The Sabres are rebuilding the right way and have a solid collection of undervalued OHL talent.
1. Nick Baptiste - Erie Otters
Even though his numbers dipped (due to "sharing the wealth"), I think Baptiste had a great final season in the OHL. Post trade with Erie, he became an excellent winger for Dylan Strome, using his speed to create room for Dylan to work his magic. In the playoffs, I felt that Baptiste might have been Erie's second best forward behind Connor McDavid, consistently creating scoring chances. He's learned to use his speed to drive the middle of the ice, and not just stay on the perimeter. He works well in traffic and looks to engage in the corners and in front of the net. Baptiste also has a great wrist shot and has learned to get it off while at top speed, making him a very difficult player to stop off the rush. The only thing that I can say critically is that I wish his physical game would have become more prevalent. When he was drafted, I thought he might develop into a very physical player, a power forward almost. But that part has slowly worked his way out of his game. Although he's not shy to engage, he's also not one to seek out physical damage as he did in his first two OHL seasons. Next year he'll start his pro career and I think he'll find immediate success. The speed and hands should make him a weapon and I think he's a definite candidate for a 20 goal freshman campaign.
2. Justin Bailey - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Most definitely a bounce back season for Bailey, as he established himself as a true top line forward in the OHL. Biggest difference for me was his strength on the puck. Bailey was able to maintain puck possession way better than previously, and as such was able to use his size to drive the net more effectively. Bailey also possesses a fantastic shot that has gotten even heavier over the years. Bailey has also become a more complete player and the type of guy who now wins battles in the corners and is able to come off the wall and beat defenders to the net. He definitely projects as a solid puck protection top 9 winger at the next level. That said, I do wonder about his overall scoring potential. He's always had the skill, but I'm not sure the scoring instincts are good enough for him to develop into something as significant as a 30 goal scorer. I see him more settling in as a complimentary piece on the 2nd/3rd line who can work the cycle and open up some room. Like Baptiste, Bailey will start his pro career in the AHL next year. I expect him to have a good year, perhaps even on a line with Baptiste (Baptiste's speed would compliment Bailey well).
3. Eric Cornel - Peterborough Petes
Cornel is sort of at a place where Bailey was in 2013/2014 as a player. Part of an inconsistent offensive team, and not yet ready to be a go to offensive force. Cornel also still needs to get stronger. He flashes some power forward ability, and can even be a physical player, especially on the forecheck. But maintaining possession, finishing off plays near the crease, and being an effective two-way player are all areas that he still needs to get better at, and adding strength will help. Continuing to get a bit quicker will also allow him to fully take advantage of his size, especially off the rush. Peterborough is a team that could either be great next year, or continue to flounder in mediocrity. It depends on whether their younger players can take that next step forward. They need Cornel to be a leader offensively and I think he's certainly capable of an 80 point season. At least, the Petes will need that type of production from him if they want to be a top 4 team in the Conference.
4. Jean Dupuy - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Good signing by the Sabres. Dupuy won't be winning any scoring titles any time soon, but he's a hard nosed player with a chance of turning into a quality NHL role player. Great size and he uses it very well at both ends of the ice. Dupuy is exceptional along the wall, keeping the cycle going in the offensive end. He is also terrific in his own end, and is very intelligent on the penalty kill. Dupuy also wins face-offs and can drop the gloves to protect teammates. All in all, he's that 4th line center at the next level who can do a lot of different things to help you win. He'll start his pro career at the AHL next year, and while I wouldn't expect much offensively, I do think he'll find a way to stay in the line up and become a favourite of fans and coaches.