The Sabres have plenty of questions surrounding their defense this season, but they can feel good about the future with Jacob Bryson knocking on their door.
While the Buffalo Sabres’ prospect pool has grown weak in the past few years — largely due to the number of draft picks we’ve traded away — it doesn’t mean there aren’t good prospects available for the future. Especially on defense.
We’ve already discussed how bright the future is for Will Borgen, who will likely spend most of the season in the AHL as their top-line defender. He’s not the only one on the Sabres’ radar, though.
Enter Jacob Bryson.
Jacob Bryson is another young defensive prospect preparing for a run in the NHL. He’ll likely spend most of the year in the AHL with Rochester and is likely to pair well with Will Borgen on the Amerks’ top line. Together, these two make a solid pair for future considerations.
While they’re both fourth-round draft picks and have both exceeded expectations to this point, Bryson was drafted in the 2017 NHL Draft, while Borgen was drafted in the 2015 NHL Draft. It should be noted that Bryson was available in the 2016 NHL Draft, but was passed on.
With Jacob Bryson just turning 23 years old a few days ago (November 18th), he still has a lot to prove — much like Borgen. In fact, neither one has been given a solid opportunity at the upper level yet. Borgen has only made four NHL appearances, while Bryson has made zero.
That will likely change soon, especially if these two have an opportunity to play alongside each other on the same line. The chemistry is important and something we currently don’t have a lot of at the NHL level.
In addition to that, they compliment each other well. Will Borgen is a sound defensive player that’s still working on evolving offensively. Jacob Bryson, on the other hand, brings with him more of an offensive game — though he’s still a sound defender.
Bryson is that new-age type of defender that’s starting to make a difference in the NHL. He’s offensive-minded, he plays simple, but plays with intelligence, he skates well, provides opportunities on offense, shoots at the right times, carries the puck well, has excellent speed, vision, and agility.
He’s a shorter player, listed at just 5’9” and 185 pounds, but he doesn’t give up a lot of space on the rush and knows when to be physical — two things that help mask his lack of size. In fact, he uses his size as motivation, especially since many people doubted him growing up — evidenced by being passed on in the 2016 NHL Draft.
“If you’re able to play defense just like everyone else is,” Bryson said, “there’s no reason that a small guy can’t play in the NHL.”
Bryson has all the tools and ingredients needed to succeed. He has developed nicely over the past four years, spending three of those years at Providence College in the NCAA (121 games, 11 goals, 62 assists).
Last year was his first year as a professional, playing in a total of 61 games with the Rochester Americans. He showed great improvement as a rookie, totaling 4 goals and 23 assists. He also recorded 34 penalty minutes, but did spend valuable time on the Amerks’ powerplay unit.
I really enjoyed how Chris Taylor provided the right environment for Jacob Bryson to develop. He had him playing next to Zach Redmond a lot, another offensive-minded defenseman that was actually named the AHL’s top defenseman during the 2018-19 season. Redmond was crucial to helping Bryson develop last year.
Even after playing in the first 40 games of the season, Chris Taylor furthered his development when he decided to list Bryson as a healthy scratch — not because he was playing bad, but because he wanted Bryson to watch the game from above and take a step back for one game.
It was an interesting move that allowed Bryson to see the game from a different angle, especially now that he had experience playing professionally.
With Chris Taylor out of the picture, you really hope new head coach Seth Appert follows a similar development strategy with Jacob Bryson this season. Entering his second professional season, there’s a chance he starts to see time in the NHL this season and he could become a regular starter as early as next season.
In a perfect world, Will Borgen and Jacob Bryson will gain good chemistry this year with Rochester. Hopefully they receive some ice time at the upper level, but who knows how that’ll work with COVID-19 protocols.
Next year, with several spots opening up due to free agency, they can make a case for the Buffalo Sabres’ roster — along with another defensive prospect named Mattias Samuelsson (who we should see in Rochester this year, as well).
There’s a lot to look forward to with the Sabres’ defensive prospects, but this year will be crucial to their development. Needless to say, I like what I see!
What about you, Sabres’ fans? Are you excited to see Jacob Bryson continue his development and when do you think he makes that jump to the NHL?
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