Something interesting happened to the Sabres in the past week. A run of injuries suffered at the tail end of the preseason created some unique roster opportunities for a handful of Sabres prospects.
Obviously the last thing any team wants is to suffer injuries. Particularly injuries to players who have been touted as key pieces to the future success of the franchise. Yet, the injuries to Joel Armia, Marcus Foligno and Nikita Zadorov aren’t going to cause the Sabres as much stress as you may originally believe.
All three players are bound to be shifted to injured reserve in order for the Sabres to meet the NHL’s roster requirements this afternoon. While it will prevent them from getting immediate ice time, they’ll have the opportunity to stay in Buffalo while they recover. Specifically for Armia and Zadorov it means spending more time with the team, working out here and just absorbing more time with the big club as they heal up. Particularly for Zadorov, that is a great benefit.
Considering it appeared as if Zadorov was destined to be returned to London, he will now get approximately two more weeks to spend with the Sabres strength and conditioning staff and I’d gather he’ll probably have the chance to get on the ice a few times as well. While it wasn’t a guarantee, I do believe that the Sabres wanted to give Zadorov a nine-game tryout prior to his injury. Assuming that was indeed the case, his nine-game cameo might just come after he’s fully recovered. Comparing the two timelines is easy enough; two weeks plus nine games > nine games.
There’s no certainty that Zadorov does indeed get a nine-game look, nor is there a guarantee that the Sabres choose to keep him around until he’s back to 100%. I’d assume they could send him back to London when they see fit and allow him to start his junior season once healthy. But when I think of his long-term development, getting a little more bonus time in Buffalo before heading back to the OHL should be nothing but beneficial to the young blueliner.
As unfortunate as it was for him to be hurt so late in the preseason, it should set him up on a longer timeline with an NHL club before heading back to junior. It seems like a nice recipe for his continued growth.
The broken hand that Armia suffered is a much more serious injury that will not only demand more attention but is going to keep the winger on the shelf much longer than Zadorov. Armia, who was likely heading to Rochester, is in a position in which playing time will trump time spent with the Sabres training and coaching staff. While it isn’t a bad thing that he’s up with the big club for his recovery, it would be far better if he was playing games right off the bat.
The same goes for Foligno as his injury does nothing more than delay his season debut with the team. While he wasn’t necessarily a lock to make the Sabres this year, it was going to take an awful lot for Foligno to start the year in Rochester and that’s likely to be the case once he’s healthy as well. However, his injury will allow Johan Larsson to remain in the NHL to start the season.
Larsson was the extra skater at practice today but had a strong preseason and should at least be given the chance to suit up for the first few games of the year until Foligno’s return forces the Sabres to make a move with their active roster.
As of now it would appear that Larsson would be finding his way into a role as either the left winger or center on the fourth line with Kevin Porter and Patrick Kaleta as the Sabres other three lines appear all but set to go. While fourth line minutes don’t serve as the best way to nurture a young player, filling a two-way checking role with Porter and Kaleta would certainly play to many of Larsson’s strengths. In addition, Larsson’s presence on that line makes the trio far more useful than if Cody McCormick or John Scott were to be dressed. Not to discount the role the two bruisers fill, but that fourth line will play far fewer minutes with those two playing than without. When considering the trio would be more versatile and effective, I’d have to assume they’d garner more ice time as a result.
With four of the first five games played against opponents who probably wouldn’t require the Sabres to dress an enforcer (the Senators and Penguins may require more muscle), why wouldn’t the Sabres take the opportunity to dress a more skilled lineup?
It will only be a couple of short weeks until Foligno and Zadorov are healthy. Armia is set to be around a big longer and will certainly be heading back to Rochester once he’s healthy. However, with Larsson sticking around due to Foligno’s ailment and Zadorov getting at least two more bonus weeks in Buffalo, the trio of injuries suffered in those final preseason games won’t have drastic ramifications.