Monday, September 18, 2017

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster--D, Nathan Beaulieu

Published by, 9-17-2017

Nathan Beaulieu
24 yrs. old
6'2" 205 lbs.
2011, 17th-overall (MTL) Acquired by Buffalo on June 17, 2017

Career stats:  225 goals  |  7 goals  |  53 assists  |  60 points  |  +19

Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu was taken 17th-overall by the Montreal Canadians in the 2011 NHL Draft. He was drafted to be an "offensive-defenseman," according to Chris Bordeleau of, a d-man who's "a good skater, good puck-mover...has a good shot and is very poised with the puck."

Heading into the draft, the left-shot Beaulieu was coming off of an impressive draft season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL where he had his second consecutive 45-point season on the exact same totals of 12 goals and 33 assists. He was also a plus-44, which was one point better than the previous season, and he finished off the year as Memorial Cup Champion with the Sea Dogs. Although projected as a top-10 pick, Beaulieu falling to No. 17 was an "unexpected gift" for Montreal, according to Andrew Berkshire of the Habs site, EyesOnThePrize.

"Most scouting reports agree that Beaulieu's strongest assets are his skating ability and offensive instincts," wrote Berkshire in his Montreal draft review, "although he is guilty of forcing plays at times when there isn't one to be had. In fact in many respects Beaulieu seems very similar to another Habs prospect we have all come to love over the last few years: P.K. Subban."

Beaulieu finished his junior career by upping his point total to 52 (11+41) in only 53 games his final season and began to ply his trade with Montreal's AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, in 2012-13. He had a banner rookie season as a pro scoring 31 (7+24) points for Hamilton and earned a call to the big club for six regular season games. The following season he would have another solid campaign (7+20) and after playing in 13 regular season games for the Habs he made the post-season roster  appearing in seven playoff games for Montreal. This was a nice progression for Beaulieu and after eight games with Hamilton in 2014-15, he said goodbye to the AHL.

Yet, unbeknownst to Beaulieu changes would be coming to Montreal and with blotches on his Canadiens' career beginning to show, he found himself on the trading block eventually ending up with the Buffalo Sabres.

In April, 2013 Beaulieu and his father were involved in an incident at a post-golf party that brought assault charges against each of them. Four months later they both pleaded guilty to the charges. The word 'party' would follow Beaulieu again two years later in December, 2015 as a video was posted of him and teammate Chris Thomas, "partying the night away" following a loss that night to the Carolina Hurricanes. Thomas was traded ten days later and although the Habs claim there was no correlation between the incident and the trade, speculative dots were being connected.

A month later star forward Alex Galchenyuk was in the news for a domestic incident with his girlfriend who was arrested on a Sunday morning. Although the Beaulieu/Thomas and Galchenyuk incidents might not be related, Habs blogger Brandon Smillie pointed to rumors that "Beaulieu's party life was sucking Galchenyuk into it as well."

The 2015-16 season was a very stressful one for the Canadiens as they lost Vezina-winning goalie Carey Price to a season-ending injury very early that season. Despite that, the Habs were at the top of the NHL standings heading into December but by mid-month (just after the Beaulieu/Thomas video) they were in the beginnings of a tailspin that would eventually cause them miss the playoffs. After a tumultuous season, Subban was traded to the Nashville Predators in a shocking one-for-one deal for Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators.

More changes were to follow this past season as Habs coach Michel Therrien was fired and replaced by Claude Julien on February 14. Beaulieu, who had started out the season with appearances on the top-pairing with Weber slowly fell down the depth chart. He went to the third pairing and then was a healthy scratch late in the season and for the final game of their first round playoff loss to the NY Rangers.

On May 17, former NHL'er Georges Laraque said (via GoHabsGo) that "the Montreal Canadiens have decided to trade both Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu over the summer." He noted that "the two youngsters have been involved in several controversies over the last few months due to some elements of their lives outside the rink and it is well known that the Habs organization has very thin patience when it comes to outside the rink incidents."

A month later, on June 17, Beaulieu was traded to the Sabres.

All of this is not to bag on Beaulieu for what he does on his own time, nor is it meant to lay the blame for the Habs decline on any or all mentioned above (save for the loss of Price to injury.) It's simply laid out to give some background as to why the Sabres were able to trade a third round pick for Beaulieu in June, just prior to the expansion draft.

According to Smillie, Beaulieu looked like a real solid top-four defender who could get you 25-30 points and was a fairly tough customer. Ironically, last season was his best pro season (4 goals, 24 assists, +8) despite falling down the depth chart and ending up in the new head coach's dog house.

Lucky for Buffalo, Beaulieu fell into the Sabres lap when they really needed to upgrade their defense-corps. He was the second of three d-men brought in by new GM Jason Botterill as he tries to revamp the Sabres defense with more mobile, puck movers. He's an NHL defender and when he's able to play his game, he looks the part of a top-four defender, which is what the Sabres were in need of.

