Sabres’ Prospect Watch: Mattias Samuelsson

It’s time for another Buffalo Sabres prospects update, a series that checks in on the young talent available in the team’s system, whether they are playing in North America or Europe. A player that is intriguing to discuss is Mattias Samuelsson, a former second-round pick in 2018 (#32nd overall). He was drafted out of the USDP and played two seasons at Michigan before jumping to professional Hockey. After playing with the Rochester Americans for the majority of the season, he made his NHL debut and has gotten to play a string of games as of late.

Going into his draft year, he was scouted as a player that could have been selected earlier than 32nd overall. According to multiple draft rankings, many scouts believed he should have been a mid-to-late first-round pick. His play suggested that he was solid defensively and could skate surprisingly well for how big he was, at 220 pounds. His offensive game needed work, such as breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and being more confident creating plays in transition.

In this piece, I will dissect Samuelsson’s play in the AHL and NHL over the course of the 2020-21 season and will use video scouting and analytics to create an opinion of his play so far.

His Play With the Rochester Americans

So far this season, Samuelsson has played 19 games with Rochester, scoring three goals and 11 points. For his first year as a professional Hockey player, he looked very comfortable playing first-pairing minutes with Casey Fitzgerald. As shown in the play below, he jumped into the rush and showcased his lethal shot, but he waited that extra second to shoot instead of directly firing the puck off his stick. His poise with the puck is quite surprising for a player of his age.

(@AmerksHockey on Twitter)

Rochester’s head coach Seth Appert and Samuelsson go way back to the National Team Development Program. Abert was the head coach of the NTDP and coached Samuelsson during his draft year. Fast forward, and both would be reunited with the Amerks this season, and the trust between the two is quite evident. He’s played in all situations for the team, and his role increased as players were getting called up to the taxi squad.

Before taking the job as Rochester’s head coach, Appert had this to say about Samuelsson, “Mattias Samuelsson is going to be a top-three defenceman on some NHL team for the next 15-plus years. He’s going to eat minutes, he’s going to help you win, and he’s going to be miserable to play against.” That is quite the statement to make about a player, and if he can live up to that, the Sabres will Rasmus Dahlin and Samuelsson anchoring the top two defensive pairings.

Related: 5 Sabres Who Made the Biggest Strides in 2020-21

Looking at the underlying numbers, there is concern about play-driving abilities according to various metrics. His shot share was at 48% earlier on in the season, according to Chad DeDominicis. To put that into words, when he was on the ice, the opposing team generated more shots. Over a large sample size, most of Rochester’s players are below 50%, which can indicate a systems issue. The entire Amerks team has tended to give up many shots this season and have been outplayed. This would suggest that he still needs to develop more before taking the full-time jump as an NHL player.

His Play With the Buffalo Sabres

As the season dwindles for the Sabres, they decided to give Samuelsson a shot on the third-pairing. Over the course of six games, he has picked up two assists and is averaging a time on ice (TOI) of 16:40. He picked up his first NHL point on a Casey Mittelstadt goal, and the team has gone 2-4-0 since he’s been called up. The potential is certainly there, but he is not an NHL regular as of this moment.

(@BuffaloSabres on Twitter)

Looking at the eye test, he is making impressive plays on the defensive side. He was able to break up Artemi Panarin’s breakaway in yesterday’s game against the New York Rangers by using his long reach to gain inside positioning. Although the pairing of Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju has been quite stellar as of late, it would be interesting to see Samuelsson play with Dahlin on the second-pairing. Their style of play could mesh very well, and he would support when Dahlin jumps up into the rush.

Looking at the underlying numbers, it’s important to note that the sample size is quite small. Generally, when using analytics for player evaluations, it takes a 20+ game sample to trust the results that are being garnered. With that being said, he currently has an expected goal for percentage (xGF%) of 28.57% and a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 43.45%, according to Natural Stat Trick. This would tell us that Samuelsson has made impressive plays in his stint, but he is generally being outplayed when he is on the ice.

The big defender has a lot of potential and has only just begun his professional career. This was a successful first season for him, and he was able to play a few NHL games to showcase how he can perform at that level. Another season in the AHL would do wonders for his development and prepare him to be a full-time Sabre by 2022-23. Although he looks quite old for his age, Samuelsson is young and a name that you should get used to hearing about.

Sign up for our free ‘Sabres Substack Newsletter‘ for all the latest.