Wisconsin suffered its first early departure of the offseason Wednesday as junior defenseman Jake McCabe inked a three-year entry level deal with the Buffalo Sabres, forgoing his senior year with the Badgers.
Buffalo GM Tim Murray hinted that a deal was close during a radio interview prior to the Sabres game versus New Jersey last night, but, perhaps more interestingly, said that McCabe will likely report directly to Buffalo, rather than its AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans.
GM Tim Murray says on WGR that Jake McCabe is close to signing and likely would report to Sabres, not Amerks.— John Vogl (@BuffNewsVogl) April 1, 2014
Given the Sabres’ current position in the standings, it’s not hard to see why they’d want to give the Eau Claire, Wis., native a look. Since he was drafted the in the second round in 2012, McCabe has been viewed as a vital piece to the Sabres rebuild. Those expectations only increased when he captained Team USA to a Gold Medal in the 2013 IIHF World Juniors Tournament. McCabe was named to the All-Tournament team after recording three goals, six points and a team-high plus-nine rating in seven games.
McCabe, a First-Team All-Big Ten selection this season, has made great strides in his development throughout his college career. His defensive game has always been his strongest attribute. McCabe is rock solid in his own zone and possesses a great hockey mind and anticipate plays and reads and reacts well to whatever is in front of him. He’s also a very fluid skater that moves well with the puck and played well in all situations for the Badgers.
One area improvement as McCabe moves to the NHL level is his decision-making with the puck. Wisconsin fans saw this in the team’s 5-2 loss to North Dakota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when a McCabe turnover led to big goal for UND’s Rocco Grimaldi. However, that aspect of his game should come with time as he continues to develop, especially now that he’ll be facing NHL competition right away.
This season with the Badgers McCabe’s two-way play came a long way. Badger fans knew he had offensive potential from the blue line and he really broke through this year. He doubled his previous career-high in goals with eight tallies to go along with 17 assists and a career-best 25 points, which was good for fifth-best on the team. Overall, he had 14 goals and 58 points in 100 career games.
McCabe was set to be a leader, maybe the captain, for Wisconsin next season –– which reportedly gave him hesitation about leaving early – but he has the polish and ability to make an impact in Buffalo sooner rather than later.
We had McCabe ranked as the 7th best NHL prospect in our Top 100 NHL Prospects in the NCAA this year. Here's what we wrote about McCabe:
7. Jake McCabe, Defense, Wisconsin (Buffalo Sabres)
McCabe was one of the stars of the 2013 gold medal-winning US World Junior team, where his steady play and leadership helped lead the US through the medal round. McCabe doesn’t project as a huge offensive contributor at the NHL level, but he should be a steady, reliable player that can eat a lot of minutes with good, honest defensive play.
SB Nation's Andy Johnson reports that McCabe received the maximum rookie contract of $925,000 per year, and that he will make his NHL debut with the Sabres on Thursday against St. Louis, which will allow McCabe to burn the first year of his entry-level contract this season.
Chris Dilks contributed to this report.