Buffalo Sabres’ Top Ten Prospects for 2023-24

The Buffalo Sabres have arguably one of the best prospect pools in the NHL. They have young goaltending talent, solid defensive options, and a high-flying forward group with the potential to outscore almost anyone. Last season, they were a bit thin on the defensive front, but general manager Kevyn Adams addressed that by adding a few new faces to the mix.

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In this case, I did not include goaltender Devon Levi as he has already played in the NHL, and will likely be in the Sabres’ starting rotation this season. The remaining players on this list have not yet played a single game in the NHL, and they all are still considered prospects. Buffalo has a lot of young talent waiting in the wings, so without further ado, here is the list of the top 10 Sabres prospects heading into the 2023-24 season.

10. Maxim Strbak, Defense

Maxim Strbak was a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, and he checks all the boxes of what the Sabres will need in a few years. He is a creative right-handed shooting defender with good transition skills that will pair well with Owen Power or fellow prospect Ryan Johnson in about 3-4 years from now. Last season with the Sioux Falls Stampede, he posted a respectable 18 points in 46 games and will be playing for Michigan State this year. He still needs a bit of development before he makes the transition to the American Hockey League (AHL), so a few years in college will be the perfect place for him.

9. Anton Wahlberg, Center

Wahlberg was the Sabres’ second-round selection in the 2023 Draft, as the team looks to continue the trend of successful second-round picks. He is a capable two-way center with size and a good scoring touch, so he projects to be a valuable asset for Buffalo down the road. He had a fairly successful year, playing partially in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) with two goals and two assists in 17 games for the Malmo Redhawks.

Anton Wahlberg Buffalo Sabres
Anton Wahlberg, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The chances he cracks the top-six forward group in a few years are slim, but his skill set is more for the third line and penalty kill. He is a solid prospect to watch closely.

8. Tyson Kozak, Center

Kozak had a low-scoring campaign with the Rochester Americans in 2022-23, but that is not for a lack of opportunity. He played a very different role compared to what he is used to, further developing his two-way and physical game. He played 55 games and scored five goals and five assists, but he really shined with his defensive game and separating opposing players from pucks. He even had a fantastic fight in March 2023, which really showed his commitment to learning and playing his new role. While he may have dropped in my overall rankings, He is still a valuable prospect to continue developing for the future.

7. Prokhor Poltapov, Right Wing

Poltapov is one of my favorite prospects on this list for his potential. He is not going to garner the same type of attention as some others in the system, but he has all the right skills to be the perfect Sabre. He plays with compete, scores goals, wears down opponents and has a motor that could rival Dylan Cozens. His playmaking skills are solid, but it is his ability to score goals in so many different ways that will make him a dark horse in the Sabres’ prospect pool. He still has time left in his deal with CSKA Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia, but when his contract ends, he will likely be bound for Rochester for additional seasoning.

6. Ryan Johnson, Defense

It was uncertain whether Johnson would sign his entry-level deal out of college after he completed all four years, but by the end of it all, the Sabres have him on board. Johnson is bound to spend the full season with the Americans, as Buffalo has a very full defense right now, and that is the perfect spot for him. He is a transition-based, two-way defender who has some of the smoothest passing and skating skills both on the Sabres’ pro roster and in their prospect pool.

Ryan Johnson University of Minnesota
Ryan Johnson, University of Minnesota (Image: Minnesota Athletics)

He could end up as a very reliable third-pairing defender, and Buffalo would have a triple threat of Rasmus Dahlin, Power, and Johnson on the left side. He is not flashy, but the fact that he goes unnoticed and still makes chances happen is a fantastic skill to have deeper in the lineup. Johnson is dangerous at both ends of the ice, and he will fit in perfectly with head coach Don Granato’s system.

5. Noah Ostlund, Center

Ostlund is an underrated prospect because of the draft class he is stacked against. He was the second first-round pick that the Sabres made in 2022, and he has all the talent to be a high-end NHL player. He has unbelievably slick hands, great vision, and is a silky smooth skater. Last season, he scored eight goals and 26 points in 37 games for Djurgardens IF, so seeing him succeed against men is a huge positive. In addition to playing center, he can also play the wing. He has all the right tools to be a #1 center, but he will need to be given the right opportunity. Seeing how he adjusts to the North American game when he eventually plays in Rochester will be a huge indicator of where he stands on the depth chart in a year or so.

