It only took three games for a puzzling lineup decision to grace Sabres Nation. Andrej Meszaros will be a healthy scratch against the Carolina Hurricanes as Tyson Strachan steps in for his first game as a Buffalo Sabre. Meanwhile, Cody Hodgson appears to have been moved back to center and Sam Reinhart will be centering Cody McCormick and Nicolas Deslauriers. Stop me if you’ve seen this movie before.
Buffalo’s prized first round draft pick, with full junior eligibility, will be playing on the fourth line.
Reinhart hasn’t been a world beater in his first three NHL contests and his play hasn’t warranted much in the way of continued faith that he’ll suddenly begin to produce. However, count me among those who think playing major minutes in all situations in Kootenay is preferable to a fourth line role in the NHL.
It’s only been three games, so it isn’t fair to cast much judgment on Reinhart. Simply put, he isn’t ready for a full-time NHL role. He could use a few more pounds of muscle along with improved foot speed to go along with his world-class vision. That will all come with time, especially with his ability to not only step in as Kootenay’s best forward but also because he’ll almost be guaranteed a spot on Canada’s World Junior Championship roster.
Going back to Kootenay is hardly a step back in Reinhart’s development and will ultimately be the best thing for him. Giving him a chance to start the year in Buffalo wasn’t a bad choice. Both Reinhart and the organization got to see what he brought to the table at this level and will be able to adequately identify what areas need improvement moving forward. Whether he became a Calder candidate or finished the year in Kootenay, it wasn’t a scenario where either side could lose. Although, giving him fourth line minutes is about as close as you can get.
Similarly, Nikita Zadorov enters tonight’s game in the press box yet again. He is in a very similar situation to Mikhail Grigorenko in that he is probably too good to benefit much from another season in junior but the CHL agreement bars him from going to Rochester. But some ice time is far better than no ice time in every situation. Keeping Zadorov stashed in the press box seems like a quizzical decision. Even with the injuries to Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe, keeping a junior eligible defender on the shelf doesn’t equate.
With Tyson Strachan stepping in for Andrej Meszaros, it’s clear that Zadorov is seen as the eighth defenseman. Additionally, that Andre Benoit’s play hasn’t given Zadorov a chance to start further underscores the odd logic that is keeping the young Russian in Buffalo. Perhaps he’s simply here as an emergency chute until Pysyk (who skated today) is back from his injury.
It’s unfortunate because Zadorov didn’t have the dominant training camp and preseason that earned him a trial last season. Allowing him to get back into dominant form seems like the best medicine. Instead he’s in limbo at least until Pysyk is deemed healthy enough to play. At least Reinhart is being given a chance to play.
Pysyk is more than likely Zadorov’s replacement in the lineup. Although there’s no guarantee that Pysyk will see more time than Zadorov on Buffalo’s crowded blueline. The finding a replacement for Reinhart leaves a few more question marks.
The easiest solution once Reinhart is sent back is to recall Mikhail Grigorenko from Rochester and give him a chance to continue the positive momentum he’s created early in the season. However, when considering that the prevailing opinion on Grigorenko was to give him an extended run in Rochester, perhaps the Sabres have other ideas.
Sliding Cody Hodgson from the wing – as they are tonight – is one solution; as is running Ennis, Girgensons, Mitchell and McCormick as the four centers. Johan Larsson was just recently sent down and has been knocking on the door of a full-time promotion over the last year or so. Grigorenko made the strongest case of anyone in the preseason and training camp and truly makes the most sense. Even with the hope that finally slow playing his development would yield the most dividends, Grigorenko earned the right to showcase the change he underwent in the offseason.
Hopefully Reinhart’s demotion precedes his return to junior. That would mean that Nolan would be actively working towards icing a more competitive roster while also maintaining the organization’s commitment to developing their young talent.