Buffalo - August 14, 2014 - We’re still about two months out from actual NHL hockey (the horror!), so there’s still a lot of time and boredom left to deal with.
As a Sabres fan, there isn’t a ton to look forward to even when the season starts. Instead, the eye is constantly towards the future. Everyone knows the Sabres aren’t winning any time soon, but the good part of being so bad is that they have a plethora of talented youngsters who will theoretically turn the Sabres into a Stanley Cup contender for many years to come.
We’ll take a look at the top prospects in the Sabres system and all of the dirty details on each, continuing today with a prospect rising quickly up the defensive prospect ranks and someone who could see significant time with the Sabres this year: Jake McCabe.
How we got him: Selected in the second round with the 44th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft.
Comparable Sabre of the Past: Alexei Zhitnik. During his tenure in Buffalo, Zhitnik displayed strong puck-moving skills and was always one of, if not the best offensive defensemen on the Sabres.
McCabe is similar in that regards, sharing a similar frame as well (Zhitnik was 5’11”, McCabe is 6’0”). Hopefully, he leaves the bad passes and questionable decision-making at home and emulates the good parts of Alexei’s game.
Why he may be awesome: For one, he’s another of those leader types that the Sabres keep drafting, wearing the captain’s “C” for Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championships.
Aside from that, McCabe is a smart player with excellent puck skills and a strong offensive game. He starred at the University of Wisconsin, playing on the top pairing of one of the top programs in the country.
A strong skater, McCabe is the type of offensive defensemen the Sabres can use among their hulking defensive prospects like Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov. He’s never going to be a punishing defender in his own zone, but he plays with a little bit of sandpaper in his game and won’t go down without a fight.
Why he may not be so great: There’s a tricky thing about offensive defensemen: a lot of them might put up points, but they tend to not be the greatest in their own zone. McCabe will have to work on getting stronger so that he can survive those battles in the muck in his own zone.
McCabe also needs to work on his shot. He’s more of a passer at this point and developing his shot to consistently find the net will really help him find a role offensively. He’s got the ability to see time on the power play in the future, but won’t unless he can fix that shot.
Ceiling: Moderate. McCabe will never be an elite offensive defenseman like Erik Karlsson or Duncan Keith, but he’ll be a more than solid contributor and could wind up being the Sabres’ best offensive defenseman before long. If he gets a little stronger, he could project as a top-four guy and at worst should be a solid bottom-pairing defender.
General excitement level: Moderate. Folks were high on him when he was selected and that shouldn’t have changed much with his role in Team USA’s WJC win and his performance at Wisconsin. He’ll likely need a little more seasoning before he’s ready to make the full-time jump to the NHL, but he’s definitely got a future.
What to expect: McCabe will challenge for a spot out of camp and likely end up in Rochester as one of the first call-ups on defense with Mark Pysyk and Chad Ruhwedel.
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