The current Buffalo Sabres’ blue line depth leaves a lot to be desired. Similar statements could be made about the pipeline of defensemen coming up, especially after Lawrence Pilut’s signing in the KHL. There is still some promise in the Sabres’ defensive prospects, as there should be with any young draftees, but there are some with more legitimacy than others.
A keen eye at the point is what makes Oskari Laaksonen an exciting prospect. Even while struggling at times last year, he was still able to move the puck around efficiently. He battled through ailments that clearly hampered his conditioning, but has been able to bounce back so far this season.
Laaksonen was in line to pick up where Pilut left off with the Rochester Americans before the organization cleaned house. It is still a strong possibility given his time overseas and that he is on currently on loan in Finland.
One intriguing parallel between Pilut and Laaksonen is there ability to thread pucks through from the point. The latter has shown that this talent seems to be rekindling this year, resulting in quality chances on the man advantage alongside Montreal Canadiens draft pick Jesse Ylonen.
He is still a couple years from NHL roster contention, but he could really contribute to the AHL right away.
Jacob Bryson is another defenseman that knows when and how to shoot the puck to generate quality chances, but the aspect of his play that will mostly contribute to his success is his skating. From zone to zone his feet rarely stop moving when carrying the puck.
He has proven to be consistent in his scoring as a combination of both those factors. He may go quiet at times, but he is usually anticipating the play on both ends and following up with pass breakups or set up passes.
If things really go south for the NHL team, it could be productive to see him in a sheltered role. He would fill the new age defenseman mold and add a much-needed offensive boost to the bottom pair or even in the bumper position on the second power-play unit.
Will Borgen sets up to be one of the only defensemen in the Sabres’ pipeline that could really disrupt play in his own zone. He’s very physical yet responsible for the most part and when he gets the puck he’s going to transition the other way without carelessly throwing it off the boards.
It is pretty clear he has reached his full potential in the AHL and will most likely be the first man up from Rochester when there are injuries, if he’s not already on the NHL roster.
With all that said, it may seem odd to point out Borgen as one not to forget about; however, a big thing that is hindering him right now is his path to a permanent NHL job. Transactions will need to be made in order to get him there. Brandon Montour’s one-year deal provides comfort as they could sell him at the trade deadline.
It is important not to overlook Albert Lyckasen as an over-ager and a seventh-round selection. He is a puck hog in a good way and is always determined to push the play to the net. On the defensive side of things, he provides support by cutting off any developing danger especially on the rush.
As an over-ager in Allsvenskan he is not surrounded by the best competition. Lyckasen is playing with an older group, but it would be beneficial to see him in SHL action where the pace is picked up and he is facing players that are much more skilled.
Still, he brings great offensive instincts to the table, which is evident in his J20 league stats. There are larger aspirations to the style he plays compared to that of fellow Sabre picks William Worge Kreu or Linus Cronholm. Kreu and Cronholm can be hard to play against but lack skill in other essential areas.
What About the Rest of the Pack?
This last point will mainly be about Mattias Samuelsson and Ryan Johnson. One a former second-round pick and the other a first-round selection. They are two very good NCAA defensemen that can catch the eye here and there, but there’s something left to be desired.
Particularly with Samuelsson, who opted to sign an entry-level deal with Buffalo instead of returning for his junior year at Western Michigan University. There wasn’t much left for him to prove at the collegiate level, but there isn’t much hype for him coming into the AHL either. He was on a very talented NCHC team and even served as captain of the United States at the 2020 World Junior Championship, but there were times when he failed to stand out despite the roster boost.
Johnson, on the other hand, will most likely improve from his freshman effort with Minnesota, but there will be some serious problems if he doesn’t. His offensive presence certainly needs to be developed to that of a first-round pick, but he can become a hit if he can grow with the game.