For Beaulieu the trade to the Sabres was an opportunity for a fresh start. "I'm not going to get into too much about Montreal," he said after the trade. "I'm focused on Buffalo.

"I've got a huge opportunity to re-grow my game with a guy [in Buffalo head coach Phil Housley] who played the game similarly to the way I would like to play it."

Beaulieu signed a two-year contract with the Sabres this summer and although it's not a "prove-it" type deal in a "show me" type season for him, the onus is on him to do the work and focus his energies on his new team. There's a lot to learn and he'll be expected to play a solid role for the team somewhere in the bottom-four. I'm not sure if the "party-boy" label is true, but if he wants to reach his potential, it begins with an opportunity in Buffalo.

Like former Sabres GM Tim Murray once said, it's "not all rainbows, jujus and unicorns" with players. There are many who have warts and were not even sure what may or may not be true about Beaulieu's time in Montreal. We do know that on the ice he's  good-sized defenseman with great mobility who was drafted for his offensive prowess. He's still young at 24 yrs. old and props to the Canadiens for gradually working him through the system.

Should he work out, it will have benefitted the Sabres nicely.

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Benoit Pouliot / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Evan Rodrigues / C, Johan Larsson / RW, Jason Pominville

D, Marco Scandella / D, Rasmus Ristolainen
D, Jake McCabe / D, Zach Bogosian
D, Nathan Beaulieu / D, Victor Antipin

G, Robin Lehner

Follow me on twitter @boosbuzzsabres

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster--D, Victor Antipin

Published by, 9-16-2017

Buffalo Sabres fans, and probably most fans outside of the KHL, don't know much about defenseman Victor Antipin. From what we've read and what we've seen on a limited basis he has the skills and skating that will fit right in to what new coach Phil Housley wants to accomplish with his defensemen. After yesterday's first practice of training camp, Housley was impressed with the 24 yr. old rookie and native of Oskemen, Kazakhstan.

"He's a student of the game," said Housley in response to a media observation that Antipin didn't seem to have much of a problem understanding Housley's on-ice drills and concepts despite a bit of a language barrier. "He was talking a lot to our assistant coaches, mainly Chris Hajt, and he really absorbs a lot, likes to watch a lot of video trying to understand our concepts.

"He's like a sponge and it's great to see."

Kazakhstan is a country smack-dab in the middle of Central Asia with Russia bordering on the north and China on the south-east. Oskemen is a city in the northern part of the country that has produced a few notable NHL'ers like Nik Antropov selected 10th-overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1998, goalie Evgeni Nabakov (1994, 9th round) and goalie Anton Khudobin who was also selected in the ninth round in 1994 (MIN.)

The closest major hockey league for Kasakhstani players, of course, is the Kontinental Hockey League and Antipin got his first taste of the pros at the age of 17. Two years later he was playing full time in five full seasons with Magnitogorsk Metallurg and he posted 36 goals and added 62 assists in 264 games for the club. He also played for Team Russia internationally winning the 2012 World Junior silver medal and grabbing a silver and two bronze medals at the World Championships in 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively.

North Americans watching the World Championships got to see what Antipin had to offer, but KHL insider Aivis Kalniņš, who now writes for, has known about Antipin for years. He gave WKBW's Matthew Bove a little insight into the then newly signed defensemen.

Antipin "is a passionate player," said Kalniņš, "who has a spark and willingness to go out there and prove that he belongs in the National Hockey league. A tiny guy with a huge heart." Kalniņš also called him a player with "a winning experience and overall fun guy."

What Antipin brings to the ice is skating, puck-moving ability, the knack for getting up ice and finding open spots as well as the ability to finish. It's a nice package, one that the Sabres were after while looking to revamp their defense-corps. "To me, he's the type of player that this organization needs to find a way to bring more in," said Sabres GM Jason Botterill on The Instigators Show just after Buffalo signed him. Botterill also gave props to he predecessor, Tim Murray who got the ball rolling months before.

By the end of June, Botterill had done just that by bringing in a couple more capable puck-movers in Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella. While we're unsure where Beaulieu will ultimately land in the grand scheme of things, Scandella is slated to be anchoring the top pair with Rasmus Ristolainen.

Antipin signed with Buffalo largely because of opportunity. He has an out-clause that says he may return to Russia should he not be tabbed for the big club, but unless things go completely south, he'll have his opportunity to at least start on the bottom pairing. Kalniņš said that Antipin is "unlikely a top pair guy" but said his attributes should carry over to the NHL.

When Housley was asked what his first impressions of Antipin were, he said he thought all of his defensemen moved the puck well and that Antipin "was a terrific skater" that "reads well" and that as he becomes more accustomed to the NHL game, his reads "will become more aggressive, especially in the neutral zone." Which means stretch passes and jumping into the play when available.

