Buffalo Sabres Top 25 Under 25 - 16-20
Numbers 16-20 in the summer series counting down the top 25 Buffalo Sabres players that are under the age of 25.
As we get deeper into this feature the names will be more noticeable. That is not the case with this list of players. This is a group of players that are relatively unknown in the Sabres system. The potential remains for most of these players, but they still have something to prove to move up the list next season.
#20 Justin Kea (Age-19) - Center - 6'4" 206 lbs
David Oleksy - Justin Kea is a big center that will seemingly fit perfectly into the Buffalo Sabres system. He has also been give high accolades from many people for his size and aggressiveness. Kris Baker from SabresProspects.com was very high on him in a conversation we had a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, I disagree with what I have been told by other people because for me he didn't pass the eye test. I had an opportunity to see Kea play on a couple of occasions last season and came away unimpressed. I felt like he was lazy and disinterested. I am, admittedly, basing this on a very small sample size and will welcome him to change my mind this season.
Calvin - He's big and he's a center.. of course the Sabres were going to draft him in 2012. The third and least glamorous of the trio of big centers that the Sabres picked that year, Kea had a breakout season with Saginaw Spirit with 22G and 26A, up from just 14 points the previous season. The center is definitely an intriguing prospect, not afraid to drop the gloves when required. It'll be interesting to see if he can break into the top six at Rochester this season, displacing the logjam of centers ahead of him.
#19 JT Compher (Age-18) - Center - 5'10" 184 lbs
David Oleksy - I'm not going to try to dazzle you with my knowledge of what Compher will do in a Sabres uniform. I will tell you this...I watched him play in the World Junior Championships last season and I liked what I saw. Compher had three goals and seven points in seven games during the tournament. I am excited to see what he does this season playing with older players in the NCAA.
Calvin - Most of his best work has been with the USNDT. At just 18 years old, the center has the competitive spirit that we have lost sight of in recent years in Buffalo. His US Under-18 coach had this to say about him: "If you take a puck from him, you better skate as hard as you’ve ever skated because he’s tracking you down and going to steal it back immediately. And if he can’t get it back, he’s probably going to whack you or run you into the boards." Not bad at all. A solid two-way player, he is committed to University of Michigan, so keep an eye out for him this season.
#18 Justin Bailey (Age-18) - Right Wing - 6'3" 180 lbs
David Oleksy - Justin Bailey is a player that has passed the eye test for me. I loved watching him play for the Kitchener Rangers this past season and I expect this season to be even better. Bailey is a tall player and will probably add more muscle weight as he matures. He is a player that I think can be a great find for the Sabres and is likely to move up this list at some point.
Calvin - "Local boy makes good!" You can just see the headlines now can't you? Well, it's still a long way to the big leagues for this teenager. The son of an NFL player, Bailey has the size to make a gritty winger, and the upside is high. He does need to make strides in improving his skating (no pun intended), as he skates like a lumbering linebacker on ice (pun fully intended). He will probably be headed back to Kitchener this season.
#17 Brayden McNabb (Age-22) - Left Defense - 6'5" 212 lbs
David Oleksy - This feels like a make or break season for McNabb. He is still young enough to develop further but the age to break into the NHL has dropped significantly the past couple of years. McNabb had a cup of coffee with the Sabres a couple of seasons ago and seemed to hold his own at that time. Unfortunately, a injury derailed last season for him and he never seemed to fully recover. He will still get every opportunity to become the player he was supposed to be, because you can't teach size. Standing at 6'5" and 212 pounds, he will get an opportunity to succeed.
Calvin - This female fan favorite has dropped out of the limelight after a promising 2011-12 season. All is not lost though - despite the glut of defensemen in the Sabres system, his NHL experience should ensure he remains at or near the top of the list or Amerks who will get the call-up when the injury bug bites this season. While registering 31 points in the season, he did end up -1 on the year and that is something he needs to work on this year.
#16 Chad Ruhwedel (Age-23) - Right Defense - 5'11" 187 lbs
David Oleksy - I wonder what the true expectations are for a player like Ruhwedel. He was signed at the end of last season because the Sabres were in desperate need of some defensive help because of injuries. Now that everyone is healthy, where will Ruhwedel end up. He had a solid college career, and he did not seem out of place in his stint with the Sabres last season. How much of that was Ruhwedel adjusting well to the NHl game and how much of it was Ron Rolston protecting him by playing him in the right situations? This is one guy that I will be watching this season.
Calvin - This d=man really came out of nowhere to make the Sabres roster midseason - really, nowhere. UMass Lowell is not a hotbed of collegiate hockey, but still Ruhwedel ended up becoming one of the Hockey East's best puckmoving d-men and anchored the Riverhawks to a first ever Frozen Four spot. An excellent skater, he's done a little of everything - scoring, defensively responsible, power play and penalty kill too. Ron Rolston shielded him a little at the end of the Sabres season, but I fully expect this prospect to give the other prospects a run for their money trying to make the Sabres roster.
Check back again next Thursday when we reveal numbers 11-15 on the Sabres Top 25 Under 25 list.