Buffalo Sabres are on deck!
1. Alex Nylander - Mississauga Steelheads
Buffalo used their first rounder this year on one of the best offensive players available in 2016. Nylander, the reigning CHL Rookie of the Year, was sensational for the Steelheads this year in his freshman OHL season. Unfortunately, it's starting to look like it could be his last. Nylander is such a dynamic player with the puck on his stick. Carves his way through traffic with great poise and skill, and has a very underrated playmaker's touch. Nylander also possesses a cannon of a shot, which Mississauga utilized on the point of the powerplay. His play without the puck is a work in progress, but I thought that he improved over the course of the year in that area. Next year, he's got tons of options. He could make the Sabres, which I don't think happens. From there, it sounds like the AHL, Sweden, and then the OHL are the possibilities (in order). Because he was loaned to the OHL last year, he doesn't have to return to the league despite being drafted out of it. BUT, if he does return, Mississauga will have one of the best teams in the East (even without Nylander that's possible) and he would be a virtual lock for a 90 point season IMO.
2. Eric Cornel - Peterborough Petes
Progressed well over the course of his OHL career. I think one of the biggest improvements that Cornel has made is in his physical abilities. He's added strength and that's allowed him to be better at putting defenders on his back and working through traffic. He's certainly not a physical player, but he's worked hard to be better without the puck and become a better player in the possession game. Cornel's best attribute remains his playmaking ability and vision, but his shot definitely improved this year, especially in terms of velocity. Moving forward, I still wonder about Cornel's ability to transition to the pro game. I'm not sure his innate offensive skill set is good enough for him to be a top 6 forward at the NHL level. And at this time, his two-way game and overall make up don't make him an ideal 3rd/4th liner, especially when you consider him a playmaking winger. Moving forward, I think that (being improvements in his two-way game and overall intensity level) will be key to his development in the AHL. I'd imagine he'll start slow there and I wouldn't expect more than a 10/15, 25 point season.
3. Cliff Pu - London Knights
One of the biggest draft risers in the second half of the season, Pu found himself as a 3rd round pick in 2016. His terrific conclusion to the year and fantastic playoff performance helped him be a Top 70 pick. Pu is a potential power forward who shows a complete game already in his career. He uses his great skating ability to disrupt, annoy, and play physical. He also uses it to drive the net to create offensive opportunities. At this point, his overall offensive game is a work in progress. As a center, his vision and playmaking off the rush will need to continue to develop. Same goes for his shot and confidence in using it. Next year, he'll likely have that opportunity. He likely goes into the year as London's second line center and should see some powerplay time and will continue to be a big factor on the penalty kill. I think his production in the playoffs this past year represents a good indication of how he'll do next year with more ice time. A 25/30 (55 point year) is a very reasonable expectation.
4. Austin Osmanski - Mississauga Steelheads
The Sabres were obviously impressed by Osmanski in their viewings of Nylander this year and made him their 7th rounder. The big freshman defender was impressive in the first half of the year, showcasing good strength in his own end, as well as some offensive upside. But as the year went on, I felt like his play really dropped off. Not sure the reason (injury? fatigue? confidence?), but he'll look to re-establish himself next year. In terms of ice time, he's not likely to receive more. If anything, his potential ice time is threatened by the two Import acquisitions that Mississauga has made this offseason (Saarijarvi and Moverare). It's possible that he could be used as trade bait to acquire a goalie, or one of Mississauga's other defenders could go (like Sean Day, which has been long rumoured). Either way, I wouldn't expect a huge jump from Osmanski next year. The 2017/2018 season will be the big one for him.