Antipin is deft on the powerplay as well with Kalniņš saying he was "confident that one thing he will carry over will be his ability to be one of the best power play guys in the league." Buffalo had the top powerplay in the NHL last season converting on 24.5% of their opportunities with a top unit that's loaded. It would seem as if any PP time for Antipin would be on the second unit and there's a good possibility he could take over at the right point for Cody Franson who went unsigned by Buffalo, or even work the slot, which he's very capable of doing.

The cool part about Antipin's game is that he's a left-handed defenseman who can play either side, something that bodes well for the left-shot heavy Sabres d-corps. It's yet another feather in his cap.

The Sabres aren't exactly sure what they have in Antipin, but he has some very appealing on-ice attributes that fit very well with what they want to do. You can see some of that with these highlights of #9 courtesy Konstantin Glazov:" target="_blank"># 9 Viktor Antipin season 2016-17 Highlights
by" target="_blank">Konstantin_Glazov

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Benoit Pouliot / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Evan Rodrigues / C, Johan Larsson / RW, Jason Pominville

D, Marco Scandella / D, Rasmus Ristolainen
D, Jake McCabe / D, Zach Bogosian
/ D, Victor Antipin

G, Robin Lehner

Follow me on twitter @boosbuzzsabres

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Quick reference guide to this year's Buffalo Sabres training camp invitees

Published by, 9-15-2017

It's always a long summer for sports without hockey, and the NFL and, dare I say it, the NBA as well. The summer is always about baseball and the luxury sports like golf and tennis and if your a Cleveland Indians fan, you've had the opportunity to focus upon their great play highlighted by an historic, and largely unfathomable, 22-game winning streak.

Cheers to them!

The Buffalo Sabres begin practice today with 51 players invited to training camp and here's a quick note on each player.


RW, Justin Bailey (2013, 52nd-overall)--Is said to have added upper body strength to a powerforward frame. Has a good shot at making the Sabres out of camp but really needs to work on his finish. He showed it in junior and also in Rochester, but it's time he brings it to the NHL.

RW, Nicholas Baptiste (2013, 69th)--If Sam Reinhart is moved to center, Baptiste  has the best odds at getting the call to skate on Jack Eichel's right wing. The 22 yr. old can skate and he can shoot using a variety of shots to score at any area of the offensive zone. He took a huge step last season in Rochester (25 goals and 16 assists in 56 games) and will be looking to progress even further with the Amerks should he not make the Sabres.

RW, Eric Cornel (2014, 44th)--The two-way center with some giddy-up to his skating still has a lot of work to do, but he did show progress in Rochester last season.

C, Kyle Criscuolo (2017, FA)--Sabres GM Jason Botterill fortified his AHL team this off season and Criscuolo is a big part of that. The speedy center with plenty of hockey smarts finished his first full season with 41 points (17+24) in 76 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins (DET) and should bring that (and hopefully more) to the Amerks this season.

LW, Nicolas Deslauriers (2009, 8th, LAK)--Didn't have the best of seasons in 2016-17 and it looks as if he'll be spending a lot of time in the press box this season.

C, Jack Eichel (2015, 2nd)--Said at presser yesterday that he's yet to prove anything despite leading the team in scoring last season while missing 21 games. Some have him as a point/game player. Sabres just want to get him signed long-term.

RW, Hudson Fasching (2013, 118th, LAK)--Made the team out of camp last season, but was injured. Has a good shot of making the Sabres once again, albeit because of his skating, probably in a bottom-six role.

LW, Zemgus Girgensons (2012, 14th)--What will this season be like for Girgensons? He had two good seasons as a teenager then two poor ones under former coach Dan Bylsma. He'll be in the forward group somewhere.

RW, Vasily Glotov (2016, 190th)--Has a home with as an overage import, but continues to impress every time he hits the ice in Buffalo's camps. One to keep an eye on this season in Juniors.

LW, Seth Griffith (2012, 131st, BOS)--Another player signed by Botterill to bolster the Amerks. Griffith as proven he can score at the AHL-level with 202 points (66+136) in 203 games but that prowess hasn't transferred to the NHL yet (six goals, 10 assists in 56 games.)

LW, Brandon Hagel (2016, 159th)--Hagel tore it up for the Red Deer Rebels last season which included a six-point game last season. The 19 yr. old "tenacious bulldog," as described by Kris Baker of, will be headed back to junior for his third season.

C, Jacob Josefson (2009, 20th, NJD)--The 2017 free agent signee was brought in by GM Jason Botterill to help solidify the fourth line and his shootout prowess won't hurt either.

LW, Evander Kane (2009, 4th, ATL)--Heads into his third full season with the Sabres behind a smile that says he's ready to go. Lead the team last season with 28 goals (25 at even strength) and is in a contract year. Should make for a very productive Kane on the ice, but most will have one eye on what happens with him off the ice as well.

