There are many reasons for the Buffalo Sabres seemingly permanent placement at the bottom of the NHL standings, from the organizational decisions made from owners Terry and Kim Pegula to the mistakes made by GM’s Darcy Regier, Tim Murray and Jason Botterill that have resulted in five different head coaches behind the bench since Lindy Ruff’s departure in 2013, but the main cause of their inability to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs the last nine seasons has been a failure of talent recognition and player development.
While top-five draft picks Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel, and Rasmus Dahlin have been successful and are members of Buffalo’s core group, the club has failed to cultivate young prospects or keep others that became NHL contributors elsewhere. Newly appointed Sabres GM Kevyn Adams took a step in the direction of hopefully improving the club’s player development with the hiring of Seth Appert as head coach of the AHL Rochester Americans.
Appert spent 11 seasons as head coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute(RPI) and the last three seasons with the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP).
“Seth has a proven track record of developing talent at various levels and we are looking forward to him being the next head coach of the Rochester Americans,” Adams said in a press release earlier this week. “His approach to coaching and leadership, both on and off the ice, is a natural fit with the philosophy Ralph Krueger and I have started to implement as we build the organization. Seth will be an asset to Rochester and to the Sabres organization, and I’m excited to see him succeed behind the bench with the Amerks.”
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Since 2013, the Sabres have traded Nikita Zadorov(COL), JT Compher(COL), Brendan Lemieux(WPG), Brendan Guhle(ANA) and allowed goalie Cal Petersen to become a free agent and sign with Los Angeles, but more impactful has been the organization’s penchant to rush players to the NHL before they are ready and not see any growth or improvement in those prospects who did spend time in the minors.
2016 first-rounder Alex Nylander never seemed to improve to the point of seriously challenging for an NHL job after three seasons in the American Hockey League and was traded to Chicago for defenseman Henri Jokiharju.
2017 top pick Casey Mittelstadt was signed after one season with Minnesota, played six games at the end of the 2017-18 season and was expected to replace Ryan O’Reilly as the club’s #2 center behind Eichel, but could not handle the responsibility and regressed last season to the point that he finished the year in Rochester.
With the exception of Reinhart, Eichel, and Dahlin, the lone bright spot has been 2014 seventh-rounder Victor Olofsson, but the 25-year-old winger(who scored 22 goals as a rookie), improved over four seasons in the Swedish Hockey League before coming to North America and was pretty much a finished product, scoring 30 goals with the Amerks before joining the Sabres full-time last season.
The hiring of Appert is definitely a move aimed towards getting more out of young players Mittelstadt, Tage Thompson, Mattias Samuelsson(who came out of the USNTDP), Will Borgen, Matej Pekar, and Ukka-Pekka Luukkonen to provide the Sabres core group with support over the next few years.