Instigator Podcast 2.5 featuring WGR’s Pat Malacaro

Eric and I were joined by Pat Malacaro of WGR for this edition of The Instigator Podcast where we discussed Mikhail Grigorenko, Tyler Myers and many other Sabres-related items. As always we mixed in plus/minus.

Thanks again to Pat for joining us and be sure to check out Eric and I on Twitter if you haven’t already.

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

Sabres Development Camp: Day one recap

With day one of Development Camp in the books, it is quite clear that the Sabres have some impressive skill throughout their prospect ranks.

The prospect group has been broken into a blue and gold squad, with a few more veterans on the gold side and some more explosive talent on the blue team. Based on my schedule, I will only be able to catch the first session for Monday and Tuesday but be present for the entire time on Wednesday and Thursday.

Today’s first group was the blue team’s prospects that included Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko. The blue team is certainly full of more of the high-octane talent on the Development roster as compared to those with more NHL and AHL games played on the gold team.

The blue team is loaded with the top prospects from each of the last three NHL drafts. In addition to Armia, Girgensons and Grigorenko, the blue squad boasts Mark Pysyk, Marcus Foligno and Brayden McNabb.

As for the gold team, Luke Adam, Cody Hodgson and Corey Tropp will anchor the team in terms of talent up front while Dan Catenacci, Brian Flynn, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, Matt MacKenzie and Kevin Sundher all are players who signed with the Sabres in the past year.

Monday’s first session ran through a number of basic puck movement and flow drills with a few drills with a bit more of battle included. A majority of the ice time was devoted to full ice, transition drills that lead to equal (2-on-2) and odd-man (2-on-1 and 3-on-2) rushes. Most of the drills were straight forward enough that each players’ talent level was on display each rush down the ice. I would expect the next two days will start infusing a bit more systematic hockey as compared to simple rush drills. Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: Final defensive group

The final group of defensive grades will also be the final portion of the Sabres’ report cards. This group includes the three players called up from Rochester at various points during the season.

Mike Weber – C+

Weber was slightly less consistent that he had been in previous seasons. His best hockey was played with somewhat limited minutes as compared to games when he was given a heavier dose of ice time. While he was a decided upgrade over Marc-Andre Gragnani, he was little more than an adequate sixth defenseman. Overall, his year was little more than average. Considering the role he fills, you can’t complain too much about what he brought to the table. However, there is likely room for improvement that could come in the form of another player.

Alexander Sulzer – B+

Sulzer’s time with the Sabres was somewhat brief, but he was solid in those few games. A mobile defenseman, Sulzer showed he has a nice physical side to his game while not being a pylon. His athleticism might be what is most impressive to me. While he is a UFA this summer, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him re-signed. Considering he was basically a throw in with Cody Hodgson, discovering him could be a major steal for Darcy Regier and the Sabres.

Brayden McNabb – B+

McNabb still needs to stew a little longer in the minors. However, I don’t think that he will need to start the season in Rochester next season. In fact, if he continues to progress over the summer, I have little doubt he will find a spot in the top six.

McNabb is physical and has shown he can contribute offensively. Some of the traits he possesses makes him a very interesting player for the Sabres going forward. He could definitely be a cornerstone for the Sabres defense for a long time. Continue reading

The Morning Skate: Injuries mount as reinforcements are called

The injury bug has bitten the Sabres hard. Robyn Regehr and an unnamed forward (assumed to be a center) have joined Ryan Miller, Tyler Ennis, Tyler Myers, Mike Weber, Cody McCormick, Pat Kaleta and Brad Boyes on the injury list. The Sabres have called up Brayden McNabb and Paul Szczechura from Rochester.

There is still no news on which forward was injured – Mike Harrington speculates that Thomas Vanek or Jason Pominville could be candidates based on plays from last night.

Regardless, the Sabres will be playing with quite a few Rochester Americans on their roster this evening as the struggling Washington Capitals roll into town. The Sabres are in desperate need of a home win and a bounce back victory after three-straight losses.

The Capitals are in equally rough water as they have failed to live up to expectation this season despite their high payroll and roster of superstars. Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and high-priced free agent Joel Ward have all been sat down for various lengths of time throughout the early going here.

This might just fall into the must-win category for the Sabres. A week and  half ago this team was second in the conference, now they’re tied for eighth and are in desperate need of a big run to climb back into the top half of the conference.

Highlighted Matchup

The Youngsters: McNabb, Kassian, Brennan and Tropp. Sure Szczechura could fall into this boat as well, but he has seen time in the NHL (Tampa Bay) and was signed for veteran depth, he certainly isn’t a prospect. Still, the Sabres need big contributions from this bunch. Brennan has been great in his couple games, Tropp has shown he may be the next Pat Kaleta and Kassian and McNabb will need strong showings this evening to prove they’re at the same level as the other Amerks in the lineup tonight.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 13GP 7-3-1, 2.40 GAA, .922 SV%

WSH: Tomas Vokoun 14GP 10-4-0, 2.66 GAA, .910 SV%

Last Game

4/2/2011, Verizon Center, Sabres 4 – Capitals 5 OT

Buffalo Sabres season preview: Blueline blue chips

This is part three of a series previewing the Buffalo Sabres 2011-12 season. Part three focuses on the defensemen who will play for the Sabres’ farm club. Read part one and two here.

An AHL All-Star selection, Drew Schiestel will be the first off the farm for Buffalo this year.

Due to a number of roster moves by Darcy Regier in the offseason, a handful of the Sabres’ prospects will remain stuck in the minors for another season. If Tom Golisano still owned the Sabres it would be likely that Chris Butler and Marc-Andre Gragnani would be fighting for playing time with players like Drew Schiestel or T.J. Brennan. Both defensemen are close to making the jump to the NHL soon.

As luck would have it, Terry Pegula instituted a new mandate of spending and the Sabres brought in two new veterans to man the blue line. So, Schiestel and Brennan will need to wait another year to make it with the big club. Continue reading

The Pegula Puzzle: Black aces

I am onto part three of my offseason look at the Sabres and how the roster may look when the season begins. I took a look at who Darcy Regier should resign in the first part and I broke down how the current players will fall into the 2011-12 roster in part two. The third piece of the Pegula Puzzle will focus on where the Sabres prospects will land for the upcoming season.

The 2011-12 season will be the first year that the prospect cupboard begins to truly stock up. The Sabres are well removed from their last European draft pick and the ease of moving picks into the minors is starting to pay dividends. In addition, Marcus Foligno, Zack Kassian, Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk all received entry-level deals as last season wound down. Those four players represent some of the most promising talent in the Sabres’ pipeline, three of them will be playing professionally next year. Pysyk will be the only one to return to his junior team. Continue reading