RW, Vaclav Karabacek (2014, 49th)--Before labeling this 6'0" 196 lb. winger a bust, it should be pointed out that he had injury problems in his first pro season with Rochester and, second-rounder's shouldn't be considered a bust in the first place.

C, Johan Larsson (2010, 56th, MIN)--Was having a strong 2016-17 season before a crash into the boards ended it. Will be doing his gadfly-thing while centering the third or fourth line depending what they do with Reinhart.

C, Sean Malone (2013, 159th)--Harvard Crimson graduate may have had a great shot at centering the fourth line were Josefson not signed but will get a good year of seasoning in Rochester

RW, Stevie Moses (Undrafted FA)--The University of New Hampshire graduate put up record-breaking numbers in the KHL (36 goals, 21 assists in 60 games) in 2015, was singed then released by Nashville and spent the last two seasons back in the KHL. Interesting signing if he can regain his form.

LW, Matt Moulson (2003, 193rd, PIT)--Most get why he was signed to a long-term deal, even at that price, but with skating a real issue for Moulson in today's NHL, he's become a powerplay specialist (and a good one at that.) This could be his last season in Buffalo unless he really kicks it up a notch or two.

LW, Alexander Nylander (2016, 8th)--His showing in the first Prospects Challenge game this year may have punched his ticket to Rochester. Not that it was bad by any means, but the highly skilled winger failed to supremely impress and had an injury ta boot. Another year with the Amerks, or at least a start there, while adjusting to his increased bulk, is a good thing despite what he and others might think.

C, Ryan O'Reilly (2009, 33rd, COL)--About the only thing we don't know about him for this season is whether he'll be wearing an 'A' or a 'C'. Everything else about him we know and like very much.

RW, Kyle Okposo (2006, 7th, NYI)--With April's health scare over, Okposo is ready to move on, more than likely on O'Reilly's wing again more than likely scoring 25 goals or so in a full season.

RW, Jason Pominville (2001, 55th)--The former Sabres captain is back in the fold after an off-season trade with Minnesota. Third line RW with some PP and PK duties seems ideal. Doesn't need to wear a letter to be a leader but may get one anyway.

C, Kevin Porter (2004, 119th, PHX)--Porter is another one who's back in the fold. The 31 yr. old spent the last two seasons in the Pittsburgh organization while the Penguins were busy winning back-to-back Stanley Cups. It would seem as if Rochester has it's captain.

LW, Benoit Pouliot (2005, 4th, MIN)--Botterill mentioned Pouliot being able to play up and down the left side in any of the bottom three wing slots. He also mentioned that Pouliot has the tendency to bounce back from off seasons. The Sabres and their fans are hoping the latter is indeed true and that he can hold the fort in a top-nine/top-six role for the club.

C, Cliff Pu (2016, 69th)--Pu had a great Prospects Challenge and caught the eye of new head coach Phil Housley. Leading the London Knights and making Team Canada's World Junior team are the first things on his docket this season, but the future looks really bright for this 6'2" 192 lb. two-way center who won't turn 20 yrs. old until June.

RW, Sam Reinhart (2014, 2nd)--Reinhart's been largely underappreciated despite him adapting to different roles. In 2015-16 he was moved to wing and was Buffalo's net-front presence on the first powerplay unit. He scored 23 goals that year as a rookie. Last year he played a lot of center registering 30 assists. How will Housley use him? We're not quite sure yet.

C, Evan Rodrigues (2015, FA)--May have one of the best opportunities to make the Sabres if he ends up on the wing, which is where he rode shotgun with Eichel in college and where he started his pro career. He's a versatile forward who uses his skill anywhere on the line but was playing center last season. If that's the case this year, he'll probably end up in Rochester.

LW, C.J. Smith (2017, FA)--Smith also has a good shot at making the club on the left side. Although he only played two games for the Sabres he never looked out of place. However, there's a big difference between being playing at the end of the season on a non-playoff team and starting the season with every team gunning for the playoffs.


Victor Antipin (2017 FA)--The Sabres began courting Antipin under former GM Tim Murray and Botterill finished the job. The Sabres defense was in serious need of an upgrade and the KHL free agent saw an opportunity in Buffalo so there was a match. Bonus points for the Sabres is that the left-handed Antipin can play the right side without a hitch.

Nathan Beaulieu (2011, 17th, MTL)--Another defenseman brought in to bolster a weak blueline. Beaulieu had some time playing on Montreal's top pairing before sliding down the depth chart and into the pressbox. The Sabres see him as a top-six defenseman with upside and odds are he makes the starting group on defense.

