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Analysis

Sabres Grades: Prospects and Depth

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The 2023-2024 NHL season was an underwhelming one in Buffalo. The Sabres underperformed as a team, resulting in a new coach and inevitable changes to the roster moving forward. What better way to understand exactly where the Sabres need to improve than by diving into the Sabres Grades? This time, instead of just on an individual game basis, let’s look at player performances from a broader perspective.

If you missed the introduction to the grading system, I’ve assigned letter grades to each Buffalo player based on game performance. The letter grades are assigned based on statistical computation, taking into account the following factors:

  • Production
  • Quality of offense
  • Quality of defense
  • Volume of offense
  • Volume of defense
  • Powerplay performance
  • Penalty kill performance
  • Penalties drawn and taken
  • Role
  • Minutes played

It’s important to understand that these player performance grades are solely based on the algorithm created, with the one exception being a game shortened by injury. A player who missed significant ice time due to injury was not docked for fewer minutes played. This eliminates the confusion of how well a player performs when available.

Also, a big thanks to Evolving-Hockey for the individual game data. They’re among the best in the business.

Here’s the grading scale in table form, for reference:

GradeLower LimitUpper Limit
A+92%100%
A85%92%
A-77%85%
B+69%77%
B62%69%
B-54%62%
C+46%54%
C38%46%
C-31%38%
D+23%31%
D15%23%
D-8%15%
F0%8%

Must Read: Cody Hodgson Retires…Again

Grading All 82 Games

Since I joined the Sabres beat at the end of December, I doubled back to grade all 82 Sabres games from this past season. Instead of breaking down each player’s offense, defense, and special teams performance as done throughout the season, let’s use the benefit of individual game grades to determine an overall grade based on average performance, consistency, and boom or bust games.

We can also evaluate how each player contributed at different points in the season. Some players peaked early. Others picked it up late. One player in particular – Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen – was used scarcely in the first half of the season only to be leaned on heavily down the stretch.

34 players touched game-ice for the Buffalo Sabres in 2023-2024. The seven with under 10 games played will be identified here. We’ll evaluate the three players no longer with the team tomorrow,  spurring a countdown of the remaining 24 for a more in-depth individual breakdown in the ensuing days.

Matt Savoie

Matt Savoie Buffalo Sabres grades

It’s no secret that Matt Savoie was about to be given every chance to make Buffalo’s roster out of training camp before a shoulder injury derailed the plan. Instead, Savoie was limited to only one NHL appearance before being sent to represent Canada at World Juniors.

In no way is Savoie’s “F” grade indicative of what’s to come, especially considering he played less than four minutes in his NHL debut. Truthfully, his Winnipeg Ice teammate Zach Benson seized the opportunity and swept Savoie’s job from right underneath him. The CHL-NHL agreement left him with no choice but to return and dominate juniors.

If there’s a positive sign toward the future of the Sabres, Savoie’s 71 points in 34 WHL games this past season are a good hint that he may be ready to jump right to the NHL.

Isak Rosen

Isak Rosen Buffalo Sabres grades

Isak Rosen season grades

Isak Rosen appeared in seven games for the Sabres but was never given the opportunity to showcase his talent. Head coach Don Granato used Rosen as a fill-in in the bottom six, often reducing his minutes as much as possible. His best game was on December 5th in a loss to the Detroit Red Wings, where he had five shots on goal.

Rosen finished the season in Rochester tied for the team lead in points with 50. Of all of the Amerks regulars earning stints with the big club – besides Ryan Johnson – he lasted the longest. Those are just a couple of factors that should have fans excited for what’s to come from the 2021 14th overall draft selection.

Brandon Biro

Brandon Biro Buffalo Sabres grades

Brandon Biro grade distribution

Brandon Biro is the kind of versatile player expected to fit right into a bottom-six role as an AHL call-up. However, all five of his NHL appearances were below average. The “bust” meter that you see in red in the player graphic signifies the percentage of games in which a player records a “D”, “D-“, or “F” grade. His Sabres grades, including one “D” and one “D-” in five games, are underwhelming, regardless of any restrictions in his role.

Biro also got a brief shot at the penalty kill in which he fared well, so there could be a role for him there should he remain with the organization next season.

Kale Clague

Kale Clague Buffalo Sabres grades

For how long Kale Clague was with the Buffalo Sabres towards the end of the season, it’s pretty amazing that he only appeared in three games. At age 25, Clague’s known as an organizational depth defenseman who can provide NHL spot duty. The Sabres carried him as their seventh defenseman at the end of the year but, with Mattias Samuelsson back and Ryan Johnson deserving of a full-time NHL job, Clague will have trouble retaining the role.

Clague is a restricted free agent, so Buffalo retains his rights unless they decide to move in a different direction this summer.

Must Read: Sabres Prospect Named Defenseman of the Year

Brett Murray

Brett Murray Buffalo Sabres grades

If you had forgotten that Brett Murray played a couple of games for the Buffalo Sabres this season, well, I can’t say I blame you. His first appearance was average by Sabres grades standards, where he took care of things defensively against Arizona but didn’t create much offensively. The second one against Vegas was a dud for the big forward. The Sabres won both games 5-2 though, so Murray did go undefeated.

Murray is an unrestricted free agent whom the organization likes. He’s been brought back before, but at age 25 and prospects knocking at the door his time in Rochester seems to be running out.

Jiri Kulich

Jiri Kulich Buffalo Sabres grades

Jiri Kulich is the forward prospect that fans are most excited about. His 27 goals in 57 games in Rochester – including seven powerplay tallies – bring a different element than Savoie or Rosen.

His NHL time was limited to one game last season, in which he posted a “D+” grade. This barely kept the game out of “bust” territory but isn’t nearly reflective of what’s to come from the Czech youngster.

Eric Comrie

Eric Comrie Buffalo Sabres grades

Eric Comrie started the season as the primary backup, ended the season as the primary backup, and spent much of the middle of the season figuring out where he fits in the organization. As with a lot of fringe NHL goalies, the consistency wasn’t there. In a lot of ways, he was a fallback option for the team as they tried to figure out what to do with Devon Levi.

Eric Comrie grade distribution

Based on his grade distribution, you might say that Comrie drew the short end of the stick. He had as many “boom” games as “bust” games, he averaged a “C+” grade, and yet still only appeared in nine games. His season grade is a “D+” simply because there wasn’t enough sample to draw a good conclusion.

When you factor in the performances Buffalo received from Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Devon Levi, however, it’s hard to argue that he should’ve garnered more starts.

Eric Comrie season grades

His Sabres season grades trendline did have a bit of an upward trajectory, in part thanks to his “A-” performance in the last game of the season. Comrie is an unrestricted free agent this summer and will likely look elsewhere for a better opportunity as a fringe NHL backup.

 

Previous Sabres Season Grades

Prospects and Depth

Casey Mittelstadt, Kyle Okposo, and Erik Johnson

24. Jacob Bryson

23. Tyson Jost

22. Victor Olofsson

21. Eric Robinson

20. Ryan Johnson

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