It is easy to suggest that top prospects like Matt Savoie, Zach Benson, or Jiri Kulich should see time in the NHL this season, but the Buffalo Sabres have a multitude of other prospects in their system who deserve a shot to show what they can really do. For this, I am going to use the qualification that the player has played in less than 10 NHL games, and I will also be excluding goaltender Devon Levi as he has already proven he deserves a full-time NHL look. Buffalo has a nearly full roster as it is, but injuries can still happen, and seeing where their mid-tier prospects fit in their system is supremely important.
The Sabres have really taken some great strides to build their prospect pool, and the roster they have put together for their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Rochester Americans speaks volumes to that. Some of their top prospects will be playing this year in North America, so the Sabres will have some excellent choices to pick from. While some prospects already have some decent NHL experience, there are others that played well last season and have earned the opportunity to be called up to the big club.
Tyson Kozak, Center
At the start of last season, I had Tyson Kozak ranked sixth on my top 10 Sabres prospects list, and it was for good reason. He is a former seventh-round pick that took off in the junior leagues and then earned a contract from Buffalo, along with a spot on the Americans’ roster. In his first full season in the AHL, he played 55 games and put up five goals and 10 points. While it is not an amazing offensive output, where he was noticeable was his physical play and two-way abilities.
Kozak will likely fit in well in the Sabres’ bottom-six forward group in the future as he possesses the right attitude and drive to replace either Kyle Okposo or Zemgus Girgensons down the road. Does he have the talent to play in the NHL full-time yet? No, but he does have what it takes to get a small sampling of the NHL. The 20-year-old center is the type of player that head coach Don Granato loves to use in pressure situations, so if the opportunity arises for him, Kozak deserves a call-up.
Lukas Rousek, Right Wing
Lukas Rousek got a brief look in the NHL last season, and he made the most of it when he scored two points in two games. He was limited to less than 10 minutes of ice time, but that did not stop him from putting his talents to work. While he was in the AHL last season, he was dynamite for the Americans as he put up 16 goals and 56 points in 70 games. His offensive production combined with his hard-nosed, two-way style of play makes him a Swiss Army knife of a player. He is versatile enough to be inserted anywhere on a team and succeed.
The Sabres gave Rousek a new contract this offseason and at the age of 24, he needs to show his value right out of the gate this season. He may not make the opening night roster, but he has enough in him to be the extra forward that gets rotated in similar to Vinnie Hinostroza last season. Rousek really took a huge step forward in 2022-23, but this coming season will likely be his last opportunity to prove he can be a full-time NHL player.
Linus Weissbach, Left Wing
Time is definitely running out for the former seventh-round pick in 2017 to make an NHL appearance. So far, the 25-year-old winger has shown glimpses of the talent that he could offer the Sabres, but unfortunately, those glimpses have not been enough for him to get a call-up to the NHL. For the last two seasons Linus Weissbach has done well with the Americans scoring 16 goals and 37 points in 2021-22, and then improving to 20 goals and 47 points in 2022-23. His scoring touch combined with his speed still makes him a great fit for the Sabres’ scheme, but he still needs to sign a new contract before the season starts. The fact that the Sabres gave him a qualifying offer shows they still believe in his potential, but now it is on him to prove it.
The Sabres have primarily used their speed as a way to win hockey games, and using Weissbach in a middle-six role would be perfect for him. He has a similar style to JJ Peterka, so slotting him in on the second or third line during a call-up would be the best use for him. Despite his position on the depth chart, the Sabres should consider bringing Weissbach up for a few games if they are comfortably in a playoff spot. That way they can find out if he still has NHL potential, or if he is simply just a great and reliable AHL quality player.
Sabres Are Being Smart With Their Prospects
Ever since Kevyn Adams took over as general manager, he has taken a new approach of being patient with his young prospects. With the Sabres no longer in the basement of the league, there is no need for them to rush their future stars to the NHL before they are ready. Now they can let them earn a spot on the roster and really grow as players in the AHL before they take the big step into the NHL.
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Prospects like Savoie, Benson, Kulich, and Rosen all have high pedigrees and will be chomping at the bit for a spot on the Sabres, but they will still have to compete with the older prospects that have paid their dues and taken the time needed to develop. It is a fantastic problem to have when a team has so many good prospects ready to break into the league, so the Sabres need to continue being smart with their development. It is only a matter of time before they make their mark in the NHL, or they show their worth as AHL players and still have fruitful careers.