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Pronman ranks the best NHL players and prospects under 23 - Sabres edition

The Sabres future looks bright, indeed.

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Buffalo Sabres v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

In case you missed it in The Athletic recently, Corey Pronman did an in-depth ranking of 170 players in the NHL under the age of 23 and there were a number of highly-rated Buffalo Sabres on his list.

Click the link to go read more about it ($), but Pronman saved us all the suspense by starting off with the number 1 and has also divided up the players among tiers which gives us some good perspective on where he sees certain prominent players.

With due respect to The Athletic, I’ve captured the highlights on eleven Sabres here. His #1 is Jack Hughes from the New Jersey Devils and no players from Buffalo are in the top five that make up his 1) Bubble elite NHL player and NHL All-Star category.

Also, here’s the criteria Pronman used -

  • A player must be 22 years old or younger as of Sept. 15, 2022, to qualify.
  • This list is my opinion of who I think will become the core NHL players from those draft classes.
  • Ranked players are placed into tiers and given tool grades, based on a scale with six separate levels, with an eye toward how this attribute would grade in the NHL (poor, below-average, average, above-average, high-end and elite).
  • “Average” on this scale means the tool projects as NHL average, which is meant as a positive, not a criticism.
  • Skating, puck skills, hockey sense and compete for every projected NHL player is graded.
  • Shot grades are only included if a shot is notably good or poor.
New York Islanders v Buffalo Sabres
Rasmus Dahlin
Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

2) NHL All-Star

7. Rasmus Dahlin, D, Buffalo - 22 years old | 6-foot-3 | 193 pounds | Shoots left

Drafted: No. 1 in 2018
Skating: NHL average
Puck skills: Above NHL average
Hockey sense: Above NHL average
Compete: Below NHL average

Analysis: Four years into Rasmus Dahlin’s NHL career, I think everyone’s eyes are starting to become wide open to what he is and isn’t. He’s an offensive dynamo. There are few defensemen with his frame who can handle the puck like him and make the kind of unique offensive plays he can. His brain operates at a high level of creativity and vision. Dahlin was much more confident using his skill to attack this season.
He’s a good skater with good reach, but Dahlin’s not a strong defender due to a lack of physicality and doesn’t look like a player you’ll be projecting to take tough minutes. Even with that in mind, he looks like a long-time impactful NHL defenseman who will often be atop the scoring leaders for his position.

3) Bubble NHL All-Star and top-of-the-lineup player

13. Dylan Cozens, C, Buffalo - 21 years old | 6-foot-3 | 183 pounds | Shoots right

Drafted: No. 7 in 2019
Skating: NHL average
Puck skills: NHL average
Hockey sense: NHL average
Compete: Above NHL average
Shot: Above NHL average

Analysis: It’s easy to like Dylan Cozens’ game. Even though he didn’t have a huge NHL season, he was only 20 years old, and the Cozens you saw at the World Championships where he was one of the best players I think is the real Cozens. He checks every box you look for in an NHL player. Big centers who can skate, make plays, and score goals are rare. You add his strong compete level and someone who wants to be a complete center and I think you have all the ingredients of a future impactful center.

20. Owen Power, D, Buffalo - 19 years old | 6-foot-6 | 214 pounds | Shoots left

Drafted: No. 1 in 2021
Skating: NHL average
Puck skills: NHL average
Hockey sense: Above NHL average
Compete: NHL average

Analysis: Power didn’t pop off in his second college season as I thought he may do, but he was still one of the best defensemen in the NCAA. His best hockey was probably in the cancelled world juniors where he took over games. Power isn’t a player that will land on a lot of highlight reels, but as a huge, mobile defenseman with puck-moving skill, it’s easy to imagine him playing high in an NHL lineup for a long time. He’s not the most physical defender, but with his reach and feet he’ll make plenty of stops with strong offense. He projects as a legit top-of-the-lineup defenseman with some star potential.

Chicago Blackhawks v Buffalo Sabres
Owen Power (in the background) with Dylan Cozens
Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

4) Top of the lineup player or top-tier starting goaltender

39. Jack Quinn, RW, Buffalo - 20 years old | 6 feet | 176 pounds | Shoots right

Drafted: No. 8 in 2020
Skating: Below NHL average
Puck skills: Above NHL average
Hockey sense: NHL average
Compete: NHL average
Shot: Above NHL average

Analysis: Quinn had a monster AHL season, scoring 61 points in 45 games and being named AHL rookie of the year as a result. He’s very dangerous with the puck on his stick. He has loose, quick hands and can beat defenders one-on-one at a high frequency. He’s a creative playmaker who can also finish chances and do so from range. Quinn’s feet have never been his selling point, but he’s so skilled and such a good scorer I think he can become a true top-line winger.

42. Peyton Krebs, LW, Buffalo - 21 years old | 5-foot-11 | 180 pounds | Shoots left

Acquired in Eichel trade
Skating: NHL average
Puck skills: NHL average
Hockey sense: Above NHL average
Compete: Above NHL average
Shot: Below NHL average

Analysis: Krebs had a solid first full pro season, and his best NHL stretches were in Buffalo after he was a key part of the Jack Eichel trade. He’s a well-rounded hockey player, who can play multiple positions effectively and play at both ends of the rink. Krebs has NHL speed and skill, but it’s his playmaking and effort that define his game. It’s why despite his size he has a very good chance to be a top-six center in the NHL. You’d like to see him score a few more goals, but even without that I think he can be a high-quality forward whether at wing or center.

