Saturday, July 12, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - Buffalo Sabres

OK, it's time for a novel. The Buffalo Sabres are up and I think (along with the LA Kings) they've got the rights to about half of the OHL.

Nikita Zadorov - London Knights
Upon returning to the OHL, Zadorov was an absolute beast. It was great to see such increased confidence in his offensive game. He made an effort to try and lead the rush in most instances, often times taking the puck deep inside the opposing blueline. He also was way more aggressive in jumping up in the play as the 3rd or 4th man, trying to get in position to use his big shot from the point. He continued to assert himself physically and was one of the toughest defenders in the league to beat one on one. He strikes fear into the opposition because they know he's waiting on the other side of the blueline to lower the boom. Defensively, he made strides. His zone coverage did improve and he generally did do a better job of letting the game come to him. Moving forward, this is still the area that needs the most improvement. Next year, I'd have to imagine he'll have a chance to crack the Sabres again and will be in competition with the likes of Jake Mccabe, Ristolainen, and Pysyk for a roster spot. If he does return to London, he becomes the front runner for OHL defenseman of the year IMO.

Nick Baptiste - Sudbury Wolves
What a terrific year for Baptiste, who grew leaps and bounds. He established himself as one of the top wingers in the league and was a consistent contributor for Sudbury. The biggest difference IMO was improved confidence and improved strength. For Baptiste, it had always been a consistency issue and that was corrected this year. Every time he stepped on the ice, he was a threat to score because of his speed and desire to take the puck to the net. His 200 foot game grew too, as he improved his play without the puck, his defensive presence, and the consistency of his physical game. He's growing into a terrific prospect for Buffalo. Next year, he'll return to Sudbury should end up cracking the top 10 of league scoring. However, I could see Sudbury trading him at some point, as I don't see them being a contender next year.

Justin Bailey - Kitchener Rangers
It wasn't a good year for Bailey or the Rangers. And I think those two things are related. Bailey was being counted on to be an offensive leader for the team, a role I don't think he was ready for. Just the same, Bailey is a complimentary offensive player at this point in his development and he didn't really have anyone to get him the puck. He's got such a terrific shot, but he didn't have a great playmaker to play with. He still looks like he needs to add strength to help him create room for himself out on the ice. He's still not a consistent factor without the puck either, and he'll need to really improve his desire to get his nose dirty. Next year, hopefully he can take the bull by the horns and take that next step forward. The Rangers will be a young team, but they should be a better team. Averaging close to a point per game and cracking the 30 goal marker seem like realistic expectations.

Eric Locke - Saginaw Spirit
It must have been a tough year for Locke. He got sent back a little later to Saginaw after failing to make Rochester (AHL). He then missed a good chunk of time between November and December with an upper body injury. And unfortunately, as team captain, had to help his team get through the tough times following the death of teammate Terry Trafford. There's no question that this trying year had to have made him a better person and a better leader. All things considered, he had a pretty good year. I don't think he was as good as 2012/2013, which caused Buffalo to draft him. But he wasn't bad either. When he's on, Locke is a very dangerous and complete offensive player. He creates or finishes scoring chances in a variety of ways. He can create from the boards/forecheck. He creates off the rush with great speed. He has a heck of a shot and is able to set up shot in the slot to finish plays. I just found that he wasn't as consistent with his energy level as he was in 2012/2013. I'm excited to see how he does professionally next year. Hopefully he can crack Rochester and establish himself as a solid prospect for the Sabres.

Justin Kea - Saginaw Spirit
This year sort of a status quo year for Kea. I think at this point, what you see is what you get with him. He'll never be a top scorer at any level and he's not a creative playmaker or finisher. But what he is, is a prototypical 3rd/4th line center. He has size, skating ability, two way awareness and is fantastic on face-offs. He closes gaps on opposing players with the puck very well, and is great at forcing turnovers with an active stick or a good hit. He'll turn pro next year with Rochester, and I wouldn't expect a lot from him offensively. If Buffalo is patient with him, he could be a great PK guy for them in the future.

Brady Austin - London Knights
Buffalo made the right choice sending Austin back for his overage year. He spent most of the year with London where he had a pretty decent year. His defensive awareness has improved to the point where he's become a solid zone defender. He's never developed a mean streak to match his great size, so we'll see whether that hinders his effectiveness at the pro level. But at the junior level, he's able to be successful as primarily a stick checker. Offensively, his game hasn't really grown all that much. He is a good skater for a big guy, but prefers to pass out of the zone, rather than skate it out. He's got a decent point shot at the junior level, but I wouldn't expect that to translate to the pro level as he's not aggressive enough in using it. At this point, his future lies as a stay at home guy and we'll see how his more passive defensive approach works at the next level.

Brendan Lemieux - Barrie Colts
Lemieux was a great pick by the Sabres. I'm a fan. His offensive game really improved this year and it seemed like he was gaining more confidence each month. By the end of the year, he was beginning to create his own scoring chances, instead of being just a complimentary offensive guy. But he's got great hands in close and is probably the best in the OHL at redirecting pucks in front of the net. The key for him moving forward is to improve his skating. He's not a bad skater, but improving his first few steps and his top gear would make him much more dangerous as a forechecker and on net drives. I look for for him to have a good year in 2014/2015. I'd expect 35 goals.

Eric Cornel - Peterborough Petes
The Cornel pick is a similar one to Justin Bailey in 2013. Cornel is a forward with a lot of potential, but who struggles with consistency. He needs to add strength this offseason. Towards the end of the OHL season, he really started to play with some aggression away from the puck. I hope this is an element to his game that will continue to develop, as it would greatly help him gain more consistency. The Petes should be one of the strongest teams in the East next year and I was expect Cornel to be right in the thick of that. A 70+ point season would be a successful one for him IMO.

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