Zach Bogosian (2008, 3rd, ATL)--Was it the coach? Or was it Bogosian? That's the question that will be answered this season. Bogosian has three years remaining on his contract and probably won't be headed anywhere this season or next, barring an unlikely trade scenario. This a big year for him. Maybe he'll get lucky and play close to a full season, something he hasn't done in eight years.

Vojtech Budik (2016, 130th)--Attended the Czech World Junior Summer Camp and has him as a favorite to be a top-four d-man for the team.

Justin Falk (2007, 110th, MIN)--Lost in the need to upgrade the defense was the really solid play of Falk last season. The stay-at-home d-man with decent wheels will more than likely be anchoring the defense in Rochester to help steady a group that will have many new faces.

Taylor Fedun (Undrafted FA)--Another one who got bumped down the depth chart with Buffalo's off season moves. The puck-moving Fedun seems like a Housley-type of defenseman as he looked the part in 27 games for the Sabres last year. He could surprise should someone falter, but a Falk/Fedun tandem in Rochester would be a great thing for the Amerks.

Cody Goloubef (2008, 37th, CBJ)--Tweener defenseman is the only player in camp invited on a pro tryout. He'll add depth to the organization should he be signed.

Josh Gorges (Undrafted FA)--Gorges is a trooper, a consummate pro who leaves it all out on the ice. He's in the final year of his deal and his type of rugged defensive game may have relegated him to a reserve role this season. Props to him for shouldering the weight of some atrocious seasons while the team was at the bottom of the league.

Brendan Guhle (2015, 51st)--Guhle just keeps on turning heads every time he hits the ice in Buffalo dating back to his first training camp in 2015 when he looked to have made the team, or at least had a nine-game audition, prior to an injury. He played three games for Buffalo last season and never looked out of place and had a glorious Prospects Challenge Tournament. Of all the youngins, he may have the best shot at making the club.

Brycen Martin (2014, 74th)--The big 6'2" 212 lb. third round pick has some work to do if he wants to make the Amerks this year. Martin spent his rookie year split between Rochester and the Elmira Jackals last season. Although he shouldn't be written off, his goal needs to be a spot in Rochester's top-six.

Jake McCabe (2012, 44th)--McCabe has a history with Housley that dates back to the 2013 gold medal-winning Jr. Team of which McCabe was the captain. There is some offensive upside lurking within the 23 yr. old defenseman and one would think that Housley can help bring that out.

Casey Nelson (2016, FA)--A lot was expected of Nelson after a strong seven-game Sabres debut in 2016. He took a big step back after making the team last season but regained his footing in Rochester as the year progressed.

Austin Osmanski (2016, 189th)--The East Aurora native is out to prove that he wasn't just a token pick by his hometown team. Osmanski has great size (6'3" 196 lbs.,) can skate pretty well and has some offensive attributes but at a seventh-rounder he's a project player. He'll be headed back to Mississauga for his third season with the Steelheads.

Rasmus Ristolainen (2013, 8th)--While there are many in media and across the NHL who think Ristolainen will definitively anchor Buffalo's defense this year and for years to come, the analytics community remains unconvinced. Yet at 22 yrs. old and with 273 games under his belt playing mostly against the best the opposition has to offer, the Big Finn is still growing into his role and still has plenty of upside.

Marco Scandella (2008, 55th, MIN)--The trade for Scandella cost the Sabres two roster players and a pick and added Pominville's $5.6 million salary to the cap for the next two seasons. But Botterill believes a strong skating defensive-defenseman like Scandella can anchor the top pairing and having him there should allow Ristolainen more offensive freedom then he had last season.

Devante Stephens (2015, 122nd)--Without the additions by Botterill this off season, Stephens would have been moved up the depth chart to what may have ended up being an uncomfortable slot in Rochester. He's very mobile, has definitive offensive acumen and is very smart on the ice as he seems to make the right passes every time. But he's transitioning to the pros and that will involve some adjustments.

Matt Tennyson (Undrafted FA)--Tennyson is another vet added that will be ticketed for Rochester. The AHL/NHL tweener spent 45 games with the Carolina Hurricanes last season and finished with a minus-13 rating. In nine games for their AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, Tennyson had seven points (3+4) and was a plus-7.


Jonas Johansson (2014, 61st)--The Sabres have their organizational depth chart set and Johansson would have began his rookie campaign as Linus Ullmark's back up were it not for the signing of Adam Wicox. Johansson got his feet wet last season playing in seven games for Rochester behind a rather weak Amerks club and it looks like his rookie season will be in Cincinnati with new ECHL affiliate, the Cyclones.

Chad Johnson (2006, 125th, PIT)--Bringing back Chad Johnson was big for the club in that he's an on-the-cusp starter who's professionalism allows him to positively play a back-up role. Should anything happen to starter Robin Lehner on a long-term basis, like what happened in 2015-16, Johnson is more than capable of carrying the load.

