Perhaps this season won’t be about winning the Cup for the Sabres, but that might not be all bad. If suffering is indeed what Sabres fans are in for, at least the crop of fresh faces on the roster will provide a compelling narrative to follow for the season.
In the weeks between the draft and training camp, the Sabres voiced their support of Rasmus Ristolainen as an NHL-ready prospect and confirmed that Mikhail Grigorenko would play the season in Buffalo. Additionally, players like Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Mark Pysyk began showing that they’d also be vying for a spot on the roster that takes the ice in Detroit on October 2.
With only six days left until the regular season opens, the roster is beginning to take shape with only a few spots left to confirm. How many fresh faces will be on the opening night roster is one aspect that hasn’t been determined at this point.
Buffalo still has nine defensemen in camp with newly signed, junior-eligble Nikita Zadorov amongst the group. Zadorov has received rave reviews throughout the summer and the preseason and has probably earned himself his nine-game tryout before being sent back to London. However, the already crowded blueline corps has little wiggle room to find a spot for Zadorov, even if it is for nine games.
It would be great if the Sabres could find a way to get Zadorov into the line-up for those first nine games, they certainly don’t need to have Alexander Sulzer on the roster to open the season and could use his spot to insert Zadorov to start. It isn’t inconceivable to think that either Sulzer or Jamie McBain will be heading to Rochester regardless of what the Sabres plan on doing with Zadorov simply because I don’t see many minutes available for those two at this point. Continue reading →
You can’t say the Sabres haven’t won anything. They enter this year’s Traverse City Prospect Tournament as the defending champions after their triumph in 2011.
Buffalo’s title defense was delayed after last season’s lockout and they may benefit from the delay as they are prepared to ice a scary talented roster for the 2013 tourney. Mikhail Grigorenko will lead Buffalo’s other top prospects including; Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and others in search of another tournament championship.
Sending stacked rosters isn’t necessarily something that only the Sabres participate in. Each team manages to send a combination of pro ready prospects, new draft picks and players who have seen pro ice time to the tourney. It just so happens that Buffalo makes sure to construct a roster of their best prospects.
In 2011 the top line of Luke Adam, Marcus Foligno and Zack Kassian bullied their way through the rest of the tournament and claimed the first championship the franchise has ever seen.* Considering that Armia, Girgensons, Grigorenko and Larsson are amongst those participating, I think the Sabres are betting on bringing back another championship.
In addition to Girgensons, Grigorenko and Larsson – all who played professionally last year – Buffalo has a pair of NHL defensemen (Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Pysyk) to skate along with another NHL-ready player in Ristolainen. Continue reading →
Ever since Doug Janik and Rory Fitzpatrick took the ice for game seven of the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals, defensive depth has been a focal point of how the Buffalo Sabres have been built.
The 2013-14 season will be no exception as the Sabres are heading to training camp with ten (TEN!) defensemen who will be battling for a spot on Buffalo’s NHL roster. For a team who struggled to find consistency on the back end last season, the plethora of rear guards on the roster isn’t a bad thing.
Of the ten defensemen I count as NHL ready, a few have all but sealed their spot on the roster entering the season. Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers and Mike Weber are all a sure thing to have an NHL job this season and newly acquired Henrik Tallinder should join them.
Where things get interesting is filling out the remaining three or four spots for the team. It’s particularly fascinating when you consider Rasmus Ristolainen as one of the players jockeying for a spot. Continue reading →
The defensemen and goaltenders get to share the spotlight in the second portion of my Sabres season grades. As always, your thoughts are welcome in the comments section.
Tyler Myers: Oh, where to begin? Myers was downright bad to begin the year before leveling out at midseason. He looked out of shape and lost most of the time and his play suffered for it. Considering the salary he is being paid, his contributions are especially frightening. Before his injury he was only okay and you could certainly say the defensive play was better without him. Yikes. Grade: C-
Christian Ehrhoff: Ehrhoff finished off another strong year in which he remained Buffalo’s best defenseman. He hasn’t blown up the scoresheet like some expected, but his powerplay time has changed from the Sedins to any number of players in blue and gold. Still, there’s a lot to like about Ehrhoff and he will be around for a long time. Grade: A-
Andrej Sekera: Everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Sekera actually wasn’t bad at all this season. He quietly goes about his business and plays steady hockey. I’m not a huge fan of his but I can’t deny that he has been a solid contributor in his own end all year. Grade: B
Mike Weber: Steve Ott’s arrival may just be the best thing for Weber’s career you could ask for. Weber is beginning to evolve into a leader, plays a gritty nasty game that is almost entirely absent on this roster. His puck skills aren’t very good, but as a defender there is a lot to like. He may still be on the rise for this squad. Grade: B- Continue reading →
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.
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 →
With Development Camp set to open on Monday morning, the Sabres will be rolling out a few firsts with this year’s version of the evaluation camp.
The first, and biggest change is that First Niagara Center will be home base for the week. The camp was previously held at Dwyer Arena at Niagara University. The twin rink facility there lent itself well to getting the entire camp roster on the ice. However, hosting at FNC will allow for greater fan access, thus leading to greater exposure. Bravo to the Sabres for leveraging this situation into something that benefits them and the fans.
Thursday’s Blue and Gold Scrimmage is bound to draw a large crowd, I’m expecting the lower bowl to be fully occupied by fans wanting to see players like Joel Armia, Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons and others. Armia, Grigorenko and Girgensons represent the other set of firsts which will be rolled out next week. In addition to the three young forwards, Cody Hodgson and Mark Pysyk will be the other first round picks in attendance for the camp. Providing fans a close look at so many first round talents will not only provide a great look at the future, it will help to generate significant buzz amongst the fan base.
It will be particularly important for some of the invitees to set a good example with these practices. Grigorenko has already been rumored to be working on a deal, while Girgensons can play in the AHL next season should he sign his ELC. Marcus Foligno Hodgson, Luke Adam, Corey Tropp and Brayden McNabb will be hoping to further convince the staff to keep them around next year; while players just into their ELCs (Armia, Pysyk, Kevin Sundher, JGL, Dan Catenacci) will be looking to make a solid first impression. Continue reading →