Sunday, January 8, 2012

Three Prospects I'd Like To See Come To Buffalo If A Trade Happens

With the Buffalo Sabres pressed hard against the cap and a salary-in/salary-out scenario a necessity, it may take two trades to keep the Sabres cap-structure in line. Is there a desperate team out there looking for a top-six forward? Would they be willing to part with one of their top center prospects to do so? Do they have the cap space to take on a $4M contract?

Should the Sabres brass decide to move any of "the core," one would be hard pressed to believe that a marquis player would be headed back to Buffalo.

Florida GM Dale Tallon is said to be looking to bolster his line-up with a top-six forward. Although Edmonton's Ales Hemsky was mentioned as a good fit for the oft-injured right winger, the Cats could use a good #2 center.

The Minnesota Wild were once on top of the Western Conference, that was until they went 1-6-3 in their last ten. Injuries have been a big problem, but scoring has always been lacking. They presently are 29th in the league in goals/game.

The Phoenix Coyotes are presently in 11th place in the Western Conference and are playing some pretty good hockey. Two of their top-three centers are injured right now and they've begun to tail off going 4-5-1 in their last 10 games.

All three of these teams could be in the market for a #2 center who can put up points and is reasonably priced.

Let's just say that Derek Roy were available. He's a player that averages over .75 points/game, is making $4.5M and plays in all situations. Plus, after this season Roy will have only one year remaining on his contract.

A return for him, especially because he has not been playing up to his potential would be solid, if unspectacular. One would think that neither prime players, top prospects or 1st round picks would be in the equation. But a combination of a mid-to-upper level center prospect plus another prospect and/or draft pick might do the job.

Presently Florida is nearly $10M under the salary cap. Minnesota, around $8.5M and Phoenix about $10.5M. Plenty of room for any of those teams to absorb Roy's contract.

But what would the return be for the Sabres?

Let's take a look.

On November 22, 2011, Hockey's Future had Florida as the #1 organization for prospects.

Here's what they said:  "With 23 selections in the last two drafts, every position in the Panthers organization is loaded with top-end talent and solid depth...The system is laden with future NHLers at forward and defense, and boasts multiple skilled and physical players throughout."

Forget about their top-prospects which include center Jonathan Hubereau as he'll be their centerpiece for years to come. But the #2 center in their rankings would be center Nick Bjugstad.

Bjugstad was the 19th overall pick in the 2010 draft, the second first-rounder by Florida and he's presently playing for the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Why would the Sabres be interested in him?

From NHL Central Scouting's Jack Barzee: “He's further along and more polished than (Boston's Blake) Wheeler. He's also a better skater than David Backes was at the same age (17). The only difference is Backes was thicker, but the ingredients are there. He wants the puck and wants to make plays. He's a blue-collar type kid who works his tail off."

"He wants the puck and wants to make plays," an ingredient that seems to be lacking in Sabreland. "He's a blue-collar type of kid who works his tail off." That screams Buffalo.

From Hockey's Future:  "[Bjugstad] has high-end hockey sense that he displays at both ends of the ice. He has a strong wrist shot that he regularly puts on net."

Bjugstad is big coming in at 6'4" 190lbs. He has skills, being Minnesota's "Mr. Hockey" his senior year in high school. But the differentiating factors are his hockey sense and the fact that he has a "strong wrist shot" that he uses to get a shot on net. In an age of defenses clogging the middle and blocking shots, a quick release wrist shot and/or snap shot would be more of a weapon than the "vaunted" slapshot.

Would Florida be willing to move him?
Panthers prospect,
Nick Bjugstad

With Huberdeau in the mix and looking to land with the big club next season, the Cats should have the top-center position locked down for years to come. Stephen Weiss is presently their top-line center with Marcel Goc as #2 on the depth chart. Goc is bottom six at best, with fourth line duties probably better suited to his skill set.

Huberdeau and Weiss would make a solid one-two punch down the middle for the foreseeable future.

With Rocco Grimaldi, Drew Shore and John McFarland all rated in the same area as Bjugstad, the Cats look to be dealing from a position of strength.

Why would Florida want Derek Roy?

With Huberdeau still maturing in junior, he could be two years away from having an impact in the NHL. Roy would not break the bank for the next year and a half and would step into a 1B center slot with Weiss taking the 1A. If Huberdeau were to make the jump next season as the #1 center, having Weiss and Roy down the middle would be solid.

The big question is, would Roy be a Tallon-type of player? It might be a bit of a stretch, but it's a situation that could work for both teams.

The Minnesota Wild at one time were perched atop the Western Conference, then, like the storm in Rudolph, "it hit." After a five game win streak to start the month of December, the Wild went 2-6-2 to end the month scoring a total of 16 goals during that 10-game stretch.

