How the Sabres’ Prospects Fared at 2015 WJC’s

Every year the World Junior Championships is used by top NHL prospects as a showcase to prove to scouts that they are either worthy of a 1st round pick, deserve that first pro contract, or maybe a first shot in the show. As we are now three days removed from Canada’s triumph in the gold medal game the final sprint to June 26 in Sunrise is now underway. As evidenced by ISS’s January Top 30, scouts place a premium on performance (or lack thereof) at the World Juniors.

Sabres fans enduring the three-way battle royale for 30th place this season can take solace in the results from this year’s tournament, as many of their current prospects helped their cause, while some names they may have interest in come June also performed well. Here’s a look at how current Sabres farmhands fared in Toronto and Montreal, as well as how some 2015 draft eligible players helped or hurt themselves. Continue reading

Outdoor game fatigue highlighted in this year’s Winter Classic

Since 2008 the Winter Classic has stood as one of the most unique and impressive pillars in the four major sports leagues. An outdoor spectacle that was made for TV helped give legitimacy to a league that had lost far too much in the first half of the 2000s.

The 2012-13 lockout not only caused a cancellation of the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at the Big House but also cut away a great deal of fan allegiance after a second lockout in fewer than 10 years. The league compensated for the loss of half a season, an outdoor game and a great deal of revenue with six outdoor games last season.

With this year’s Winter Classic fast approaching, I find myself very disinterested in the build up to the game. Overall my level of interest for the game is incredibly low and it is somewhat amplified by the general lack of hype for what has previously been appointment television.

Losing 24/7 and the punch brought to the table by HBO certainly helps to amplify the lack of buzz or hype about the game, but the apathy surrounding the event seems to extend beyond that of the chatter regarding a pay-cable network’s inside look at the two teams.

What’s interesting is that the Epix production of Road to the Winter Classic has been excellent, in my opinion. I really enjoyed each of the first two episodes and I’m looking forward to the final pair. But even that hasn’t helped to boost my excitement for the upcoming game.

Even the jersey unveilings were just part of the white noise of the NHL in the summer. Maybe if one or both jerseys were more attractive I’d personally feel differently, but there hasn’t been all that much discussion on either since they were unveiled.

The entire practice just feels tired. Continue reading

What To Expect Out Of Jonathan Drouin

By Matt Scully

Tampa Bay certainly did not wait long in the 2014-2015 regular season to call up top prospect Jonathan Drouin. Just a couple of weeks into the regular season, the 19-year old is set to make an impact at the NHL level right away. While the hype is real surrounding the forward, just how good can he be from a fantasy hockey perspective in year one?

During the preseason, some thought that Drouin would be ready to play on opening night of the regular season. However, a fractured right thumb held him out of some important training opportunities, so Tampa Bay sent him to Syracuse to begin the season.

At the beginning of his NHL career, Tampa Bay expects to play him regularly. After all, it would be silly for them to call up a promising youngster and place him on the bench instead of allowing him to get reps. He will most likely be on the third line at first, and his playmaking at center or left wing should allow him to contribute in fantasy hockey right away. He is worth taking a risk on, especially if a person is in a keeper league.

Tampa Bay is off to a decent start so far this season, as they stand at 3-1-1 on the year. They feel like they have a chance to be pretty competitive in the Eastern Conference if they are able to stay healthy. Drouin is going to have a chance to make this team a serious threat for the Stanley Cup if he is as good as advertised. The Lightning will not be putting huge expectations on him just yet, but they do think he has a chance to be a franchise type of guy down the road once he gets familiar with this level of play.

 

Surprises on Opening Night Rosters

Every year there are relatively unknown players that work their way onto opening night rosters. Luke Adam for the Sabres in 2011 and Cory Conacher for Tampa Bay in 2012 are examples of players not only finding their way onto rosters, but contributing right away. While those immediate impacts were short lived, and instances of a relatively unknown player bursting onto the season as those two did are pretty rare, there are players on every roster that no one expected to be there. Here is one player from every NHL team (except the Sabres) who are surprises on opening rosters, unknown to the league (and the fans) or both.

William Karlsson, Anaheim Ducks- The 21 Swede spent the majority of last season playing in Sweden before making cameo with Norfolk of the AHL. He posted nine points in nine regular season games and three points in eight games for the Admirals. While he is on the opening night roster, he looks to be in a battle with Rickard Rackell, who got his first extended look in the NHL last season, for the Ducks’ last center spot.

