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Peeking inside the Sabres pipeline to the future

The Sabres are proud of their prospects. They should be. They’ve amassed a stable of youngsters who spur jealousy around the NHL.

The question is when will these players arrive in Buffalo?

A few of the prospects will begin trickling through town during the 2015-16 season, led by center Sam Reinhart. The 2016-17 edition of the Sabres will see a number of young players with prominent roles, including forwards Hudson Fasching, Nick Baptiste and Justin Bailey. The opening-night roster for 2017-18 could feature most of the marquee prospects drafted during the Sabres’ busy run.

Buffalo has made five first-round picks and seven second-round selections during the past three years. The Sabres are scheduled to pick twice in each round in June. With center Jack Eichel expected to join Reinhart, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher and Linus Ullmark in the organization, the Sabres should have an impressive team in a few years.

General Manager Tim Murray has made it clear he’d like to speed up the process. He can do it by swapping prospects and draft picks for players already in the NHL.

Until then, The Buffalo News has assembled an organizational depth chart. We’ll take a look at who’s here, who’s coming, when they’ll arrive and how they’ve been doing. The five-part series will start with the Sabres’ centers and continue with left wingers, right wingers, defensemen and goaltenders.

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 Kris Baker of 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.

Reinhart not only leads the centers, he’s the top prospect in the organization. The second overall pick from 2014 has the stats, international experience and pedigree to become a top center. Surprisingly for a team that hasn’t had a legitimate No. 1 middle man since Chris Drury and Daniel Briere left in 2007, Reinhart will have competition for first-line status.

The professionals

1. Zemgus Girgensons. The 21-year-old made a major leap during his second full season as a pro. He finished second on the team in goals (15) and fourth in points (30) despite missing 21 games. He has the drive and skill to play in every situation. Arrival in Buffalo: Here.

2. Mikhail Grigorenko. The Sabres finally gave the 20-year-old a chance to settle in during the last 10 games of the season. He had two goals and four points, nearly half of what he’d achieved during his previous 58 NHL games. He is the Sabres’ biggest center, and his size will benefit him once he utilizes it. Arrival in Buffalo: Opening night, 2015-16.

3. Johan Larsson. Like Grigorenko, Larsson found his zone once he got a secure place in Buffalo’s lineup. The 22-year-old had five goals and 13 points during the final 17 games. His ability to play wing will help him stay on the ice. Arrival in Buffalo: Opening night, 2015-16.

4. Cody McCormick. The snake-bit 32-year-old missed most of the year with injuries, including blood clots. He will provide toughness during the final two years of his contract. Arrival in Buffalo: Here.

5. Tim Schaller. The 24-year-old was a point-producer in Rochester (18 goals and 43 points in 65 games) and got a taste of NHL life after the Sabres traded players. Schaller needs seasoning to grow into a fourth-line penalty-killer. Arrival in Buffalo: Injury call-up, 2015-16.

6. Phil Varone. The 24-year-old has the speed to excel in the American Hockey League, but he lacks the high-end skills to be a scorer in the NHL. Arrival in Buffalo: Injury call-up, 2015-16.

7. Justin Kea. The 21-year-old’s best attribute is his size (6-foot-4). After fighting 13 times between the ECHL and AHL, he could become an enforcer. Arrival in Buffalo: Long shot.

8. Colin Jacobs. For the second straight season, the 22-year-old split time between the AHL and ECHL. He failed to produce at both stops. Arrival in Buffalo: Long shot.

The prospects

1. Sam Reinhart. Another season in juniors served the 19-year-old well. He excelled for Canada’s world junior team, recording a tournament-high 11 points for the gold-medal winners, and put up 74 points in 54 games with Kootenay. His hockey IQ should help him become a franchise cornerstone. Arrival in Buffalo: Opening night, 2015-16.

2. JT Compher. The 20-year-old sophomore scored eight goals in his final eight games with Michigan to turn around a lackluster season. He was blanked in the world juniors and fell from first to eighth on the Wolverines’ scoring list as other players passed him on the depth chart. He projects as a role player after another season in college and one in the minors. Arrival in Buffalo: 2017-18 season.

3. Sean Malone. The 20-year-old from West Seneca rallied after an injury-filled start to produce 18 points in 21 games with Harvard. The sophomore played some of his best games against ranked teams. His work ethic gives him a chance to reach the top level. Arrival in Buffalo: 2018-19 season.

4. Connor Hurley. The 19-year-old spent the season getting accustomed to college hockey, recording four goals and 14 points as a Notre Dame freshman. He was a playmaker in high school and the United States Hockey League. Arrival in Buffalo: 2018-19 season.

5. Christopher Brown. The 19-year-old didn’t respond well to a USHL trade, failing to score a goal in 21 games after being acquired by a playoff-ready Tri-City. He will head to Boston College. Arrival in Buffalo: 2019-2020.


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