Botterill has a plan which includes Rochester

Winning and developing with the Amerks should spell success in Buffalo

Paul Hamilton
February 12, 2018 - 3:46 pm

Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - Jason Botterill is approaching his first trade deadline as a general manager. In the next two weeks, many players including Evander Kane could be playing elsewhere.

It’s hard to believe this with what we’ve seen from the Sabres this season, but the emergence of Casey Nelson has gotten me to thinking about what is in the system right now. Many writers with agendas say the cupboard is bare. I disagree. 

Nelson was signed by Tim Murray after he finished his junior year at Minnesota State. He played seven games to finish up the season in Buffalo and had four assists. It was obvious Nelson needed to get stronger and he’s taken to improving his game.

Botterill believes in development on the American League level. It worked for him in Pittsburgh and in just half of one off season, Botterill has the Amerks in position to go on a playoff run. He told Schopp and the Bulldog that what is going on now with the Sabres is unacceptable, but it doesn't have to take years to get it right. 

He first hired an experienced general manager in Randy Sexton. Sexton hired former Amerks player and assistant coach Chris Taylor to be the head coach.

Taylor has been demanding down there and has gotten some results. I’ve been saying since training camp, don’t give up on Nelson. The defenseman played 95 games in Rochester and will likely not be back down there until the Sabres season ends.

In 12 games in Buffalo,  Nelson has shown that he can not only handle playing in the NHL, but handle 20 minutes per night playing on the top pair with Marco Scandella. The 25-year-old has shown moving forward that he will be an important piece.

Next is 20-year-old Brendan Guhle. Guhle was taken by Murray in the second round of the 2015 draft. Botterill could’ve just started Guhle in Buffalo and he would’ve been one of their top three defensemen, but was that the best route for Guhle?

Guhle came up for two games and played very well. He said he had learned so much starting his pro career in Rochester. He needed to learn the pro game and he’s doing that playing on a winning team.

Guhle is now back from an injury and in 39 games, he’s scored seven goals with 14 assists for 21 points. Guhle like Nelson is a big part of the Sabres future starting next year.

Will Borgen is in the middle of his junior season at St. Cloud State and he’s been so impressive, he made the United States Olympic team.

Borgen, who just turned 21 plays big minutes for the Huskies and scouts can’t stop raving about him. The Sabres would be smart to get him signed after this season to avoid the unrestricted free agency clause in the CBA.

Borgen was taken by Murray in the fourth round of the 2015 draft. If he makes it like many scouts think he will, he’d be the first fourth round pick to contribute for this organization since Marcus Foligno. After that you’d have to go back to 2005 and Chris Butler.

After some horrendous drafts, like 2014, the Class of 2015 could produce Jack Eichel, Guhle and Borgen. That’s all without a third round pick.

Another defenseman that could have a shot at making the NHL is 2016 third round pick Casey Fitzgerald. He’s in his third season at Boston College.

In goal, Botterill did everything he could to make sure Vegas didn’t take Linus Ullmark in the Expansion Draft. It cost the Sabres a draft pick, but Ullmark is now a two-time AHL All-Star and the 24-year-old looks ready to make the jump to the NHL.

Botterill could’ve brought Ullmark up this year and I thought he was going to, but his vision is development so he thought it would be better to sign Chad Johnson to a one-year deal and let Ullmark play on a winning team in Rochester. The 24-year-old was a sixth round pick by Darcy Regier in 2012.

At forward everything starts with Botterill’s first round pick last June, Casey Mittelstadt. The slick centerman came to Buffalo for the World Junior Tournament and was the best player there earning tournament MVP honors. He had 11 points leading Team USA to the bronze medal. The 19-year-old was the eighth overall pick and is in his freshman season at Minnesota. Most feel he’ll sign with the Sabres after one season, but Botterill may think it’s better for his development to play a second year for the Gophers.

Botterill’s second round pick, Marcus Davidsson played for Sweden in the World Junior Tournament while the other second round pick, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen played goal for Team Finland.

Murray took Cliff Pu in the third round of the 2016 draft. The 19-year-old has elite speed and impressed so much in training camp, that Botterill kept him around after most had gone back to junior. Pu has 22 goals and 46 assists for 68 points in 53 games with London and Kingston of the OHL.

C.J. Smith was signed by Murray out of college last March. He played three seasons at UMass-Lowell and the 23-year-old is an AHL All-Star in his first pro season. Botterill has resisted the urge to bring him up after 14 goals and 25 assists for 39 points in 50 games with the Amerks. Again, he may get a look depending on who gets traded, but he's learning the pro game the right way

Chris Taylor has helped Nick Baptiste remake himself into a two-way player. He’s been called up again and the 22-year-old is learning to use his elite speed at both ends of the ice. I always felt Baptiste could be a top-six forward, but it looks like he may be a guy who can contribute as a bottom-six player. 

Hudson Fasching was acquired by Murray in a trade with Los Angeles. The 22-year-old is a guy that has to use his size to be effective and could maybe be a third or fourth liner in the league.

Justin Bailey has only played 25 games between Buffalo and Rochester because of injuries. It’ll be interesting to see if Botterill feels this local 22-year-old can play for the Sabres or if he'll be cut loose or traded.

Murray drafted Alex Nylander in the first round of the 2016 draft. The 19-year-old is not even close to being ready to play in Buffalo and quite honestly, doesn’t seem to be even ready to play in the AHL. He has two goals in 28 games this season and seems lost. This kid is still young and could develop into something, but Botterill has to have questions here.

We all know that Botterill has a lot of work to do. Trades need to be made, but he has totally committed to young development. The Sabres are going to get another high pick in this June’s draft. Many like the say that the cupboard is bare. Murray made many mistakes, but it wasn’t all bad. Botterill has some players to work with and he’s doing just that. Paying little to no attention to the AHL team has buried this organization into oblivion. You have to breed winning and development in Rochester which is why the Sabres may get better faster than some people think they will.

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