The Sabres’ top defensive prospects have appeared in Buffalo at one time or another. It’s nearing the point when they’ll all be in the NHL at the same time.
When the Sabres began their rebuild two years ago, the first pieces added through the draft were Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov. They joined 2010 first-round pick Mark Pysyk, 2012 second-rounder Jake McCabe and college free agent Chad Ruhwedel.
Unless the Sabres add to the blue line via trade or free agency, those five could join Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges and Mike Weber on the opening-night roster. The competition should be fierce to see which six will play.
In the fourth installment of The Buffalo News’ five-part series about the Sabres’ depth chart, we’ll take a look at who’s here among defensemen, who’s coming, when they’ll arrive and how they’ve been doing. Rankings were done in consultation with Kris Baker of SabresProspects.com. 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.
1. Zach Bogosian. The 24-year-old should be a cornerstone on the blue line for at least four more seasons. With the ability to move the puck and dish out punishment, Bogosian skated nearly 24 minutes per night. His style of play makes him susceptible to injury, but the third overall pick in 2008 is just entering his prime. Arrival in Buffalo: Here.
2. Rasmus Ristolainen. The 20-year-old hit his stride during the final quarter of the season, playing with the poise that was forecast when Buffalo drafted him eighth overall. He spotted open players and open areas of the ice equally well. He could easily play on the top pair this season. Arrival in Buffalo: Here.
3. Nikita Zadorov. The 20-year-old will be the first to tell you he can play in the NHL. His teammates and General Manager Tim Murray also made it clear that Zadorov needs to grow up. It’s an important summer for the big hitter and smooth skater. If he doesn’t show up to training camp more mature, he could wind up in Rochester instead of the second pairing. Arrival in Buffalo: Here.
4. Josh Gorges. Between season-ending knee surgery and disappointing results, his first year in Buffalo was forgettable. The 30-year-old showed signs that his rugged style has caught up to him, but he can still compete in a role with fewer minutes. His leadership will be invaluable during the coming seasons. Arrival in Buffalo: Here.
5. Mike Weber. Beloved in the dressing room and maligned outside it, the 27-year-old is at his best playing 17 minutes per night. If the prospects reach their potential, the shot blocker could return to that role. Arrival in Buffalo: Here.
6. Mark Pysyk. The 23-year-old eased minds in the organization by returning from a mysterious ailment that caused an off-ice collapse. He’s experienced a lot during his three seasons in the pros and has maintained a calm demeanor. He’s solid in both ends. Arrival in Buffalo: Opening night, 2015-16.
7. Chad Ruhwedel. The Sabres like his offensive instincts, and the 24-year-old has cut down the mistakes in his own zone. His contract transitions to a one-way NHL deal, so he’ll get the chance to show he belongs. Whether he can outbattle opponents at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds remains a question mark. Arrival in Buffalo: Opening night, 2015-16.
8. Jake McCabe. The 21-year-old’s ability to avoid waivers increases the chance he’ll start in Rochester for the second straight season. He’ll be in the NHL conversation because of how quickly he’s grown. The former captain of the U.S. world junior team fits in well in the dressing room. His offensive skills carry him on the ice. Arrival in Buffalo: Injury callup, 2015-16.
9. Jerome Leduc. After showing little during his first 2½ years in the organization, something finally clicked for the 22-year-old. In Rochester’s final 31 games, Leduc recorded 16 assists and 19 points. The late burst likely kept the restricted free agent in the organization. Arrival in Buffalo: Injury callup, 2015-16.
10. Brady Austin. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder brings needed size to the organization. Arrival in Buffalo: 2016-17 season.
1. Anthony Florentino. The 20-year-old played a vital role for NCAA champion Providence, earning a spot on the Frozen Four All-Tournament team with a goal, two assists and plus-6 rating during the title run. His eagerness to play physical tops his offensive talent. He’ll spend another season learning at the college level. Arrival in Buffalo: 2017-18 season.
2. Brycen Martin. The 2014 draftee got a surprise taste of the professional life with two games for the Amerks after his junior season ended. His third full season in juniors mirrored his second, so the 19-year-old still has room to grow. His trade from Swift Current to Saskatoon should give him more chances to play in all situations. Arrival in Buffalo: 2017-18 season.
3. Mark Adams. The 23-year-old was a role player for Providence with three points and 37 blocked shots in 32 games. Arrival in Buffalo: Long shot.