Justin Hodgman, Arizona Coyotes- He’s bounced around from Fort Wayne to the KHL before signing a two-way deal with Arizona at the age of 26. He’s not a scorer, having neot registered a 20 goal season since he was in the OHL, but may find a home on the Coyote’s 4th line.

Bobby Robins, Boston Bruins- The 32 year old journeyman racked up over 300 career AHL games, along with making stops in Great Britain, Austria, and Slovenia, before cracking an NHL lineup with the Bruins on Wednesday night. He even got in his first NHL fight, with Luke Schenn.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames- Gaudreau is not exactly an unknown to hockey fans after he torched the NCAA during his two years at Boston College. He got a one game audition towards the end of last season with the Flames and found the back of the net. He’ll get a chance to stick with the big club during his first full pro season.

Patrick Brown, Carolina Hurricanes- The 22 year old will start his first professional season in the NHL after four years at Boston College. He begins the years on the ‘Canes’ 4th line with Riley Nash and Chris Terry.

Trevor van Riemsdyk, Chicago Blackhawks- The kid brother of Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk made the Blackhawks roster after the team had to trade Nick Leddy because of cap issues. The 23 year old has been skating alongside Niklas Hjalmarsson in practice recently.

Dennis Everberg, Colorado Avalanche- Everberg is new to North America after playing the last five years in Sweden. At 6’ 4” Everberg definitely has the size, and will get a look on the Avalanche’s 4th line. Continue reading

Five Storylines to Watch as the Sabres Head to Camp

Sam Reinhart- This is the obvious one; expectations are sky high for the Sabres’ highest draft pick since Pierre Turgeon in 1987. By all accounts Reinhart played well in Traverse City despite not finding the back of the net. Reinhart will obviously face a step up in competition as he heads into his first NHL camp. The rookie will most certainly get his shot at the beginning of the year with his nine game pseudo tryout before a decision must be made on his future. All eyes will be on him as he attempts to force his way into the Sabres’ top six forwards, but looking at the Sabres’ roster make up, don’t be shocked to see Reinhart headed back to Kootenay for another year.

The Defense- Only seven, maybe eight blue liners will be on the roster when the puck drops against Columbus on October 7. The team currently has ten candidates for those spots, with the rest shipped down the thruway to Rochester or sent back to juniors for the beginning of the new campaign. Looking at the roster, four spots are locked up in Tyler Myers, Mike Weber, Andrej Meszaros, and Josh Gorges, plus the signing of Andre Benoit to a one way deal likely wraps up the fifth spot on the back end. That leaves Jake McCabe, Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen, Chad Ruhwedel, and Nikita Zadorov to battle it out in camp for the two or three remaining spots. Zadorov took a seat for a period or two in Traverse City due to a perceived lack of effort and looks set to be on the way back to the OHL for another year of seasoning barring an exceptional camp. While play on the ice will obviously be the major factor in deciding who sticks with the big club, contract flexibility may also pay a factor; a player like Rasmus Ristolainen is still able to be shuttled between Buffalo and Rochester without going through waivers, which makes him a more likely candidate to start in the AHL.

Top Six Forwards- Tim Murray was able to add much more depth to the NHL ranks on July 1, and the majority of that depth comes in the form of top six forwards such as Brian Gionta and the returning Matt Moulson. Those additions, along with the likes of Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Drew Stafford, and Chris Stewart would lead folks to believe the Sabres’ top two forward lines are fairly set. There are still some questions positionally, mainly who will man the middle. Cody Hodgson’s defensive deficiencies have led some to believe he could end up on the wing, while Tyler Ennis saw time at both center and wing last season. With these players seemingly locked into scoring roles barring a trade or injury, it looks like a tough task for anyone, including Sam Reinhart, to break into the group on a permanent basis. Another name who gets lost in the shuffle is Mikhail Grigorenko. The odds are certainly not in his favor for an opening night spot, but he has added 15-20 pounds of muscle and heads into this season in what looks to be a much better frame of mind when compared to last year; I’m pulling for him to put forth a good showing in camp.

