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2024-25 NHL Prospect Pool Breakdown: Buffalo Sabres’ Top 10

2024-25 NHL Prospect Pool Breakdown: Buffalo Sabres’ Top 10

Originally posted on Daily Faceoff

Welcome back.

It’s time to kick off Daily Faceoff’s second annual NHL Prospect Pool Breakdown, looking at the best all 32 teams have to offer. We’re highlighting the top 10 prospects for every franchise, their biggest strengths and weaknesses and so much more.

The criteria for being labeled a “prospect” are simple: players generally have to have played in 50 or fewer NHL games or spent more time outside of the NHL than in it last year. Skaters over 23 years old are not included, with goaltenders needing to be 25 or under.

Today, we’re looking at the Buffalo Sabres.

The Sabres have been quite active this summer, but nothing was more surprising than when they traded top prospect Matthew Savoie to the Edmonton Oilers for Ryan McLeod and Tyler Tullio.

It’s rare for a team to move a top prospect, with Savoie taking over the mantle after Zach Benson became a full-time NHLer. But while the return might be underwhelming, the Sabres snagged immediate, bottom-six help and shipped off someone who was probably another year or two away from making a serious push higher up in Buffalo’s lineup.

And despite moving Savoie, the Sabres still have one of the best pipelines in the NHL. They’ve got high-end forwards in Jiri Kulich, Konsta Helenius and Noah Ostlund. They’ve got a bit of defensive depth in Adam Kleber and Maxim Strbak. They even have a deep goaltending crop, with Devon Levi, Scott Ratzlaff, Topias Leinonen and Ryerson Leenders all in the system. Few teams have as many NHL-caliber options in their stable ready to go.

But at the same time, the fanbase wants more – way more. The Sabres boast the longest playoff drought in NHL history and have fallen victim to false hope in recent years. Buffalo needs to take a serious step forward this year, which makes you think they might ship off one of their other young guns to bulk up the main roster sooner rather than later.

For now, though, there’s so much to like here.

Biggest Strength

Is there a team with a deeper goaltending pool than Buffalo? Detroit, arguably, but the Sabres have so many options at their disposal here. Levi is one of the top goalie prospects in the game, but that hasn’t stopped them from landing Ratzlaff, Leinonen and Leenders in recent years. It’s always a good strategy to draft at least one goalie each year because the position is so volatile, and even if you think you’re good there, you probably aren’t. If Levi doesn’t pan out, they’re not screwed.

Biggest Weakness

While I like the addition of Kleber, I still think staying at No. 11 at the 2024 NHL Draft and landing a quality defenseman should’ve been the way to go. As it stands, the Sabres have a weak crop of defensemen to help fill out a group that includes Owen Power, Rasmus Dahlin, Bowen Byram, and Mattias Samuelsson. I do like the two higher-end options Buffalo has, but their blueline pipeline isn’t deep by any means. This just might be an area GM Kevyn Adams elects to build upon via trades and free agency, instead.

Jiri Kulich (Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff)

Fast Facts:
NHL GM: Kevyn Adams
Assistant Dir. Amateur Scouting: Jason Nightingale
Dir. of Player Development: Adam Mair
AHL Affiliate: Rochester Americans
ECHL Affiliate: Jacksonville Icemen

TOP 10 PROSPECTS

1. Jiří Kulich, C/LW, 20 (Rochester, AHL)

Acquired: Drafted 28th overall, first round in 2022

It wa another exciting season for Kulich, who helped Czechia win bronze at the World Juniors with 12 points in seven games. He also had 27 goals and 45 points in 57 AHL contests, one point fewer than the total he had in 62 games as a rookie. Kulich loves to shoot the puck and has some excellent hands, and his ability to stand up in big moments – whether it be with Czechia or in Rochester – can’t go unnoticed. The fact he’s played so much pro hockey already at 20 years old is a huge bonus, and while I’m not 100 percent convinced he’ll be a full-time NHLer next year, I do think he’s a future 25-30 goal-scorer with the Sabres.

2. Devon Levi, G, 22 (Rochester, AHL)

Acquired: Trade with Florida Panthers in 2021

Levi’s first pro season was a bit of a clustercluck, bouncing between the NHL and the AHL. It never made sense for Levi to start the year with the Sabres, even with his great play near the end of the 2022-23 campaign. But once he found his groove with Rochester, he was nearly unstoppable. Levi had been a dominant force during his two years in the NCAA, but the pro game, especially for a goaltender standing just six-foot, is a totally different animal. You want your goaltenders to have confidence, and Levi really showed that during the Americans’ playoff push. Levi is one of the top goaltender prospects in the game today and might legitimately be Buffalo’s goalie of the future, but they have the luxury of being patient with him thanks to the rise of Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.

3. Konsta Helenius, C, 18 (Jukurit, Liiga)

Acquired: Drafted 14th overall, first round in 2024

Konsta Helenius (Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff)

When the Sabres took Helenius, you could tell Savoie’s days with the organization were numbered. They play different games, but Helenius is a bit more reliable as a two-way center, and he’s also got experience on the way. He’s coming off one of the most productive seasons ever by a U-18 player in the top Finnish league, which is great. He had a bit of a disappointing end to the season at the U-18s and World Championship, but the fact he looked so good against men for the better part of the year shows he can physically and mentally handle stronger competition. For a 5-foot-11 center, a lack of size hasn’t prevented Helenius from shining. He’s a battler who never gives up on a puck and plays with muscle. His hockey sense is among the leaders in this draft class, and he’s just so physically in tune with his own strengths. Helenius has a skill set, knows how to play to it, and uses it to overpower opponents, no matter their experience. The expectation is Helenius will play in North America next year; we’ll find out where specifically soon.

