Amerks (Sabres) Season Preview: The blueline

The specter of past failures often loom large for NHL franchises. For example, the lack of defensive depth in the spring of 2006 prompted Darcy Regier to go on a drafting and free agent spree that stocked the Sabres cupboards with defensemen. Now the organization is reaping the rewards of that draft strategy.

However, as it pertains to the Americans for the upcoming season, the blueline is going to be awfully crowded. Rochester will enter camp with ten defensemen on their roster. Like with their goaltenders, at least one or two will be destined to spend some time in the Coast during the year.

Easy money on that player will be Corey Fienhage. The former third round pick hasn’t panned out at nearly every level since he was drafted by the Sabres and he even spent some time in Gwinnett last season. Nick Crawford could also be a candidate for the Coast depending on the performance of some of the rookies that are coming in this season. Drew Schiestel will also be in a sticky situation as he comes back to the organization after being loaned to Texas last season – a move that many interpreted as a death sentence for his time with the Sabres.

Get him a normal number.

Schiestel will be back for another year, but is looking up at a deep roster of defensemen who all saw serious time with the Amerks last year. Should Schiestel stay healthy over the season, he could certainly climb back up into the good graces with the coaching staff. After all, he was likely the first player who would have been called up last year had he not suffered additional injuries. The main hurdle Schiestel now needs to deal with will be the young prospects that will be playing in Rochester this season.

Mark Pysyk and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc are each entering their first professional season and will each bring plenty of mobility to a blueline that is already rich with physical defenders. Pysyk is a well-heralded prospect who fell to the Sabres in the first round of 2010. He is mobile, a right handed shot and is responsible at both ends of the ice. While he isn’t a straight ahead offensive dynamo, he certainly isn’t a stay-at-home stalwart, either. Pysyk plays a very balanced game and should get plenty of minutes in Rochester.

As for his fleet-footed 2010 draft mate. JGL is far more Gragnani than he is Campbell. JGL is a scoring machine and proved as much in his final year of junior. His defensive capabilities scare me, especially after seeing how useless Gragnani was in all but one playoff series during his Sabres career. Finding a way to develop a two-way game will likely be a key for JGL’s development.

A few mainstays for the Amerks blueline will be Alex Biega, Joe Finley and Matt MacKenzie. Biega, who wore a letter last season will continue to bring that sound two-way effort he has since his time at Harvard. Meanwhile MacKenzie will continue his development track that is basically one year ahead of Pysyk at this point. Continue reading