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

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.

2ITB second round predictions

For the third-straight season I rolled up six out of eight correct playoff series predictions in the first round. I fully expect to almost completely whiff on my second round predictions for the third-straight season.

While I swung and missed on my Cup Finals prediction, I managed to guess most of the second round participants and I’ll now provide my predictions for the second round series.

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators

This will be a very interesting series to follow. The main storyline is the Penguins struggles in net but this will really come down to Pittsburgh’s firepower matching up against Craig Anderson and Ottawa’s ability to defend. Pittsburgh has a deep offensive lineup that would create ugly matchup choices for an All Star team, let alone the seventh seed in the playoffs. If Paul MacLean can work his magic and Anderson stays hot, this will be a long series.

Why Pittsburgh will win: Firepower is the name of the game for the Penguins. They outscored their way to the second round with little more than average goaltending supporting their back legs. This is an offensive juggernaut which also has a pair of bottom six lines capable of mixing offense and defense quite nicely. Goaltending will obviously be an issue and the hot button issue until Tomas Vokoun proves he can carry this team.

Why Ottawa will win: The Senators have continuously proven that they’re capable of overcoming and they did a fine job of that all year. They certainly weren’t overmatched by the Canadiens but I feel they will be in many ways during this series. However, if they can find offensive success they should have little issue being very competitive against this team

Outcome: Penguins in six Continue reading

NHL risking oversaturation with more outdoor games

With news breaking that the 2013-14 schedule may have upwards of four outdoor games, my wheels again began to turn at the thought of the diminishing spectacle that is outdoor hockey.

The lockout prevented the 2013 Winter Classic from occurring but the Red Wings and Maple Leafs will meet on New Year’s Day 2014 to make up for their missed appointment this past January. In addition, rumors have indicated that the Canucks will play host to the Heritage Classic with additional whispers of a Kings and Ducks showdown at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodger Stadium game is expected to occur on Hockey Day in America and would potentially serve as a doubleheader with another outdoor game played at Yankee Stadium featuring the Rangers. The latter three games have yet to be confirmed, but it would appear that they’re going to be part of the plans for the 2013-14 season.

While I think the Hockey Day in America doubleheader could make for some cool television, I fear that by the time those two games roll around no one will care much for the outdoor product. As it stands now, the Winter Classic makes for a fun game to watch in the elements even though the on-ice product isn’t always up to snuff. Scheduling a pair of games to come after the Winter and Heritage Classic could seriously cheapen what has otherwise become a very cool product.

I wrote this last year about the potential for watering down what these outdoor games mean. I fear that oversaturating the market will change these from unique spectacles to just another blip on the NHL radar. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast Episode 19 – Collective Bracing

Back for another episode, Eric and I talk a bit about how awesome home World Cup qualifying matches are (Eric just returned from Columbus), how terrible things are starting to look regarding the impending lockout and play a bit of plus/minus.

As always, catch me at @2ITB_Buffalo and Eric at @3rdManIn