Since the Buffalo Sabres’ departure from the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs their players have dispersed to various locations. The “Black Aces” like Jhonas Enroth and Mark Mancari have been sent back to Portland to help with their playoff run. Meanwhile, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Paul Gaustad accepted invitations to represent their countries in the IIHF World Championships.
Gaustad recently joined Team USA for yesterday’s 4-2 win over Norway. Gaustad logged two penalty minutes and was given an ‘A’. It should be interesting to see if Gaustad’s time with the US will help him gain some additional experience against the best in the world and in clutch situations. Having another player with big-game experience will be huge moving forward.
If anyone will benefit from their time at the World Championships it is Gragnani. The puck-moving defenseman is making his international debut for Canada and should be able to build on his strong playoff appearance. The way I see it, the more playing time the better for Gragnani. He was named a first-team All-Star for the regular season in the AHL in addition to being named the league’s best defenseman. After a few poor call ups in previous seasons, Gragnani was great in his limited action this season. Based on his short body of work, I pegged him as one of three youngsters that I see remaining on the blue line with the big club next season.
As for Enroth, Mancari and the other youngsters who saw time with the Sabres this year, it seems like the Pirates are on their last legs in their series against the Binghamton Senators. Enroth hasn’t been stellar for the Pirates in the action he has seen against the B-Sens, but not too many of his teammates have played well.
Mancari continues to find the net in the AHL, however he still can’t do it consistently in the NHL. Zack Kassian has made his professional debut, only two penalty minutes for the angry winger thus far. I don’t think three or four games of experience will do much for his development, however spending time with Kevin Dineen and Eric Weinrich certainly will.
The prospect cupboard is fairly well stocked for the Sabres. They will have a few junior graduates joining the organization next season, those additions should free up some others as trade bait. It all adds up to an interesting off-season for the Sabres.