Friday, April 27, 2018

Botterill will again be forging ahead with little of his own homegrown talent

Published by, 4-26-2018

There are more than a few fans and media types in Sabreland who are very high on d-prospect Brendan Guhle. And we all should be. The 2015 second round pick (51st-ovearll) has shown spurts of athleticism, skating and skill that look to be a great foundation for him moving forward in the NHL. Perhaps there's a little hope mixed in when looking at Guhle, as the Sabres prospect pool on defense is thin, but in his handful of games with the Sabres, there's a lot to like about the 20 yr. old first-year pro.

Although not on Guhle's level, winger Nicolas Baptiste is another prospect to look forward to next season. At 22 yrs. old Baptiste has three pro seasons under his belt and showed modest progress when called up to the Sabres over the course of the last two seasons. Baptiste is fast and has a good set of hands, elements which are coveted in the NHL.

Goalie Linus Ullmark has an opportunity waiting for him in Buffalo next season as Sabres GM Jason Botterill already designated the 24 yr. old Swede as one of his two goalies next season. After a solid season in the AHL Ullmark was named the Rochester Americans team MVP for the second consecutive season and lead the team into the playoffs. Unfortunately for him and the Amerks, they were swept out in three games with the goalie feeling a little shell-shocked.

Those are the homegrown draft picks from the previous regime that are in the system right now that look to be at least contributors to the Buffalo Sabres in the future.

Last night the Amerks were swept out of the Calder Cup playoffs in their first playoff appearance since 2014, when they were also swept out in three straight games. The numbers for the players above look like this:

Guhle--3 games played, 0 points, minus-6
Baptiste--3 games, 1 goal, minus-2
Ullmark--3 games, 0-3-0 record, 5.50 goals-against record, .800 save percentage

Those aren't very good numbers. Rochester allowed 18 goals with Ullmark being in net for all but two empty-netters, and they scored 10 goals with Baptiste and fellow 2013 draft pick Justin Bailey (2 goals) being the only homegrown prospects to light the lamp.

A visibly upset and shaken Ullmark faced the media after being eliminated last night and fielded questions. Right off the bat, Ullmark said flat out "I didn't make enough saves," and when one reporter mentioned a number of general situations where the goals allowed weren't his fault while asking him how frustrating that was he said, "there's nothing I can say that can change it now."

What it may have come down to is how the team, save for the veterans, may not have been prepared on an individual basis for the intensity of the playoffs. "It's a very different game," said Ullmark, "compared to the regular season. It's a lot tougher, a lot more physical, a lot more fights out there. Every battle matters. When you play in the regular season, you can take days off, this isn't like that."

Winger Alexander Nylander was selected eighth overall by the Sabres in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. At the time he was drafted no one doubted his skill level, which was the best on the board when Buffalo was selecting, maybe the best in the entire draft. But the knock on him was that he disappeared in games. Nylander played in all three games for the Amerks, had zero points, a minus-1 rating and according to reports from the game, didn't play very much in the first two periods of a must-win game.

No one from the organization will say it, but those reporting say he was nowhere to be found. Which is why he was on the fourth line...of an AHL a must-win game. At only 20 yrs. of age, it's still too early to give up on him, but his performance over the past two seasons, which includes being injured early in this season, have been pretty rough.

When we're talking about the rough and tumble of the playoffs, it's not too surprising that two big bodies like Baptiste and Bailey could get something done in an environment like that. Bailey has been ramping up his game all season while also spending 12 games in Buffalo scoring three goals and adding one assist. He left the game yesterday with what looked like a shoulder injury.

Botterill has his hands full if he wants to achieve the level of success he was accustomed to in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. The "Baby Penguins" of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton have not missed the playoffs since 2001-02. Granted, they've made it to the Calder Cup Finals only twice in that span, but the parent club has won three Stanley Cups with those coming up through the ranks contributing to those successes.

That's what Botterill wants to build in the Sabres organization. He knew he had a tough road to hoe and a long way to go, but it might be more difficult than he thought as the previous regimes didn't leave him a lot to work with. Ullmark is slated for the big club next season and Guhle will probably be there as well. Bailey and Baptiste are at the end of their waiver-exempt status so their time in Rochester is probably over. And despite what he says about making the Sabres next season, Nylander needs to get dirty and pay his dues before moving up to the big club.

There will be another wave of players coming into the system next year featuring draft picks from previous regimes and that's what Botterill will need to work with. Along with any free agents he picks up and or players he may trade for along the way.  Players from his draft class in 2017 won't be hitting Western New York for at least another year or two so once again he and Amerks GM Randy Sexton will need to forge ahead.

They achieved their stated goal of making the playoffs this season. That should be the minimum goal in Rochester moving forward as the team is still transitioning away from the previous regimes.

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