Bottom Six Forwards- The Sabres have a ton of bodies looking to fill the final eight roster spots (including healthy scratches). While Zemgus Girgensons is basically a lock to man the middle for the 3rd line and likes of Marcus Foligno, Brian Flynn, and the repatriated Cody McCormick also look to have spots, there are still plenty of questions. Torrey Mitchell barely got on the ice for the team last year before getting hurt, and is thus a bit of an unknown. Nic Deslauriers acquitted himself well in limited duty last year, and Matt Ellis is back in the fold for another year. Add in the now healthy (and sometimes forgotten) Pat Kaleta, new signing Zac Dalpe, Johan Larsson, and new addition Jordan Samuels-Thomas (who played very well in Traverse City) and the competition for the last few spots will be fierce.

Goaltending- For the first time since the early 90’s the Sabres go into the season without a definitive answer in the crease. Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth head into camp as the goaltending tandem for the Blue and Gold, and all indications point toward a scenario where the two are viewed as option 1a and 1b by Ted Nolan. While it is unknown how Nolan will split time in net during the preseason, the two 26 year old netminders will be looking to show that they deserve the nod on opening night. The year may start with the time split relatively even, Nolan will likely not hesitate to go with the hot hand. While the opening night starter is by no means a guarantee to play 55 or 60 games, whoever gets the start will have the first chance to prove himself to the coaches. New goaltending coach Arturs Irbe may also play a role in determining who eventually wins the job. Irbe was considered an undersized goaltender throughout his career and he is now tasked with mentoring the 5’ 10” Enroth and Neuvirth, who is listed at 6’ 1”. Whichever goaltender is able to take to Irbe’s methods quickest may benefit in the form of more playing time.

Who poses a threat to Mission McDavid in 2015?

With the 2014 NHL Draft just a few days away, the Sabres will be making the second highest selection in franchise history that should serve as a major piece of their current rebuild. While the Sabres’ 30th place finish this year ensured them a top-two selection at the draft, the real prize sits atop the 2015 NHL Draft when Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are set to be picked first and second (not necessarily in that order).

While Tim Murray hasn’t come out and said it, the Sabres aren’t expected to compete for much more than the right to pick one of those two elite talents as yet another building block on the way to a Stanley Cup. Murray and the Sabres are in a good position for 2015 as they hold three picks in the first round, giving them that much more of a chance to score the first pick. While St. Louis’ pick (acquired as part of the Ryan Miller trade) won’t have any sort of effect on Buffalo’s lottery chances, it’s possible that the Islanders’ pick does provide some additional support. Ideally the Islanders would suffer through an ugly season and give the Sabres a massive boost towards snagging first overall. The worst case scenario is that they sneak into the playoffs and give the Sabres two picks in the bottom 15 selections of the round.

There won’t be any change made to the NHL Draft Lottery for next season, so the 30th place club will have a 25% chance to get the first pick with the odds decreasing with each subsequent finisher. So the Sabres could wind up in the exact position they’re in now. No matter how teams are posturing today doesn’t prevent five clubs from finishing between 25 and 30 in the standings and holding the top odds for a very valuable lottery.

I’ve taken the time to run through each club and give my opinion on the current trend they’re following (up, down or neutral), if they own their pick next season and the threat they are to wind up in the lottery. The lottery threat scale goes from one-to-five, with one being the most likely a team is to wind up at the bottom of the league and the top of the draft. Each team’s trend is more subjective as many teams were considered neutral despite having very different circumstances.

Buffalo’s own ranks would give them a downward (perhaps neutral) trend with a level one threat as a major player in the lottery. The Sabres will certainly make some moves this offseason but I don’t foresee anything on the horizon that will drastically turn the team’s fortunes around. The Sabres will certainly be a player for the first pick next year, although the odds certainly weigh against them landing McDavid. Continue reading

Looking back at the Draft: 2009

If 2007 and 2008 offered the richest discussion regarding this practice, I’d say that 2009 (and 2010) offer the most ambiguity. It certainly speaks more to the 2010 draft than 2009, but there are a number of players still working through their respective team’s development ladder from these two drafts. That makes things difficult as the value of those players hasn’t really been established yet.

So bear that in mind as there are a few names that may seem out of place given their current impact on the league. Also feel free to share thoughts on picks that you don’t see as accurate. These posts are meant to spur discussion, not serve as a gospel. The 2009 draft will serve as the final one I examine as the 2010 draft is still fresh enough to have a great many picks still in limbo. Continue reading