The additional expectations and pressure that come with a six-year $27 million contract were probably something Ville Leino was prepared to deal with entering his first season with the Buffalo Sabres.
He was probably ready to accept the challenge that came with learning a new system, playing with new linemates and even switching back to his old position. The hiccup in all of this has been an early; make that very early, slump accompanied by a game of musical line changes.
Leino has skated with three different lines already and the season is only eight games old. After starting as a center between Tyler Ennis and Brady Boyes, he was given a new winger (Cody McCormick) before being bumped to the wing with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford.
The most recent move should be the best one for the new forward. Leino’s best play in Philadelphia came on the wing; there is no reason to think the success won’t be duplicated here. That isn’t to say Leino would have been an effective center for Buffalo, he just hadn’t settled into the role through the first handful of games.
Leino played most of Saturday’s game and all of yesterday’s match up against Tampa Bay with Roy and Stafford. He made a few nice plays with the puck on his stick. However, he was also at the center of a bad turnover that resulted in a goal on Saturday. He also didn’t bear down defensively on Tampa’s second goal last night. He was placed back on a power play unit but wasn’t able to make an impact there as the Sabres power play was beyond stagnant yesterday. Roy appears to be struggling through an injury that is affecting his play. Once he is healthy there is potential for that line to be very dangerous for Buffalo.
A big part of the problem likely lies with his understanding of Buffalo’s system. Coupled with skating alongside new faces in nearly every game has probably clouded Leino’s playmaking prowess. There have been flashes of why the Sabres chose to sign him at the rate they did. This happens in every game, there just happens to be other flashes of confusion and hesitation. The unfortunate trend is that the hesitation is harming the team.
Aside from the fact that the season is only eight games old, patience needs to be practiced regarding Leino. He needs longer than three games to adjust to him linemates. He also needs one of those games where everything goes right. Quite often a couple nice bounces can get a player going. Paul Hamilton said it best; Leino is not a player who will be evaluated after 10 games. He is a player that needs a whole season to adjust and play his game. It probably won’t be until game 60 when a true opinion on Leino can be formed. Even then he could go on an absolute tear in the playoffs like he did in 2010.
One problem that may lie on the horizon is; what happens to Leino upon the return of Tyler Ennis? Neither player has gotten a fair shake skating with Roy and Stafford nor has either player has shown too much to the coaching staff. Presently, keeping Leino with the pair is the only move available. It also should be how the coaching staff leans once Ennis is back from injury. Unless Leino has a horrendous two weeks of hockey, he needs to build chemistry with a line over an extended period of time – not just three games.
If March rolls around and Ville Leino has yet to settle into a spot on this roster there will be cause for concern. But here in October, after eight games, everyone needs to wait on hitting the panic button on the winger.