junior, he possesses talents that should make the Sabres interested.
His main attribute is his shot. He has a pro-level release and can beat a goalie from pretty much anywhere. Below is an example of his release. Also watch how he toe drags to change the angle slightly before releasing his shot.
Signing McKenna would be a very un-Botterill like move, seeing as he tends to favor players from the NCAA/Europe. However, I would like to see the Sabres bet on players with high skill levels who they can then coach and allow them to grow. Tampa Bay appear to have done that with a similar signing two years ago. Alex Barre-Boulet went undrafted, put up big numbers in the Q before Tampa signed him to an ELC. He has since put up two high-scoring years in the AHL and it is not unforeseeable that he sees some time in the NHL in the near future. McKenna may never make it to those heights but he may be worth a shot.
Marc Michaelis – Minnesota State Mankato
Marc Michaelis may not have the skill or scoring ability of the other two players mentioned but he plays a very complete game. He is a hard-working player who has been a consistent scorer throughout his time at Minn St. Mankato. He has also represented Germany on the international stage in the previous two years.
Michaelis does a lot of things well. He is a good skater, although he wouldn’t be classed as having true NHL speed. I have only had limited viewings of him but what stood out to me was his ability to create high scoring chances through good vision. He can make difficult passes but can also put the puck in the net.
The biggest question mark surrounding Michaelis is one of upside. He will turn 25 in the summer so is older than most of the other free agent options. The fear is that he may only ever become a minor leaguer so it would be unsurprising to see him offered an AHL contract to begin with. He has enough ability and experience though to be worth taking a gamble on.
Other potential free agents to look out for:
· Josh Dunne – Clarkson
· Mitchell Chaffee – Umass
· Jordan Kawaguchi – North Dakota
· David Cotton – Boston College