Sabres’ Isak Rosen Adds Skill & Playmaking Ability to Prospect Pipeline

With the 14th-overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the Buffalo Sabres selected Isak Rosen, a winger from Leksands IF in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). A native of Stockholm, Sweden, the 5-foot-11, 161 pound forward was ranked No. 8 among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting heading into the draft, and was projected to go anywhere from late in the first round to early in the second round. Rosen scored one assist in 22 games with Leksands IF playing in Sweden’s top league, and joins first-overall pick Owen Power as the Sabres’ only other first-round selection in the 2021 draft.

Sabres Draft Rosen At 14th Overall

When it comes to acquiring the additional first-round pick in this draft to be able to select Rosen in the first place, Sabres fans can thank general manager (GM) Kevyn Adams’ negotiating skills in the trade that sent Rasmus Ristolainen to the Philadelphia Flyers. The longtime Sabres defenseman was expected to be traded this offseason, and Adams secured some valuable assets from the Flyers in the return package: d-man Robert Hagg, a 2022 second-round pick, and the 14th-overall selection in this year’s draft. Adams used that pick to select a player in Rosen that he and the Sabres front office believe they will be able to develop into a useful player in the near future.

Rosen spent the majority of his hockey career with the Leksands organization, playing for their U16 team in the 2016-17 season, and since then being an integral part of their J18, J20, and pro teams. In the 2018-19 season, he played with Leksands IF J18 in Sweden’s second-tier Allsvenskan junior league, recording 15 goals and 22 points in 16 games, good enough to earn himself a spot on the J20 roster the next season.

The 2019-20 and 2020-21 hockey seasons were strange, unusual experiences for young prospects like Rosen all around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but luckily, Rosen was able to play the entirety of last season in the SHL, showcasing his abilities to NHL scouts ahead of the 2021 draft. A large number of 2021 draft-eligible prospects had no body of work at all, and it was that much harder to scout the top-end talent. For Rosen, however, playing a full season of professional hockey worked to his benefit, and showed the Sabres he was a true first-round talent.

Rosen Impressed In U18 World Championships

While playing against peers his own age either in Sweden or on the international stage, Rosen has impressed and managed to turn heads, standing out as one of the best players on the ice at times. The U18 World Championships was one of these instances. He helped Sweden to a bronze medal, and ended the tournament tied for first in points among his teammates with nine points in seven games, which ranked 11th among all players at the event. His coaches congratulated him by naming him one of Sweden’s top three players in the tournament.

Related: Isak Rosen – 2021 NHL Draft Profile

Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said that “[Rosen is] one of those guys that makes the plays where he’s worth the price of admission,” praising his play at the U18 Worlds. “He was very, very entertaining. I thought he was very, very valuable and a player that rose to the occasion for Sweden at that tournament.” (From ‘Prospect of Interest: Isak Rosen has skills on par with Marner, Kane’ Sportsnet, 7/22/2021)

Rosen Played Against Men In SHL

In the 2019-20 season, Rosen started out playing with Leksands’ J20 squad in Sweden’s Nationell league, scoring at a rapid pace of 21 goals and 35 points in just 38 games, proving he was ready to take the next step to the SHL. He only played in one SHL game that season, though, and finally made the jump to the top team in the 2020-21 season. He finished last season with 12 points in 12 games with Leksands J20, and notched just one assist in 22 games with Leksands IF in the SHL.

Rosen’s lack of scoring might make some scouts and GMs scratch their heads, but it’s important to note that his playing time in the SHL was extremely limited: he averaged just 5:45 time on ice per game, and was relegated to the press box as a healthy scratch on more than a few occasions. Keep in mind that the SHL is not a development league, but Sweden’s equivalent of the NHL – teams at this level don’t wait around for draft-eligible prospects to develop, but instead ice their best players as much as possible to win games.

Kevyn Adams Buffalo Sabres
General Manager Kevyn Adams of the Buffalo Sabres, pictured here at the 2020 NHL Draft, reached to select Isak Rosen at 14th overall. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Rosen was just 17 years old last season, and with a small frame below 6-foot as well as being underweight, there was likely a steep learning curve for him playing against full-grown men in their 20s and 30s in the SHL. In addition to not getting a large amount of ice time with Leksands IF, he also faced an uphill battle in adjusting to a speedier, more skilled game in his draft year. But what was a disadvantage for him last year could bode well for his development in the years to come, especially in adjusting to the North American style of play seen in the NHL.

Rosen Brings High Offensive Skill to Sabres

The Sabres desperately lack high-skilled forwards with high offensive potential on their roster, and the departures of Sam Reinhart and presumably Jack Eichel will only make their situation even more dire. With the addition of Rosen, however, the Sabres can expect a highly versatile forward with a wide array of puck skills to add to their roster after a few years of development at the minor league level.

Rosen’s strengths have been noted as his shooting, passing, speed, Hockey IQ, and his defensive play, giving the idea that he is a two-way threat in all areas of the ice, and can step into any situation and add something to his team. He has been called a “shoot first” forward, his quick release and ability to score from all areas of the ice making him a threat whenever the puck is on his stick in the offensive zone. He typically scores more goals than assists, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t an elite playmaker – scouts have said he has the passing skills to find open lanes through traffic, making him a good future option on the Sabres power play unit.

Aside from putting the puck in the net, Rosen also possesses explosive speed and a deceptive stride, making him hard to catch up to both with and without the puck on his stick. He is a consistent breakaway threat, and has soft hands that lend themselves well to stick handling through the opposition and around opposing goalies in front of the net. All of these offensive qualities and attributes make for a top-level prospect with real top-six potential at the NHL level, and his ceiling could be as high as a top-line winger.

With two to three years to develop his skills and strengthen his body, Rosen can bring a lot to the Sabres in the near future. He is a gifted player with a lethal shot and release, and his playmaking ability is one the Sabres currently lack. He has the potential to become a top-line forward and special teams contributor, and with other young players like Casey Mittelstadt and Dylan Cozens maturing into effective NHL players, he will join a young core of talented forwards when he’s ready.

Sabres Need to Wait & Develop Rosen

Rosen will not have an immediate impact on the Sabres. For a high first-round pick, that’s probably not what most fans want to hear, but that doesn’t mean Adams wasn’t justified in reaching to take him at 14th overall. Rosen will be a valuable addition to the Sabres roster, just not quite yet. He needs time to strengthen his body to be able to get the most out of his game, and continuing to play against men in the SHL and eventually in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Sabres’ affiliate Rochester Americans is the best way to do that.

The Sabres need to be patient with Rosen, and do everything they can to put themselves in a position and fill out their roster so that they don’t feel rushed to plug him in, nor does he feel rushed to the NHL himself. He’s already a reliable two-way player, but would easily be muscled off the puck in the NHL, and needs to gain that muscle and confidence to make an impact with the Sabres. Adams drafted a high-end forward prospect and offensive talent, and now he need to wait for him to be ready.

Too many times have the Sabres rushed first-round picks and other prospects into the NHL, only to slow their development and ultimately lower the ceiling on their projected talent. With Power, Rosen, and the other nine players they selected at the 2021 draft, it is of the utmost importance that doesn’t happen again. For Rosen, it’s crucial, but for now, Sabres fans should be excited about this future talent we have in the system.

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