Jason Kasdorf (2011, 157th, WPG)--Kasdorf has yet to adapt to the pro game and looks to be slated for backup duty in Cincinnati.

Robin Lehner (2009, 46th, OTT)--Lehner said he really has nothing left to prove to the organization and signed a one-year deal as a restricted free agent. Last season he proved that he could handle the starters role while also playing the part of duck in a shooting gallery. He has his flaws but he's right in that he doesn't have anything to prove. Except for that shootout save percentage which was 0% (0/8.)

Linus Ullmark (2012, 163rd)--Ullmark got peppered last season in net for the Amerks but he weathered it rather nicely. One of the cool things about bringing in Johnson was that Ullmark can spend another season in Rochester fine-tuning his pro game while being the No. 1 and in a year or two, if he develops properly, we could be looking at the Sabres next starting goalie.

Adam Wilcox (2011, 178th, TBL)--Having the former Hobey Baker finalist as a backup to Ullmark in Rochester will allow Johansson to get plenty of playing time in Cincinnati.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster--RW, Jason Pominville

Published by, 9-14-2017

Jason Pominville
34 yrs. old
6'0" 180 lbs.
2001, 2nd round (55th-overall)
Re-acquired by Buffalo from the Minnesota Wild on June 30, 2017

Career stats:  905 games  |  261 goals  |  401 assists  |  662 points  |  +65

One by one, then Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier was trading away his veteran players beginning in 2012. Core players Paul Gaustad and Derek Roy were traded that year then prior to the 2013 NHL trade deadline, veteran defensemen Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr were traded away. The change everyone in Buffalo had been clamoring for had begun but up until the April 3, 2012 trade deadline, there hadn't been an earth-shattering trade at the foot of Washington Street. However, that would change with a bombshell that clearly announced the Sabres were stripping away the core and heading into full rebuild-mode as on that day the Sabres traded team captain Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild.

Pominville was drafted by Buffalo in 2001 with the 55th-overall pick and was waived by the team at the beginning of the 2005-06 season after scoring 78 goals and adding 89 assists in 217 games for the Rochester Americans, but cleared and was sent minors. He joined the Sabres in the middle of that season and tallied 30 points (18+12) in 57 games leaving fans to wonder a.) why did the Sabres expose him to waivers? and b.) why didn't anyone claim him?

The 6'0" 280 lb. Repentigny, Quebec native ended up having a steady 578-game career in with the Sabres that included dependable play where he missed only nine games in his first full six seasons. Pominville also turned into a very consistent offensive contributor that never scored less than 20 goals or had less than 52 points those years before the trade. In 2011-12, his last full season in Buffalo, he had a career-high 73 points (30+43.) He also had a fan club in the stands with young girls holding "Marry Me" signs and even his own "Population of Pominville" section on the 300 level.

However, despite how popular and respected he was, the Sabres were going through a complete rebuild in 2013, no veteran player was safe and he was moved for quite the bounty. Regier was able to get a 2013 first round pick, a 2014 second round pick and prospects Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett for Pominville and a 2014 fourth-rounder.

Those Minnesota years are now over for Pominville with his return to Buffalo as the secondary part of a trade that brought defenseman Marco Scandella to the Sabres. The Wild needed to clear his $5.6 million cap-hit for the next two seasons so Pominville became a necessary piece in the deal. He finished the Wild portion of his career with 76 goals and 130 assists in 327 games.

Pominville Is now 34 yrs. old and the days of him playing a full-time, top-six role are pretty much over. But he's still very capable of filling in on the top-six when necessary while taking a regular spot playing third-line minutes. And he can continue playing an all-around game with time on the second powerplay unit and contributing to the penalty kill.

Buffalo did Minnesota a favor by taking on Pominville's salary, but if they wanted Scandella, that was the deal. However, GM Jason Botterill was asked by's Brian Duff if it was "fair to say that this isn't just a case of trading numbers to make the salary cap work."

"Without a doubt," replied Botterill about Pominville being a benefit to the club. "You look at what he produced even-strength last year without huge minutes (13 goals, 27 assists) and we all know his success on the powerplay, whether first unit or second unit, he's going to bring an element there.

"And just from a pure leadership standpoint," continued Botterill, "knowing this organization, knowing this city and the passion-level for the Sabres, I think he's going to fit in extremely well. Jason's not the most vocal guy, but just his mannerisms, preparing for practice, preparing for games, and his work ethic I think will add to our culture here."

So true.

Pominville exudes professionalism on the ice and in the dressing room, not unlike Ryan O'Reilly, and it wouldn't be surprising to see either or both of them with a letter sewn on their sweater. Will Pominville wear a 'C' like when the Sabres traded him?