AHL: OCT 30 Rochester Americans at Laval Rocket
Jack Quinn was AHL Rookie of the Year last season
Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

5) Bubble top and middle of the lineup player or quality starting goaltender

64. Matthew Savoie, C/RW, Buffalo - 18 years old | 5-foot-9 | 175 pounds | Shoots right

Drafted: No. 9 in 2022
Skating: Above NHL average
Puck skills: NHL average
Hockey sense: Above NHL average
Compete: Above NHL average
Shot: Above NHL average

Analysis: Savoie is a very talented scorer. He stands out with the puck on his stick and can attack in a variety of ways. Savoie is an excellent passer, who can run a power play, hit seams at a high rate and make tough plays under duress. He has very good hands to maneuver in traffic. He has good speed to beat opponents wide and he has a shot that can score from range. Savoie lacks ideal NHL size, but he competes hard and wins a surprising amount of battles for his size. He doesn’t have incredible speed and skill for a 5-foot-9 player so he may be moved to the wing in the NHL, but regardless I see him as a very good top-six forward.

68. John-Jason Peterka, LW, Buffalo - 20 years old | 5-foot-11 | 192 pounds | Shoots left

Drafted: No. 34 in 2020
Skating: NHL average
Puck skills: NHL average
Hockey sense: NHL average
Compete: NHL average
Shot: Above NHL average

Analysis: Peterka had an excellent season, scoring at a point per game as a teenager in the AHL. He has great skill and can shoot the puck, but it’s how he plays with pace and makes skilled plays at fast speeds that has been why he’s been so successful as a pro. Peterka is a highly-creative passer as well, makes a consistent effort on the ice, and overall has everything you look for in a top-six forward, other than his frame.

2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Portraits
Jiri Kulich after being selected 28th overall in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft
Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

6) Middle of the lineup player or starting goaltender

89. Jiri Kulich, C/LW, Buffalo - 18 years old | 5-foot-11 | 178 pounds | Shoots left

Drafted: No. 28 in 2022
Skating: NHL average
Puck skills: NHL average
Hockey sense: NHL average
Compete: Above NHL average
Shot: Above NHL average

Analysis: Kulich is a well-rounded prospect. He has a fluid, powerful skating stride that can generate clean entries and beat defenders wide. He has slick one-on-one skills and combined with his speed is a threat off the rush. He can make plays but is more of a threat when he’s in motion than picking apart defenses as a playmaker. Kulich has a great shot, showing a one-timer and wrist shot threat from range. Kulich doesn’t show fear from attacking the net or taking a hit to make a play. He projects as a top-six forward whether at wing or center, but likely on the wing.

113. Devon Levi, G, Buffalo - 20 years old | 6 feet | 183 pounds | Catches left

Acquired in Reinhart trade
Skating: Above NHL average
Hockey sense: Above NHL average

Analysis: Levi had a huge season at Northeastern, posting a .952 SV% in 32 games. Levi’s stock has shot up after being a seventh-round pick in 2020. He’s a very intelligent goaltender who tracks the play like a pro and rarely seems out of position. I’ve been more impressed by his athleticism and ability to make tough saves as time has gone on. Levi is very quick in net, challenges when needed and can make a lot of tough saves. His size is and will continue to be an issue as he advances levels, but he rarely lets in soft goals, has good controlled aggression and is super smart so I think he figured it out even at his size and helps an NHL team win games.

155. Noah Ostlund, C, Buffalo - 18 years old | 5-foot-10 | 164 pounds | Shoots left

Drafted: No. 16 in 2022
Skating: NHL average
Puck skills: Above NHL average
Hockey sense: NHL average
Compete: NHL average
Shot: Below NHL average

Analysis: Ostlund possesses impressive speed and skill. He’s able to be an asset in transition due to his ability to create controlled entries and make defenders miss. He has a pass-first mentality but can make difficult plays at a high rate. Ostlund has the poise to run a power-play unit and find seams but he’s not much of a shot threat. Ostlund isn’t the biggest, but he works hard enough and has shown as a junior he can be reliable defensively. He looks like a potential third-line center in the NHL.

162. Ryan Johnson, D, Buffalo - 20 years old | 6 feet | 170 pounds | Shoots left

Drafted: No. 31 in 2019
Skating: Above NHL average
Puck skills: Below NHL average
Hockey sense: NHL average
Compete: NHL average

Analysis: Johnson didn’t take a step forward as a junior last season, but he is what he is. He’s a steady two-way defenseman that lacks an offensive flash. Due to his excellent skating ability, I still rate him highly, even if some scouts around the league are starting to get lukewarm on him. His offensive ability will never excite, but I see first-pass offense as a pro to go with the excellent transitional ability and good enough defense to be a fourth or fifth defenseman.


Please do go check out the original Pronman article in The Athletic, as well are all their other exceptional NHL and Buffalo Sabres coverage.