4. Isak Rosen, Left Wing

Another Swedish prospect who has shown a lot of promise is Isak Rosen. The talented playmaking winger had some solid rookie numbers in the AHL this season, with 14 goals and 37 points in 66 games. He has an underrated shot, but he primarily does his best work using his skating and playmaking to generate offense. While his development will take a bit longer than some others, Rosen could end up anywhere in the Sabres’ forward group, depending on where they have a hole. He does not have much physicality, but his ability to create offense on his own will make him a very valuable asset that they can mold into a premier NHL player.

3. Matthew Savoie, Center

Down a spot from last season, Matt Savoie had a very lateral season statistically. In 62 games with the Winnipeg Ice of the Western Hockey League (WHL), he scored 38 goals and 95 points, in comparison to his 35 goals and 90 points in 2021-22. Savoie is one of Buffalo’s most exciting prospects since he brings the complete package of offense. He is fast, he is shifty, he scores goals, he sets up plays, and he does everything else in between defensively as a complete center. He has some stiff competition ahead of him as he vies for a spot on the Sabres’ roster this season.

Matthew Savoie Winnipeg ICE
Matthew Savoie of the Winnipeg ICE (Zachary Peters)

He has all the skills in the world to make the team, but the team’s depth chart may be his only obstacle. Savoie is both entertaining and responsible, so the sooner he learns the speed of the NHL, the better.

2. Jiri Kulich, Center/Left Wing

Jiri Kulich is one of the Sabres’ most NHL-ready prospects, and he put on an absolute clinic in the AHL last season. In his rookie season, he put up 24 goals and 46 points in 62 games, but where he really shined was in the playoffs. He was dynamite on the scoresheet, with seven goals and 11 points in 12 games as a first-year player. All season long, Kulich showed growth in every part of his game while putting his best skills on display. He has one of the best shots in the prospect pool and easily the heaviest. His playmaking could still use some work, but he plays a rock-solid, two-way game, with some physicality, and ultimately scores goals in clutch situations. He will be fighting for a roster spot with Savoie and the final player on this list, but it is much closer between these three than one might think.

1. Zach Benson, Left Wing

A teammate to Savoie on the Winnipeg Ice (now the Wenatchee Wild), Zach Benson was an absolute steal for the Sabres in the 2023 Draft, as they selected him with the 13th-overall pick. Benson has skill just pouring out of him, and he does it with a finesse that rivals the recently retired Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron. Benson is an all-around, two-way player who can score at will using his speed and creativity. He shoots the puck with keen accuracy, and he can drive the net as if he was much bigger than he is (5-foot-11, 170 lbs).

Zach Benson Winnipeg ICE
Zach Benson, Winnipeg ICE (Bob Frid/CHL)

Nothing short of a brick wall in goal will stop the inevitability of Benson putting the puck in the back of the net. Goaltenders beware; Zach Benson will be a star scorer in the NHL.

Forward Heavy Prospect Pool Is A Good Problem To Have

The idea of having both Benson and Savoie feeding off each other in Buffalo is something that should have Sabres fans on the edge of their seats. While it is not likely to happen this season, both young forwards have world-class skills that will take Buffalo to new heights. Kulich will ultimately be the perfect upgrade replacement to Victor Olofsson as he fills the same role but does everything much better. Rosen and Ostlund both still have a couple of years before they are NHL-ready, so using the few seasons on their development will not be a problem.

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The Sabres are no longer a “build for the future” team as they sniffed the playoffs in 2022-23 and no longer need to rush the development of their top prospects and bring them to the NHL earlier than needed. With a solid roster and most of their core under contract long-term, they can afford to let players like Benson, Savoie, and Kulich take the slow route while keeping them hungry for more. It is a fantastic problem for the Sabres to have so much talent chomping at the bit to break into the NHL, but they cannot keep them waiting forever. When these players finally do meet their potential and find a spot on the Sabres full-time roster, the team will be an unstoppable goal-scoring machine.

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