Sure, it's possible, maybe even probable if the team is looking for him to fill the same role that departed captain Brian Gionta had last season. Gionta proved to be somewhat ageless while playing the third-line right wing role for the Sabres and finished seventh on the team in scoring with 15 goals and 20 assists in 82 games. He lead the team with the same style and leadership characteristics we find in Pominville.

It's not that hard to fathom Pominville with a letter, but one would think that the Sabres might be ready to move on from that quiet, professional, aged veteran wearing the 'C' while looking to the future with a younger player as captain. Maybe the 26 year old O'Reilly or even going all in with 20 yr. old Jack Eichel.

Regardless of who's wearing letters, Pominville will always be Pominville and he's going to be a great influence on the youngins and how they approach the game both on and off the ice.

That's a good thing.

For (probably) the next two seasons we'll be seeing him ply his trade on the right side of the forward group taking players like Sam Reinhart, Johan Larsson, Evan Rodrigues, Nicolas Baptiste and C.J. Smith under his wing and teaching them the finer points of playing the game. They'll be able to learn a lot from him and one would think that the Sabres will be a better team because of it.

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Benoit Pouliot / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Evan Rodrigues / C, Johan Larsson / RW, Jason Pominville

D, Marco Scandella / D, Rasmus Ristolainen
D, Jake McCabe / D, Zach Bogosian

G, Robin Lehner

Follow me on twitter @boosbuzzsabres

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster--LW, Evan Rodrigues

Published by, 9-13-2017

Evan Rodrigues
24 yrs. old
5'10" 183 lbs.
FA, 2015

Career stats:  32 games  | 5 goals  | 3 assists  |  8 points  |  -5

Forward Evan Rodrigues has been getting up to speed at the pro level for the last two seasons, mostly in Rochester. Although a tad small at 5'10" 183 lbs., the 24 yr. old native of Toronto, Canada has displayed the hockey smarts, skating and skills to make it in the NHL while his shot may keep him climbing up the ladder on the depth chart.

His versatility won't hurt either.

Coming out of Boston University in 2015, Rodrigues was known more for being Jack Eichel's wingman than anything else. In his final season at BU Rodrigues lit things up with 61 points (21+40) in 41 games, good for fourth in the nation, while playing on Eichel's left wing. It was a huge jump for Rodrigues who matched his goal output from the previous three seasons combined and had more total points as well.

However, Rodrigues is proving that he can stand on his own.

Rodrigues impressed at Sabres Development Camp in 2015 but had a slow start to his pro career as it took him 17 games to notch his first goal for the Rochester Americans. After a rough first half of the season, Rodrigues pulled it together to finish with 30 points (9+21.) He finished his rookie campaign donning the Blue and Gold for two games and scored his first goal of the season in the finale against the NY Islanders while also adding an assist.

Last season Rodrigues matched his previous Amerks point output of nine goals and 21 assists but did so in 24 less games (48) while also dropping his plus/minus rating from minus-15 to minus-2 for the season. With injuries hammering the Sabres last season, and with his play on an upward trend, Rodrigues played 30 games for the Sabres in a bottom six role scoring four goals and adding two assists while averaging 12:56 of ice-time. And he did so while playing both center and wing, sometimes within the same game. After a late-season game in Columbus where he scored a goal playing both positions, Rodrigues was asked by a reporter if it was an easy transition for him. "I've been doing it all year," he replied. "There's no real difficulty in that. You're either taking draws or you're not."

When talking with long time Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens late last season he said that Rodrigues played even better in Buffalo than he did in Rochester. "Overall," said Stevens, "I think he had an outstanding year and certainly has made a case for him to win a full-time job [in Buffalo.]"
With obvious weakness on the Sabres left side, there's a huge opportunity for Rodrigues to land a spot at left wing in Buffalo if that's where new head coach Phil Housley sees a fit for him. Housley was on The Instigators yesterday talking about versatility in his players, something GM Jason Botterill had also mentioned as well, which bodes well for a player like Rodrigues. "We're gonna move guys around," he told the hosts, "this is going to be part of the evaluation process.

"Guys are going to be in different spots," continued Housley, "we're going to find that chemistry, hopefully by that final exhibition game, where we say this is close to where we're going to be."

In looking at Rodrigues through Housley's eyes, he has a player who skates very well, has the hockey sense to get to open ice or find a teammate in open ice and has a quick and accurate shot while also showing the versatility to play wing or center. About the only thing Rodrigues doesn't have is loads of NHL experience, which he seems to have earned while working his way up the ranks in Rochester.

Rodrigues will have a good shot of landing a spot in the bottom-six in Buffalo out of camp should his progress continue. Placing him at left wing (or even center if that's how it unfolded) on the third line would be optimal projection for him heading into camp. We're not sure if he has the upside to ride shotgun on Eichel's wing but then again it shouldn't be ruled out.

Botterill came from a Pittsburgh organization that saw a number of different players excel on Sidney Crosby's wing while a noted goal-scorer like Phil Kessel did his thing on the third line.