The team took a big drop in the standings during that slump and are now sixth in the conference.

Although injuries have taken their toll on the team, they've not been particularly strong down the middle. Behind solid top-line center Mikko Koivu are 35 yr. old Matt Cullen and Kyle Brodziak. Both are playing a line above where they should be.

Mikael Granlund, a #9 pick in 2010, is Minnesota's top prospect, he's a center and is presently competing in the World Juniors. Charlie Coyle is their second rated prospect and he's a right winger.

Down the list we go, and in near the middle is center prospect Zack Phillips.

Phillips is 6'1", 181 lbs. and was the #28 overall pick from last years draft. Minnesota received that pick as part of the Brent Burns/Devin Setoguchi trade and it was their second first round pick in the draft. Interesting to note that the aforementioned Coyle was also part of the deal with San Jose'.

Phillips is said to have the skill, and Hockeysfuture has this to say about him, "[he] is primarily a playmaker but is no slouch when it comes to putting the puck in the net either. Blessed with great on ice vision and loads of hockey sense, his ability to anticipate the play cannot be overstated."
Minnesota Wild prospect,
Zack Phillips (R)

One thing that jumps out is that he was described by Central Scouting's Kim Houston as a "cerebral player."

He does have drawbacks, though, and among them is one thing that a few Sabres past and present are guilty of is not keeping their feet moving. Said St. John Seadogs assistant coach Greg Leland, "We don't really have to work on him with his skills, just his consistency and effort and being committed to being the best player that he can be."

Phillips would seem to fit the Regeirian mold of a skilled player with some consistency/motivation issues who's not overly physical . But, as a young player this lateral (from a particular style of play) move would at least yield upside potential. And it would help in the salary cap situation.

Why would Minnesota want Derek Roy?

They need scoring. They have a top-line center in Miko Koivu, but the drop to Matt Cullen as second on the depth chart is significant. Cullen would make for a solid third-liner and Roy would fit right in.

For a team that knows how to win with defense and is 29th in the league in goals/game, a center like Roy who can play defense and add scoring would seem like a good fit.

The Phoenix Coyotes are franchise that seems like it's always in a struggle for survival. The Yotes are under the governorship of the NHL right now as Commisioner Gary Bettman is trying desperately to keep things in Phoenix with a new owner.

The former Winnipeg Jets franchise has had a rough go of it in the desert, but they've started to right the ship in their post-Wayne Gretzky era. Oddly enough, Phoenix made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history after Gretzky stepped aside and Dave Tippett took over as head coach.

Tippett has taken this team to the playoffs in two consecutive seasons and has them on the bubble at this point in the season.

The Yotes have 6'6" Martin Hanzal up top at center and traded for 35 yr. old Daymond Langkow over the summer. Hanzal is presently on injured reserve, but is expected to return with in a week or two. Langkow has battled through minor injuries, but is clearly on the decline after a long career.

Center prospect Ethan Werek was originally drafted #47-overall by the NY Rangers with a compensatory pick they were awarded. Werek was traded to Phoenix in May, 2011 for forward Oscar Lindberg (#57-overall, 2010.)

Werek came out of junior with good size, 6'1", 185 lbs., but is now listed as 6'2", 208 lbs by the AHL's Portland Pirates.

Hockeysfuture had this to say about him, "Werek is a hard-working player with excellent intangibles. He possesses a willingness to do the little things to help the team such as being hard on the forecheck and, grinding along the boards and holding his ground out front of the net."

Skating seems to be the knock on him, and the added weight may be a contributing factor to his stat-line of three goals, three assists and a minus-12 in 28 games for the Pirates.

Former NY Ranger
2nd-round pick, Ethan Werek,
is presently with Phoenix's
AHL affiliate, Portland.
He could top out as a bottom-six player in the NHL, but with the proper teaching and work, he could also end up as a solid two-way, top-six center.

The one thing about the Sabres is that Regier has only drafted a center in the top-two rounds once since Marek Zagrapan in 2005--Luke Adam. Their organizational depth-chart has a gap between their starters and junior prospects starting with Kevin Sundher (3rd-round, 2010.)

Why would Phoenix want Derek Roy?

Depth. With the Yote's in a constant struggle to make the playoffs, injuries down the middle could be enough of a set-back to keep them out. Since Hanzal went out on December 23, Phoenix is 2-3-2. Roy between Hanzal and Langkow on the depth-chart not only adds insurance for injuries, but also move Langkow into a better position down a line.

Three teams with cap space who could put a #2 center to use without mortgaging the future.

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