With Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan taking over in Buffalo, there was naturally going to be a change in course with the Sabres. The scale of said change isn’t known just yet, but Buffalo News reporter John Vogl revealed that some of the teenagers so famously thrown together by the departed brain trust of Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston may be sent down (http://bit.ly/17EDqi3) soon.
This is not horrible for the players, but some will be better off than others. Here’s a look at some of the prospects potentially affected by a shakeup:
Nikita Zadorov: This is the easiest one. Zadorov is not eligible to go to the American League yet, so he would head back to the Ontario League’s London Knights, where he played when the Sabres drafted him. The Knights are hosting the Memorial Cup this year, so the hulking defenseman knows he has a crown to play for. Also, this would give him a shot at the Russian world junior team. He was controversially left off the squad last season, though the decision was more about style of play than politics.
Rasmus Ristolainen: Another easy one. Ristolainen was drafted out of Finland, not major junior, so he can go to AHL Rochester. Geography keeps him close to Buffalo if the Sabres need him and so they can monitor his progress. And with Olli Maatta sticking with Pittsburgh, Ristolainen could give Team Finland a mighty bump at the world juniors, most likely taking Maatta’s spot on the top pairing with Isles prospect Ville Pokka.
Mikhail Grigorenko: This one’s tricky. Grigorenko was drafted out of the Quebec League, so he can’t go to the AHL yet. But his junior team, the Quebec Remparts, already have the maximum two import picks on their roster, both of whom will be around longer in the grand scheme of things. The Remparts were bitten by this scenario last year, too, when Grigorenko returned after 25 games and they had to trade Tampa prospect Nikita Kucherov, who flourished with Rouyn-Noranda thereafter. Most of the best teams in the QMJHL already have two imports, so a trade would be difficult (though certainly not impossible). Obviously the Russians would love to have him for the world juniors.
Zemgus Girgensons: He can go to Rochester, where he played last season after signing shortly after he was drafted out of Dubuque in the United States League. Latvia isn’t in the top tier of the world juniors this season.
Joel Armia: Has played three games for Rochester since returning from a finger injury. Looked great in his debut and at 20, he has a little more experience up front. Could definitely be a call-up if needed.
Brayden McNabb: Like Armia, McNabb could be a call-up from Rochester, where he has an impressive 12 points in 15 games from the blueline. He’s 22, comes in at 6-foot-4, 207 pounds and can play nasty. He also played 25 games for the Sabres in 2011-12, one season after helping Kootenay win the WHL title.