Which Sabres’ 2022 First Rounder Makes the Team in 2024-25?

The Buffalo Sabres are in a very tough situation where they essentially need to win out the remainder of the season, while simultaneously needing about four other teams to lose more than half their games, in order to make the playoffs. With the odds being so slim, combined with this team’s poor track record this season, the likelihood of that is nearly impossible. With that being said, the Sabres need to start assessing their prospect pool, starting with their trio of first-round picks in 2022. While assessing them, a decision needs to be made on which of them should get an NHL roster position, which should end up in Rochester, and which can be used as a trade chip to improve the team.

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The likelihood of all three making the Sabres roster is slim to none since so many young core players are already locked into long-term contracts, so that leaves only one real spot available since 2023 first-round selection Zach Benson has played so well. So the question is, which one plays, which other one stays, and which one gets moved? Between Matt Savoie, Noah Ostlund, and Jiri Kulich, the decision will be tough, so I will weigh the options one at a time.

Matthew Savoie, Center

Savoie has had an interesting start to his career, as he came into this season injured from the prospect tournament held by the Sabres prior to the preseason. Once he was healthy enough to return, he was sent to the Rochester Americans for a conditioning stint where he put up five points in six games. He was then called up to the NHL to play in his first NHL game, but that night was squandered by a lack of ice time, as he was limited to a measly four minutes in the entire game before being subsequently sent down to the Western Hockey League (WHL) the next day. With a limited debut, and a lot left in the tank to show, Savoie has been on the warpath since being sent back to juniors as he has posted a ridiculous 29 goals and 67 points in only 33 games. He has shown without a shadow of a doubt that he is ready for the next step, and that makes him one of the best contenders to be a full-time NHLer next season.

Matt Savoie Moose Jaw Warriors
Matt Savoie, Moose Jaw Warriors (Photo Credit: Rick Elvin)

Savoie was the highest pick of the three being selected ninth overall, so it makes sense that he would appear to be the most NHL-ready. Some might say that his size (5-foot-9) is a limitation, but as the NHL continues to grow and show that smaller players are still supremely impactful, he is poised to be yet another example. Should the Sabres decide to use him in a trade scenario at the draft to improve their team in a different aspect, he would likely fetch the highest return as he is projected to live up to his draft stock. Personally, he is the player of the three that I would keep if I were general manager Kevyn Adams due to his abilities and his relationship with budding prospect Zach Benson (the two were teammates in juniors). The chemistry they could have together would be explosive and great for point scoring.

Noah Ostlund, Center/Left Wing

Ostlund was the Sabres’ 16th overall selection in 2022 and he is one of the more underrated prospects they have in their system. As a pure playmaker and smooth skater, he has all the right tools to be a top player in the NHL. His vision combined with his ability to create space with his skating are his two greatest assets, and it fits in well with the Sabres’ identity as a team. Overseas he has played exceptionally well in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) as he has posted 12 goals and 23 points in 38 games. The production is similar to his draft season, so the fact he has remained consistent in a men’s pro league is very promising.

Noah Ostlund Buffalo Sabres
Noah Ostlund, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ostlund was chosen with the pick that the Sabres got from the Vegas Golden Knights in their trade for Jack Eichel, so there is some pressure coming from that front to provide value in any way. If he makes his way to North America soon, he is likely bound for Rochester since there is still plenty for him to work on. Despite his draft positioning, he has flown fairly under the radar compared to Savoie and Kulich, but he still is just as skilled as either of them. As far as whether it would be best to trade or keep him, he would fetch a similar value to Kulich, so we would have to weigh the pros and cons, as well as the skills of each player.

Jiri Kulich, Center/Left Wing

Kulich has had a solid start to his career as he has posted two very successful seasons with the Americans to this point. As of right now, he has amassed a total of 43 goals and 80 points in 108 games played in the minors. Kulich, being a goal scorer, favors goals over assists when it comes to his production, and that is something the Sabres could desperately use in the long term. He could slate in as a premier replacement for current Sabres Victor Olofsson or even Jeff Skinner in the grand scheme of things, but the spot needs to open up for him to be given a true opportunity. He managed to get one game in with the Sabres this season, but was not given enough chances to use the skills that he does have, as he was given zero power play time, and was relegated to a bottom-six role. He has the drive and the shooting ability, but he lacks some defensive awareness at times, and that is where he needs to improve.

He was drafted the lowest of the three as the 28th selection in 2022, but the Sabres were very high on him when they were selecting; so much so that Adams even tried to move up to the 17th selection right after Ostlund to pick him (as shown at 8:40 in the video above). They were beyond excited to see him fall all the way down to them at 28th overall, and since then, have developed him like the top prospect they believed him to be. On my list of top prospects at the beginning of this season, I had Kulich ranked in the number two spot ahead of Savoie, and below Benson, and it still is a toss-up between him and Savoie on who will make a bigger NHL impact.

The Verdict

So with all of that said, the question still is, who plays, who stays, and who gets moved? For me, the easy choice to play is going to be Savoie. He has the most talent of the group, and he is playing so above his current league level that being in the NHL would be the best thing for him. He has the speed, the work ethic, and the scoring ability to make an impact right away. Combine that with his potential to gain more chemistry with Benson over the course of a full regular season, and I see Savoie having a very good rookie campaign in 2024-25.

For the “who stays, who goes” portion of this, it comes down to Kulich and Ostlund. Between the two, Ostlund is the better passer, skater, stick handler, and defensive player, while Kulich is the faster skater, the better goal scorer, a better workhorse, and a better leader. They would be a great complement to one another if they played on the same team, but ultimately, which one serves the Sabres’ NHL roster down the road better? That being said, the one I would pick to stay is Ostlund. The Sabres could use a middle-six center/winger that has incredible hands to make defensive and offensive plays.

Related – Sabres Need To Make Better Use of JJ Peterka

Yes, Kulich scores more goals, but if the current top-six featuring Alex Tuch, Tage Thompson, Jack Quinn, JJ Peterka, and Dylan Cozens scores goals like they are supposed to, then putting the puck in the net will not be a problem. Having a smart two-way playmaker to cycle through the middle two lines provides much more value in the long run, and then Kulich could be moved as part of a deal to improve the team sooner.

The unfortunate part of having such a great, deep prospect pool is that not all of these great potential players will play on the team. It does not need to happen right away, but Adams will have a decision to make soon on what to do with one or more of these three. I hope he makes the right one.

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