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Buffalo Sabres Off-Season Blueprint: European Free Agents

April 6, 2020, 12:32 PM ET [1706 Comments]
Michael Ghofrani
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With the NHL season still on pause for the foreseeable future, my make-believe off-season blueprint for the Buffalo Sabres continues. After acquiring Dylan Strome from the Chicago Blackhawks (Tyler Cameron), I set my sights on some European skaters who could make the jump to North America and become impact players. Given the lack of depth up front, I’ve narrowed the search to forwards who at the very least could challenge for a permanent spot on the NHL roster.

Data courtesy of pick224.com and liiga.fi/en/

Jerry Turkulainen- JYP Jyväskylä- (SM-Liiga)

Age: 21 years old
Position: Left Wing
Games Played: 58
Goals: 11
Assists: 31
Corsi For: 55.2%
O-zone usage: 53.8%

Julius Nattinen is getting most of the attention as a potential signee so Turkulainen has flown under the radar but that’s nothing new. He was passed over in his draft years despite having numbers that would at least warrant taking a chance on him in the later rounds. Turkulainen is third among DY+3 or younger skaters in even strength primary points and his Corsi for percentage is top 30 among forwards in the SM-Liiga (minimum 30 GP).

At 5’6, Turkulainen obviously wasn’t passed over because of his abilities. There’s no doubt that there will be question marks about his ability to compete due to his size, but as the league continues to trend away from the old school grind the opposition down hockey to a faster pace heavily reliant on skill, players like Turkulainen will have a much better shot at succeeding at the NHL level.

Eemeli Suomi- Ilves Tampere (SM-Liiga)

Age: 24 years old
Position: Left Wing
Goals: 26
Assists: 32
Corsi For: 50.8%
O-Zone usage: 51.2%

Suomi has already been linked to the Sabres as a potential signing and It’s not hard to see why. He was third in goals, tied for 2nd in both even strength goals and total points while also receiving the highest TOI/GP of any winger. His even strength goals for % relative to his teammates was also exceptional at 16.6%, good for 6th among forwards (minimum 30 GP).

At 24 years old, the Sabres likely wouldn’t bring him in to be developed in Rochester for a few years. This would be a signing for some immediate help with the big club. Suomi comes in at 5’9 and 183 lbs, so not a power forward by any means but again given the way the NHL is trending, I don’t believe his size would hold him back. Suomi ranked 12th in shooting percentage among forwards in the SM-Liiga at 20%.

Gustav Rydahl- Farjestads BK Karlstad (SHL)

Age: 25 years old
Position: Centre
Goals: 19
Assists: 16

Rydahl is probably the most fascinating player on the list. From 16/17 through 17/18 he had just 2 goals in 67 games. He eventually moved from Lulea to Farjestads which did wonders for his career because in the last two seasons he has 31 goals in 96 games, with most of them coming at even strength. In fact, not only did Rydahl lead the SHL in EV goals this year, he also shot 24.64% at even strength and 25.33% total, tops in the SHL in both (minimum 50 shots taken).

The percentages can be a bit misleading as while he does have a good shot, his goal scoring is more a result of his ability to get into the right areas at the right time. The concern with this sort of goal scoring ability is that time and space come are much more difficult to come by in the NHL. At 25 years old, this would be a boom/bust signing but with so little natural scoring talent in the pipeline it could be a gamble worth taking for the Sabres.

Julius Nattinen- JYP Jyväskylä (SM-Liiga)

Age: 23 years old
Position: Centre
Goals: 33
Assists: 22
Corsi For: 54.7%
O-Zone Usage: 53.6%

Nattinen is the crown jewel of this years expected European free agent class and he’s certainly earned that title. The former Anaheim Ducks draft pick led the SM-Liiga in even strength primary points per 60 (minimum 30 GP), even strength goals and shooting percentage. Nattinen’s talent is undeniable and it’s what got him drafted 59th overall in 2015, but his last appearance in North American hockey didn’t go so well putting up just 4 goals in 55 games in the AHL.

His contract was terminated by the Ducks before he went back Finland so this would be a straight free agent signing. The hope for any team that signs him would be that he’s a late bloomer in terms of putting it all together.

Teemu Turunen- HIFK Helsinki (SM-Liiga)

Age: 24 years old
Position: Right Wing
Goals: 20
Assists: 31
Corsi For: 57.6%
O-Zone Usage: 56%

Turunen may be the most well-rounded player on this list. He led the SM-Liiga in points per game and saw plenty of usage and success at both even strength and on the man advantage. He also put up some solid possession numbers, ranking 13th among forwards in CF% (minimum 30 GP). Much like Suomi at Ilves, Turunen was heavily leaned on by Helsinki seeing the 2nd highest TOI/GP of any winger and his even strength goals for % relative to his teammates was 14.32, 9th among forwards (minimum 30 GP).

Turunen reads like the exact opposite of Rydahl in the sense that he doesn’t have that one skill set that stands out but he appears to be solid in everything else. Given the production at both even strength/power play and how heavily a good team like Helsinki is relying on him, I suspect Turunen would be able to find a roster spot at the NHL level, but his ceiling is probably lower than the rest of the candidates. The Sabres are paper thin at right wing so despite the potentially low ceiling this could be a cost-effective signing that brings some scoring depth.

Thanks for reading!
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