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Sabres’ future looks bright on the right

The biggest debate in hockey development is whether elite prospects should play junior hockey or go to college. Both paths work.

A secondary debate emerges when folks try to compare college stars to junior standouts. That’s true with the Sabres.

Until Jack Eichel arrives and further solidifies the center ranks, Buffalo’s future is brightest at right wing. Three players have the tools to reach the NHL: Hudson Fasching, Nick Baptiste and Williamsville native Justin Bailey. Determining who has the most potential isn’t easy.

Fasching has spent his freshman and sophomore seasons as a top-six player for the University of Minnesota, one of the NCAA’s elite programs. The 19-year-old receives the best off-ice training while competing against prospects up to four years older than him.

Baptiste and Bailey, meanwhile, have put up gaudy numbers in juniors. Baptiste had 88 goals and 173 points during a 133-game stretch. Bailey took a leap with 41 goals in 71 games this season.

While Fasching can’t match those numbers – he has 26 goals and 56 points in 78 college appearances – he gets the edge from Kris Baker of SabresProspects.com.

“Fasching over Baptiste is a decision that I get a lot of questions on,” said Baker, who watches games live and receives video from prospects’ teams. “Fasching projects really well to the NHL game based on his size, reach and ability to be an immovable force in front of the net. The NHL is a paint-dominated game, and here’s a guy with a propensity for tipping and jamming pucks over the line.

“He’s a dedicated, disciplined worker who pays close attention to the details – when to make a soft dump versus a hard rim, executing crisp stops and starts when engaging the backcheck, when to adjust defensively based on teammates’ positioning. All of these things, coupled with his success at the international level, make for a legitimate NHL prospect.”

In the third installment of The Buffalo News’ five-part series about the Sabres’ depth chart, we’ll take a look at who’s here among right wingers, who’s coming, when they’ll arrive and how they’ve been doing.

Many forwards play center and wing, so employees with their teams were consulted as to where the players were used most. Rankings were done in consultation with Baker. The depth chart for players already in the pros is based on their status for the 2015-16 season, while the junior- and college-aged players are ranked by potential.

The professionals

1. Tyler Ennis. After getting frustrated at center during the first month of the season, Ennis found a home on the wing. Free from faceoff duties, he responded with 16 goals, 39 points and numerous dazzling plays during the final 62 games. The 25-year-old is just hitting his prime. Arrival in Buffalo: Here.

2. Brian Gionta. The 36-year-old’s job was to maintain dressing-room decorum as the losses piled up. The captain showed his skills late with six goals and 16 points in the final 14 games. His next role is teaching players how to win. Arrival in Buffalo: Here.

3. Cody Hodgson. No one in the organization has fallen so quickly. The 25-year-old was invisible from the outset with six goals and 13 points in 78 games. With four years left on his contract, the Sabres need to decide whether to buy him out next month for $6.27 million. Arrival in Buffalo: Here.

4. Daniel Catenacci. The 22-year-old boosted his numbers during his second full season in Rochester, tying for second on the team with 15 goals. His speed and intensity will get him a look in the NHL. Arrival in Buffalo: Injury callup, 2015-16.

5. Zac Dalpe. The 25-year-old put up one goal and three points in 21 games with the Sabres after trades depleted the roster. The restricted free agent could provide organizational depth if he gets a contract. Arrival in Buffalo: Injury callup, 2015-16

The prospects

1. Hudson Fasching. One more season at Minnesota will serve the 19-year-old well before he joins the Sabres’ organization. The 6-foot-2, 207-pounder will reach his prime at the same time as Sam Reinhart and Eichel. Arrival in Buffalo: 2016-17 season.

2. Nick Baptiste. The 19-year-old is ending his junior career as a winner, advancing to the Ontario Hockey League finals with Connor McDavid-led Erie. His finishing skills are impressive. Baptiste has fluctuated from the first to third lines, so he’ll need to develop consistency in Rochester next season. Arrival in Buffalo: 2016-17 season.

3. Justin Bailey. The 19-year-old is determined to play for his hometown team. The 6-foot-3 winger was able to dominate smaller players in junior, but he’ll need to add to his 190-pound frame to compete with the bigger pros. He’ll become a power forward if his development in Rochester mirrors his junior strides. Arrival in Buffalo: 2016-17 season.

4. Vaclav Karabacek. The Czech Republic native had a dip in production during his second season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. His offensive skills are there, but he needs work on his overall game. Arrival in Buffalo: 2017-18 season.

5. Eric Cornel. The Sabres wasted no time giving the 2014 second-round pick a taste of the professional life, calling him up to Rochester for six games after his junior season ended. He’ll need to become The Man in Peterborough next season. Arrival in Buffalo: 2017-18 season.

6. Victor Olofsson. The 19-year-old performed admirably during his first season in the Swedish league, putting up 10 goals and 18 points in 39 games with Modo. He’ll spend one more season overseas. Arrival in Buffalo: 2017-18 season.

7. Judd Peterson. The 21-year-old played in 37 of 40 games as a freshman at St. Cloud State. Arrival in Buffalo: 2019-20 season.

8. Christian Isackson. The 23-year-old had three goals and seven points as a Minnesota senior. Arrival in Buffalo: Long shot.

Next: Defensemen.

email: jvogl@buffnews.com

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