Sabres LW, William Carrier came to Buffalo in the Ryan Miller trade with the St. Louis Blues on February 28, 2014. It was Tim Murray's first trade as the Sabres new GM and his focus seemed to be on "bigger, faster, stronger" players with skill and the pugnacity to go to the dirty areas of the ice to score. Carrier was originally touted as a late first-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft because of his size, skating and hands as well as an all-in mentality. An injury caused him to miss half the season his draft year and he dropped to the second round where the Blues took him with the 57th selection.
Carrier's first two seasons as a pro began with struggles and an injury. Mid-way through last season, however, he was ready to break out. In a stretch beginning in January, Carrier posted a line of nine goals and 11 assists in 24 games before an injury sidelined him for the final 12 games of the season. Not only did the injury derail a strong finish to his second Amerks season, it also kept him off the First Niagara Center ice as he surely was ticketed to make his NHL debut for the Sabres last season.
With that done, Carrier came into Sabres Development Camp this season and was by and large considered the best player on the ice. Although he didn't register a point during the Blue and Gold Scrimmage on Saturday, he was noticeable for his physicality and his edge while being strong on the puck. He continued with that theme during the annual French Connection 3-on-3 Tournament, which closes out D-Camp, as his team took home the trophy.
As he enters the final year of his entry-level contract, Carrier moved himself up the prospect depth-chart to a spot where he could get the call to Buffalo sometime in the first half of the year. But, like Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com/sabres.com stated after the scrimmage, "if he can stay healthy."
LW, Brandon Hagel was a 6th round pick of the Sabres in the draft this year. He came into camp as an unknown and left a huge impression. Not bad for a 17 yr. old who was the youngest player on the ice.
As noted after the Blue and Gold Scrimmage, the 6'0" 160 lb. Hagel played big in that came as a tenacious contributor to the best line on the ice. He's a long shot to make it to the NHL, but you know what they say about first impression. WGR 550's Paul Hamilton quoted Murray as saying about 159th pick in the draft, "he was almost transparent, he’s competitive, he’s got better instincts than I was led to believe, so he’s got skill, he’s got good instincts for the game, he’s highly competitive, I liked his game.”
The development curve for Hagel will be a long one, which is fine for both player and team but being an intense puck-hound with skill and "good instincts for the game" should keep him on the Sabres radar for the next few years.
Buffalo had a number of lower-round picks like Hagel at D-Camp who looked like they could be quality contributors in the future. Having assets like that will allow the team to move towards the Chicago Blackhawks model for sustainable contention. The Hawks have an extremely talented core locked up for big dollars long-term but are able to maintain a championship-caliber team through a farm system that keeps them stocked with quality.
With their core of Jonathan Towes, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Keith Seabrook taking up a huge chunk of their cap-space (a total cap-hit of $36.65M or just over 50% of the salary cap this year,) it's inevitable that quality players will be squeezed out in a cap-crunch. Yet they manage to fill those roles with players in the system, Calder Trophy winner Artemi Panarin being the exception.
Obviously the Sabres aren't anywhere near the Hawks, but as they build for the future with 38 players drafted over the course of the last five years who are still with the club, picks outside the first round become extremely important not only to nearer-term success, but sustainable success down the road.
Players to keep an eye on:
D, Jake McCabe (2012, 44th-overall)--solid NHL'er with No. 2/3 upside
G, Linus Ullmark (2012, 163rd)--has the size and showed well as a rookie last year No. 1 potential
C, Judd Peterson (2012, 204th)--in a quality NCAA program on a long curve, got noticed at camp
C, Connor Hurley (2013, 38th)--highly-skilled play-maker, top-nine potential, gaining confidence
RW, Justin Bailey (2013, 52nd)--powerforward w/speed ready to make the jump to the NHL
RW, Nicolas Baptiste (2013, 69th)--looks to be a solid bottom-six NHL'er with more seasoning
G, Cal Petersen (2013, 159th)--tops Sabres goalie prospects
D, Anthony Florentino (2013, 143rd)--could make for a very solid depth defenseman with bite
F, Eric Cornel (2014, 44th)--two-way acumen places him in bottom-six/top-nine role
RW, Victor Oloffson (2014, 181st)--just gets better every year, top-six skills and potential
D, Brendan Guhle (2015, 51st)--top-four NHL d-man, question is, when?
D, William Borgen, (2015, 92nd)--quietly learning his trade, lower-pairing NHL'er might be his floor
C, Giorgo Estephan (2015, 152nd)--his NHL-caliber skills are starting to shine through
C, Rasmus Asplund (2016, 33rd)--Johan Larsson with much more to offer on offense
There are a few others (like Hudson Fasching who was traded for and has top-nine potential) and undoubtedly there will be surprises along the way but this is a group that the Sabres will be tapping into over the course of the next three or four years for sustainable contention. Whether it's contending for a playoff spot, conference supremacy or a Stanley Cup is to be determined, but this is what the scouting staff brought in and what the coaches will develop for the Blue and Gold.
Murray addressed the Jimmy Vesey question at the end of camp this week and seems to be tired of talking about it. "I’ve talked about this literally less than anybody else in Buffalo," Murray told the gathered media. "I hear the guys on the radio and people are mad and this is like top end news and I’m like, it is what it is."
It's not only the guys on the radio, but in print as well and us bloggers too.
Murray has always understood the media and it's role and has always been accommodating. Oft-times he'll qualify a statement by saying something like "I know you guys have a job to do," before offering what information he can and setting the record as straight as he can set it. It should be a very endearing quality to not only those whose livelihood is directly tied to the team he runs, but to us fans who are left with a sense of sincerity coming from his matter-of-fact approach.
The whole Vesey saga makes for a lot of hypotheses and plenty of speculation, but the simple fact of the matter is, said Murray, "we traded one of our four 3rd round picks to be able to talk to him. If he doesn't [sign with Buffalo], it's going to be obviously not the decision we want and you guys will call me a dummy for trading away a third-round pick. I've got all the scenarios and I'm ready for it all but it's up to him. It's his time."
Vesey's time indeed. He finished his four years of college and opted to become a free agent on August 15th as per NHL rules. The Sabres feel as if they have a very compelling situation for Vesey to fit into and presented it as such when they met with him last week. It's assumed that they did so in a very matter-of-fact way as well, leaving the bells and whistles to another organization in the hope of landing Vesey.
"We went down there. We spoke to him," said Murray. "I told him he doesn't owe anybody anything. He went to school for four years and he became a free agent so now he's got to make the right decision for him. There's no timetable.
"If he wants to come in here or he wants to reach out to us and have another meeting then we're there. But for me, this is in his court."
I'm still of the opinion that it's 65/35 he lands in Buffalo. Although I highly doubt they offered him an iron-clad guarantee he'd be in the top-six for the Sabres, I'm pretty sure offered him the opportunity to play on Ryan O'Reilly's or Jack Eichel's wing and what he does with that opportunity is up to him. He'll be surrounded by a core group of players very close to his own age on an up-and-coming team with at least one superstar (Eichel) in the mix.
"I don't sit at home and speculate about this," Murray said. "He's either going to sign here or he's not.
End of story...for now.