BUFFALO – Over the past 10 years, five prospects the Sabres drafted in the sixth round or later have played NHL games. Just three have earned regular duty.
Winger Victor Olofsson has scored 11 goals for the Sabres this season, a total that trails only center Tage Thompson’s 13. Goalie Linus Ullmark, who departed Buffalo in 2021, has a stunning 13-1-0 record for the Boston Bruins.
The other? Tampa Bay Lightning winger Brandon Hagel, who spent Monday’s game skating on the top line beside center Brayden Point and superstar Nikita Kucherov.
The Sabres drafted Hagel, 24, in the sixth round in 2016, 159th overall, under general manager Tim Murray. While Hagel attended training and development camps in Buffalo during his stellar junior career with the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels, GM Jason Botterill passed on signing him after he replaced Murray.
“When that dream comes to an end because a team doesn’t want to sign you, there’s a little motivation to prove them wrong, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job at it,” Hagel said prior to recording a goal and an assist in Monday’s 6-5 win over the Sabres at KeyBank Center.
You think? The 6-foot-2, 179-pound Hagel scored 25 goals last season and enjoyed regular duty throughout Tampa Bay’s run to the Stanley Cup final. The Lightning valued him so much it traded a first-round pick in 2024 and other assets to the Chicago Blackhawks nine months ago to acquire him.
“I didn’t expect to get traded from Chicago, but here I am, went to the Stanley Cup finals, couldn’t be more proud of that, and obviously, getting the opportunity to play with some superstars and some Hall of Famers, it’s fun, to say the least,” Hagel said.
Hagel quickly grew into an NHL talent after Chicago awarded him an entry-level contract in 2018. He made his big league debut late in 2019-20 and entrenched himself in the lineup the next season.
“I didn’t change who I was as a player or person,” Hagel said. “Ended up getting my opportunity, made the most of it and kind of just grew from there.”
The soft-spoken Hagel harbors no will ill toward the Sabres – “They treated me nothing but good,” he said – and is grateful for the brief opportunity they gsave him.
Still, he’s hellbent on proving doubters wrong.
“You dream to play in the NHL and when that’s ruined, you either take it one way and kind of give up or the other way and have a chip on your shoulder and prove these guys wrong,” he said. “I’m having fun doing it.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said called Hagel “a fighter.”
“He has an attitude, he’s one of those kids who says, ‘Yeah, just count me out because I’ll prove you wrong,’” he said.
Cooper said Hagel has “got a swagger to him.”
“I always think players like that, you say they can’t do it, they’ll prove you wrong,” he said. “He’s got the swag to go with that. And so he’s been a heck of an add for us.”
After being utilized as a checker down the stretch last season, Hagel has been cast in an offensive role this year, registering seven goals and 17 points in 21 outings. He assisted on Point’s first-period score before his power-play goal tied the game at 5 late.
“He’s playing with two of the best players in the league and he’s excelling,” Cooper said. “And so it kind of goes to the scope of his talent level.”
Center Riley Sheahan on Monday cleared unconditional waivers and had his one-year, two-way contract terminated by the Sabres.
Sheahan, 30, did not report to the Rochester Americans last week after the Sabres assigned him to their AHL affiliate.
He could sign a new contract in Europe.
The Sabres made one lineup change up front Monday, inserting winger Rasmus Asplund, who missed two games with an upper-body injury, for Vinnie Hinostroza.
They also scratched forward Peyton Krebs for the third time in four games and defenseman Lawrence Pilut for the fifth straight contest.
The Amerks on Monday released veteran defenseman Brandon Davidson from his professional tryout. Davidson, 31, played nine games.