Monday, March 26, 2018

Recent Sabres performances might not look good to FA college players

Published by, 2-25-2018

Minnesota State's defenseman Daniel Brickley and his No. 6 seeded Mavericks got ousted in the first round of a topsy-turvy NCAA Men's Hockey Tournament. The 6'3" 205 lb. defenseman went undrafted and is skipping his senior season to turn pro and TSN's Bob McKenzie tweeted last night that five teams, without naming them, are said to be in the running for the free agent d-mans services.

The usual suspects like Pittsburgh and Chicago will likely be in the mix for a player that is widely regarded as the best FA college player turning pro this year. Those are two organizations that have won six Stanley Cups (three each) dating back to the 2008-09 season and both are always on the prowl for inexpensive help, especially on the blueline, to help ease the crunch of superstars signed to long-term deals.

Both Pittsburgh and Chicago have proven to be class organizations the past decade plus and can put forth an alluring package to a player looking to begin his pro career.

The Buffalo Sabres may also be in the mix, and as they've shown in the past, upper-level free agents like fellow Maverick Casey Nelson two years ago and last year signed UMASS-Lowell's top scorer, CJ Smith. Both Nelson and Smith played big rolls in helping move the Rochester Americans into a playoff spot after a three-year absence. Nelson spent most of last season with the Amerks while getting 11 games with the big club while Smith has been plying his trade in Rochester and presently leads the team in scoring with 43 points (17+29) in 54 games.

This will be GM Jason Botterill's first foray into college free agency as the big dog and the organization could really use a shot in the arm. Botterill's Sabres have had a very poor season and if Brickley was watching at all last night, he came across a dismal performance by a team that's ready for the off season.

There's very little the last place Sabres have to offer outside of Jack Eichel and a somewhat quick route to regular NHL duty. Granted, Botterill is hell bent on incubating all his prospects (the length of which depends upon their development) so a player like Brickley may not start out on the big club out of camp were he to sign in Buffalo. Yet, with plenty of openings on the Sabres blueline at this juncture, a player like Brickley with NHL size, offensive acumen (10 goals, 25 assists in 39 games this year) along with a booming, it wouldn't be too long for him should he adapt well to the NHL game.

Buffalo has two draft picks in forward Casey Mittelstadt and defenseman Will Borgen who's college seasons ended early. Mittelstadt just finished his freshman season and could very well sign his first pro contract this off season. Borgen will be a senior should he stay in school one more year. Both seem ready to make the jump.

One thing that usually goes unnoticed to many in Sabreland is the commitment made by ownership to USA Hockey and pouring resources in to local talent. Botterill himself comes from the college ranks and has always had an affinity for landing and developing college players. He'll have a tough task at hand in trying to lure a player like Brickley to Buffalo, but might want to reiterate to his team that there are a lot of eyes watching their games. Hopefully Brickley was doing something else last night.

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