Two in the Mailbox – Visions of 2025?

Back with another edition of the 2ITB Mailbag. Thanks to those who wrote in and if you want to participate in the next one, send me a tweet tagged with #2ITBmailbag.

@passoffpads – The year is 2025 and the Sabres are preparing for the Stanley Cup Finals (because even we can dream). Who is the goalie? Who is the captain? Who is the leading scorer? Who is the coach?

Let me just start by saying, I love your optimism. If the Sabres are a Cup contender in the 24-25 season, quite a few things will have needed to go right for them. The 2020 and 21 drafts will need to be paying dividends and the picks they’re set to make next June and in 2023 may have a say in that as well. I think Don Granato would still be the coach in this scenario, as the ramp up to Cup contender in that 24-25 season (or 25-26) would need to start in October of 2022. The likes of Owen Power, Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka will need to fill big roles and Granato will be the one welcoming them to the league next fall, so it’s only logical to conclude that the Sabres would be riding a wave that he helped start.

One thing that would be different in this scenario is the GM. As more jobs open up, Jason Karmanos’ name will be mentioned as a potential candidate. If we’re assuming a meteoric rise for the Sabres, their front office will be getting lots of credit. A promotion for Karmanos (and Kevyn Adams) might be the only way to ensure their front office structure stays intact. Think along the lines of what Vegas did; promoting George McPhee to President of Hockey Operations and naming Kelly McCrimmon General Manager.

Given their respective timelines, I think it’s hard to realistically predict either Devon Levi or Erik Portillo as the starter in 2025. But they’d certainly be in the conversation. As with Granato still helming the bench, I think you’d have to assme Ukko-Pekka Luukkonenhit the ground running as a full time NHLer in 2022 and didn’t look back as he helped carry the team out of the basement.

You can probably throw a dart at any one of Dylan Cozens, Casey Mittelstadt, Owen Power, Mattias Samuelsson, Alex Tuch or Tage Thompson for captain. If Rasmus Dahlin gets his head on straight he’d also be a candidate. I’d assume Cozens would be the betting favorite right now, but put me down for Tuch with Samuelsson as the darkhorse. Cozens, however, would almost certainly be their scoring leader, barring some lottery luck in 2022 or 23. I’m picturing him partnering with the likes of Tuch, Quinn, Peterka or another high pick to form a dynamic first line .

It may seem like a pipedream, but if Adams and his staff get this right, they’ll be turning a corner in a year or two and 2025 would probably be the season the Sabres take another significant step.

@lazytown716 – Is there any reason UPL can’t finish his development in the NHL? It’s not like he’ll be playing in any high-pressure games, so long as he plays close to the level he’s shown in his two starts so far I don’t see a downside.

Dustin Tokarski’s recovery may keep us from getting a proper answer to this question, but if he had another week or two of games, they may not have another choice. I think his struggles in the preseason and early inconsistency with the Amerks left the Sabres wanting him to get as many starts as possible. Even with Buffalo’s shaky depth, that’s not a guarantee at the NHL level (even though it probably should be). So my initial read on the situation is that UPL will be back in Rochester once Dustin Tokarski is ready. But he’ll have earned another recall at some point this year.

Overall, I think your observation is right. At what point does the team look at his current form and determine they’d be better off getting him in games against NHL shooters as opposed to playing in the AHL? There are pros and cons to each scenario here and I think they’re going to wait because there’s nothing really to lose in doing so. UPL has played well thus far and they can always recall him if Malcolm Subban or Tokarski start to play like Aaron Dell. If they need to replace either one of those keepers due to poor play, UPL is ready and waiting for his next recall. The caveat here is that UPL may just play his way into staying the rest of the year. The reality is that their goaltending is thin and for the first time since October, they have a goalie who can give them a chance to win each night. If that continues they’ll almost have to keep him up.

@nesretepj – Thoughts on Dahlin?  He doesn’t seem to have “it”, whatever “it” is.

It’s been tough watching him for the most part this year. Though Tuesday was a very nice outing. Something about how Dahlin sees and attacks the game has changed since his rookie year. Maybe you want to hang that on Ralph Krueger, maybe you don’t I won’t begrudge you either way.

I don’t know if he doesn’t have “it”, because his overall skillset is still so impressive and his ceiling is still sky high despite his struggles. When I watch him it seems like his issues are all mental, but it hasn’t always been that way. He was so good as a rookie that he should’ve enjoyed a pattern of growth similar to other young defensemen around the league.

Maybe that means he doesn’t have it and my head is in the clouds. But I think if he can get his head right you’ll see him get back to the dynamic talent he was as a rookie. I feel like the popular refrain with regard to Dahlin has been about him needing to simplify and take care of his own zone before trying to freelance offensively. But I have to wonder if the opposite isn’t true. What if the key to unlocking his game is to let him lead with the electric playmaking talent that made him a can’t miss prospect and let everything else fall in place behind those high-end traits?

@bfloirish – For those who haven’t seen their Roch or junior games, can you give a player style comparison (style more so than ceiling) for Quinn, Peterka, Krebs?

Trying to compare prospects to current players is always a fraught endeavor and one of my least favorite things to do. So, I’m going to paint with a broad brush here because I know someone is going to misinterpret how I view Peyton Krebs and accuse me of saying he’s the next McDavid or something ridiculous.

  • JJ Peterka: He’s such an exciting player to watch because he has that spark plug energy to his game. How he translates to the next level will be fascinating because it would have been reasonable to expect his production to drop between the DEL and AHL but he’s maintained an impressive scoring clip this season. I kind of like Kevin Fiala as a loose comparison here. I think you could argue that Peterka might have a bit more sandpaper to his game than Fiala but that mix of skill and playmaking ability that makes Fiala such an asset seems to be a hallmark for Peterka as well. Peterka may not be the finisher that Fiala is, but if we’re painting in broad strokes, I feel that’s a fair partner for him.
  • Jack Quinn: Whether or not the scoring touch could translate to the pro level was a big question mark in his draft year and after that tough rookie year, Quinn is looking right at home in the AHL. I remember some comparisons in his draft year being made to Mark Stone, which seem preposterous even with his play in Rochester thus far. Given that he’s not really a burner or dangling through three defenders on a nightly basis, I keep coming back to TJ Oshie. Maybe it’s Quinn’s recent shootout prowess that has me thinking Oshie but so far as this exercise is concerned, I’m comfortable drawing a line between the two. Both righties, good on the PP, dangerous in the shootout, probably not going to be your best winger over the course of the year but are still firm top-six fixtures.
  • Peyton Krebs: He got a lot of billing for his 200-foot prowess as a draft prospect but it seems like the focal point of his post-draft growth has been his ability to act as a shifty playmaker. I think you’ll see that continue as he graduates to the NHL where he’ll probably be a greater threat as a passer than as a volume shooter. You could draw some parallels with Pat Kane in terms of his soft hands and passing ability. I think Mat Barzal might come to mind in that conversation as well. I think that’s a little unfair to Krebs, however, and given that I haven’t seen much of him myself, it’s hard to nail down a fair pick here. I also don’t know if he’ll wind up as strong of a two-way forward that would hit the Ryan O’Reilly comparisons he was getting in his draft year. But he falls somewhere in that neighborhood of a smallish guy with good hands and great playmaking prowess.  

Again. Bear in mind that I’m not trying to make a really firm comparison to any of these guys because that exercise is so often fruitless. I tried to keep things pretty broad but I’m excited to have people tell me how wrong I am anyway.

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