4. Noah Östlund, C, 20 (Rochester, AHL)

Acquired: Drafted 16th overall, first round in 2022

Östlund is coming off an exciting year that saw him put up great numbers at the World Juniors and finish second in U-20 scoring in the SHL. Östlund is a strong two-way forward who loves to use his speed to his advantage, as displayed during his brief run with the Americans to close out the season. Östlund showed he’s been able to play against quality competition year after year, but at 5-foot-11 and around 160 pounds, there are concerns about how his game will translate in the NHL. I’m excited to see how he plays in Rochester because he’s got the skill and drive to make plays that give him a chance to be relevant every single night.

5. Anton Wahlberg, C/LW, 19 (Malmo, SHL)

Acquired: Drafted 39th overall, second round in 2023

At 6-foot-3 and 194 pounds, Wahlberg is a hulking presence out there. He brings tremendous energy and power to his well-rounded game, leaving many to believe the Sabres got a steal at No. 39 in 2023. Wahlberg only had 10 points in 43 games this year but showed a bit of promise with Rochester to close out the season. Compared to, say, Östlund, Wahlberg projects to be more of a bottom-six forward, but a difficult one to play against.

6. Isak Rosén, LW, 21 (Rochester, AHL)

Acquired: Drafted 14th overall, first round in 2021

Isak Rosen (Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff)

After a great start at the Buffalo Prospect Challenge, Rosén kept the fun rolling in Rochester with 20 goals and 50 points in 67 games as a sophomore. From a talent perspective, Rosén is one of the best in Buffalo’s system, allowing himself to get creative and make high-danger chances while displaying quick footwork. One issue with him his consistency, as he seems to not be as effective when not playing in a high-pace, scoring situation. Rosén is expected to spend another year in Rochester, but I hope to see him get some spot duty in a top-six role with the big club this year.

7. Adam Kleber, RHD, 18 (University of Minnesota-Duluth, NCAA)

Acquired: Drafted 42nd overall, second round in 2024

Kleber was one of the biggest risers on draft boards in the second half of the year, and I loved him at No. 42. I thought he was one of the best players at the Sabres’ development camp scrimmage earlier this month, although you have to take events like that with a grain of salt. But for a 6-foot-6 defender, he moves the puck well and is quite creative, and he has shown more of a willingness to rush toward the net on a scoring chance than he did, say, six months ago. Kleber has the size, mobility and offensive awareness to make himself a valuable blueliner, but I still think he needs to play with a bit more urgency in his own zone. Still, I think this is an excellent pickup.

8. Maxim Strbak, RHD, 19 (Michigan State University, NCAA)

Acquired: Drafted 45th overall, second round in 2023

With Artyom Levshunov set to go pro next year, the 2024-25 season will be a big one for Strbak. He’ll be the man everyone’s watching at MSU, taking on even more responsibility as a sophomore. I thought he was good but not overly fantastic in the NCAA, but it seemed like his confidence improved with more experience. He’s not much of an offensive threat, but Strbak can kill plays, get in front of shots and take space away without being a menacing figure out there. The best thing about him is that he’s improved quite a bit defensively since the first time I saw him at the 2022 World Juniors, and I think he also has better offensive instincts than his numbers suggest.

9. Ryan Johnson, LHD, 22 (Rochester, AHL)

Acquired: Drafted 31st overall, first round in 2019

Ryan Johnson (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

Is there a clear path forward for Johnson to become a full-timer with the Sabres? He’ll be 23 when the season kicks off, so you’ve got a clear picture of what type of player he is now. That’s partly why they got him into 41 games with the big club last year, mostly in a role deeper down the lineup. Johnson won’t beat you with skill, but he’s a great skater who is strong defensively, as you’d hope for in, you know, a defenseman. The issue is he doesn’t do enough with the puck to lock himself into a defined role, and Buffalo’s blueline is a bit crowded. I liked what I saw from him last year, at least.

10. Brodie Ziemer, RW, 18 (University of Minnesota, NCAA)

Acquired: Drafted 71st overall, third round in 2024

Ziemer has a non-stop motor and a drive to win every battle, and it often paid off for him with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program this year. He was a big reason why top 2025 NHL Draft prospect James Hagens was so successful this year, with Ziemer’s leadership and hockey IQ allowing him to be so effective. Ziemer projects to be a future bottom-six player, but he’s someone you can throw in a variety of roles and feel comfortable with. There’s no standout quality, like a booming shot or Dylan Larkin-esque speed. And that’s fine; he’s a Swiss army knife. That alone makes him valuable.

Other notables: Viktor Neuchev, LW, 20 (Rochester, AHL), Nikita Novikov, LHD (22), Olivier Nadeau, RW (21), Alexander Kisakov, LW (21), Tyler Tullio, RW (22), Tyson Kozak, C (21), Ethan Miedema, LW (19), Stiven Sardarian, RW (21), Prohor Poltapov, LW (21), Viljami Marjala, LW (21), William von Barnekow Lofberg, LW (21), Jake Richard, RW (19), Gustav Karlsson, C (20), Joel Ratkovic Berndtsson, RW (20), Vasili Zelenov, LW (18), Gavin McCarthy, 19 (RHD), Luke Osburn, LHD (17), Simon-Pier Brunet, RHD (19), Patrick Geary, LHD (20), Sean Keohane, LHD (19), Norwin Panocha, LHD (19), Topias Leinonen, G (19), Scott Ratzlaff, G (19), Ryerson Leenders, G (18)

Recently by Steven Ellis

Originally posted on Daily Faceoff

Published: 1 week ago

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