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It's great to have an honestly full pipeline, but it's ok to feel like you're over it
Long time, no see friends. Apologies for the absence. You know how things can go, but the itch is back and I’m scratching it.
My pal Scott Wheeler from The Athletic just wrapped his countdown of the top prospect systems in the NHL and the Buffalo Sabres reached No. 1 for the second time under Scott’s watch. It’s a great credit to the Sabres to have the prospect pipeline thought of so highly and it certainly feels merited.
After all, with Owen Power having a season at Michigan that should put him firmly in the Hobey Baker race as a front-runner, Jack Quinn and J-J Peterka sailing well beyond expectations in the AHL, and Devon Levi earning shutouts and stunting teams in Hockey East at Northeastern there’s a lot to be hyped about.
Seriously. Those are just four players, but there are plenty of others playing well in the NHL, minors, juniors, and college. Whether you want to focus on Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen or Erik Portillo; Aaron Huglen or Josh Bloom; Oskari Laaksonen or Ryan Johnson the options are there and beyond. If you’re a prospect nut and can’t get enough of what’s to come in the future, you’re absolutely thriving.
But what happens when these discussions start up are the memories of prospect hopes of the past reemerge from the depths of the mind. And those memories are encased in equal parts disappointment, frustration, and apathy. After all, it’s tough to hype fans up about how well Olivier Nadeau is doing in Shawinigan when you remember Vaclav Karabacek. You may not give a crap about how Alexander Kisakov is scoring in Russia when you’re still disappointed about how things went with Nick Baptiste. It’s unfair to the players, sure, but the fans have been through the rigmarole a few times already and various Sabres management have paid the consequences for it.
You can’t trust the process if you don’t trust the people in charge and that’s only fair. Ted Nolan was eerily prescient when he said back in 2014:
“Prospects are great… Then some of them turn into suspects. Then some of them turn into rejects. You never know with the draft.”
The number of suspects and rejects he had eight years ago outnumbered the prospects by quite a lot. Those are contributing reasons why Darcy Regier and Tim Murray found their ways out of town.
Fans weren’t exactly celebrating the Sabres having the No. 1 pick last year in which they got Power, which is unfortunate because he might turn out to be very good. But it’s that “might” that snarls everything up. Expecting a sure thing leads to angst because the sights are always set as high as possible. Look at how Rasmus Dahlin gets skewered these days — it’s not the fans being fickle in most cases, it’s just them not wanting to be fooled into buying a lemon.
I know this probably all comes off like I’m duking it out with a strawman (and maybe it is, my brain is shot) but the general apathy that surrounds the Sabres at the moment makes it feel very real.
Maybe I feel too much though. In a statement that surely will never come back to haunt me: The Sabres are on the right path and patience is needed. For once, it’s a good thing they’re not in the same boat as the Bills because the weight of immediate expectations isn’t there.