Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek, at age 29, is just about smack-dab in the middle of his prime.
Vanek was selected fifth overall in the 2003 draft.
There are four other "homegrown" Buffalo Sabres in their prime right now. At one end Drew Stafford (#13 overall, 2004) and Patrick Kaleta (#176, 2004) are 27 and recently entered into their prime playing years. At the other end Ryan Miller (#138, 1999) age 33 and Henrik Tallinder (#48, 1997) age 34 are beginning their descent.
In looking at the Sabres roster, there's a huge void of homegrown upper-end talent between the ages of 24-26 on the team, players drafted from 2005 to 2007.
Both first round picks Marek Zagrapan (#13, 2005) and Dennis Persson (#24, 2006) from that era never made it to the NHL. Their other first round pick in 2007 was traded to Washington.
Rounds two and three were better for the Sabres.
Defenseman Mike Weber (#57, 2006) worked his way into a bottom-pairing role. Goalie Jhonas Enroth (#46, 2006) is beginning to really assert himself in a back-up role and is on the precipice of becoming a legitimate starter.
Of the remaining four second and third round picks, only one, forward Corey Tropp (#89, 2007) is still with the team. He's expected to fill a bottom-six role when he comes off injured reserve.
None of the four remaining players have played in more than 100 NHL games to date. Marc-Andre Gragnani (#84, 2005) has played in 74 games and is now in the KHL.
The other two--Phillip Gogulla (#48, 2005) and Drew Schiestel (#59, 2007) have yet to play in an NHL game.
Of the 14 remaining draft picks from those three years, only two have stuck on an NHL roster to this point--D, Chris Butler (#96, 2005) and F, Nathan Gerbe (#142, 2005.) Butler is in a bottom-pairing role for Calgary while Gerbe is in a top-nine role for Carolina.
Diminutive Paul Byron (#179, 2007) has played in 34 NHL games and is presently in the Calgary organization with Abbotsford.
The Buffalo Sabres have started out the 2013-14 season 0-3-0. They have scored two goals in those three games (Vanek and Zemgus Girgensons, #14-overall, 2012.)
In opening the season against three Eastern Conference powerhouses--Detroit, Ottawa and Pittsburgh--the dearth of top-end talent was evident as the Sabres had a hard time trying to keep up. They were outshot by an average of 38 to 25 over those three games. The senior members of the skaters--Vanek, Christian Ehrhoff, Tallinder--as well as Miller, held up well. But the gap between the veteran talent-level of the opposition and the Sabres youngins was too much.
The Sabres did add two players who are both 25 yrs old--free agent forward Brian Flynn and former Carolina defenseman Jamie McBain (#63, 2006.) But it's nowhere near the talent-level they'll need to compete with. Flynn has 29 NHL games under his belt; McBain much better at 207.
That glaring hole in draft picks from 2005-2007 has left the team in a tough position, and is probably what lead GM Darcy Regier to use the word "suffering" when preparing the fan-base for the upcoming season.
As the team rebuilds for the "distant" future, things look much better.
The present roster features eight players age 23 and younger (a ninth, Tyler Ennis just turned 24 today) including three teenagers (with a fourth, defenseman Nikita Zadorov, pounding on the door.)
Three years from now the team could possibly have six players hitting their prime at the same time with another two or three players coming off their entry-level contracts having played in 200 or so NHL games.
If that were the case now--if Buffalo had hit on a few more of their picks from 2005-2007--things would be different in Sabreland and the immediate future would not look so ominous.
But for now we'll need to live with a gaping hole between vets and youngins and the potential for an even younger team should Miller and/or Vanek be traded.
Bob Dylan once sang, "Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?" from It's alright Ma, I'm only bleeding.
"It's life and life only [as a Buffalo fan]"