One of the keys for the Sabres moving forward will be if he can play in a scorers role while his salary remains on the lower end of the scale like Connor Sheary and Jake Guentzel have done for the Penguins have done. Eichel's set to command a pretty hefty salary and he, along with players like Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, are set to take up a huge chunk of the salary cap in the near future. That makes a player like Rodrigues very attractive.

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Benoit Pouliot / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Evan Rodrigues / C, Johan Larsson /

D, Marco Scandella / D, Rasmus Ristolainen
D, Jake McCabe / D, Zach Bogosian

G, Robin Lehner

Follow me on twitter @boosbuzzsabres

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster--C, Johan Larsson

Published by, 9-12-2017

Johan Larsson
25 yrs. old
5'11" 200 lbs.
2010, 56th-overall (MIN)
Acquired in a trade on April 3, 2013 with the Minnesota Wild

Career stats:  178 games  |  22 goals  |  26 assists  |  48 points  |  -11

At the end of the day on July 1, Buffalo GM Jason Botterill had just finished the arduous task of taking over a new team with a flurry of activity facing him. Botterill was hired on May 11 and had a quick introduction to his new scouting staff while prepping for the draft, had an expansion draft to prepare for, then the 2017 NHL Draft itself and finally onto free agency where he and his staff signed eight players to bolster both the Sabres and the Rochester Americans on the very first day.

After a brief period it was on to making decisions on the many RFA's in the organization which included arbitration for three players--Johan Larsson, newly acquired defenseman Nathan Beaulieu and starting goalie Robin Lehner.

Larsson was the first of the three to settle as he and the Sabres came together on a 2yr./$2.95 million deal July 8.

The stout, 5'11" 200 lb. native of Sweden and captain of their 2012 World Junior gold medal squad (their first since 1981) was a third round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2010 (56th-overall) and came to Buffalo when the Sabres traded away Jason Pominville in . It was a trade that, for Buffalo, began an organization clearing tear-down in a scorched earth rebuild and ironically, Pominville is now back with the Sabres and Larsson is heading into his fifth season with Buffalo.

In 2015-16 Larsson completed his first full season with the club chalking up a career high 10 goals and 17 points and that seemed to be his floor. He was well on his way to taking up those numbers a notch before crashing awkwardly into the boards in Boston on December 31 and dislocating both his elbow and wrist. Surgery kept him out the rest of the season but he should be fully healthy when training camp starts in two days.

In 178 NHL games Larsson notched 48 points (22+26,) which is rather meager, but he does have seven game-winning goals as a Sabre and had 49.1% faceoff percentage last year, which was second on the team behind Ryan O'Reilly (58%) for those taking 250 or more draws. Numbers, however, don't tell the whole story with him.

When he's on his game, Larsson has a very abrasive style of play that grates on the opposition to the point where they end up chasing him around instead of following the play. He's very aware in the defensive zone as represented by his team-high 64.7% d-zone starts and was also used on the penalty kill. In a nod to the offensive side of his game, Larsson was also used sparingly on the powerplay (:28/game) and did manage a powerplay goal.

The knock on Larsson, and why he's in a defensive/checking role, has always been his skating, which he's been able to overcome with smarts and a (junk-yard) dogged determination. How that plays into  Phil Housley's scheme will be determined as the new head coach wants to play an up-tempo style with his defense joining the rush. Housley was hired by the Sabres nearly a full month before they re-signed Larsson to his two-year deal and it would seem as if he has no problem integrating Larsson into his system.

Injuries took away what was promising to be his best season ever and one could surmise that we still haven't seen Larsson's production peak yet. Regardless of that, when Botterill signed off on the deal he looked at the (then) 24 yr. old as an asset. The third-line center position could be up for grabs this year dependent upon how Housley wants it constructed and in the years to come, Larsson will have a couple of players, most notably Rasmus Asplund and Cliff Pu, nipping at his heels for that spot.

That's not a bad thing for the Sabres as ideally Larsson would make for an excellent fourth-line center on a Cup-contending team. And if we see him in that spot, it will mean good things are happening for the forward group.

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Benoit Pouliot / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
/ C, Johan Larsson /

D, Marco Scandella / D, Rasmus Ristolainen
D, Jake McCabe / D, Zach Bogosian

G, Robin Lehner

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster--D, Zach Bogosian

Published by, 9-11-2017

Zach Bogosian
27 yrs. old
6'3" 228 lbs.
2008, 3rd-overall (ATL)
Acquired in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets February 11, 2015

Career stats:  534 games  |  49 goals  |  120 assists  |  169 points  |  -73

Defenseman Zach Bogosian came to Buffalo as part of the Tyler Myers/Evander Kane deal back in February, 2015. Because of injuries he's played in 141 of a possible 201 games for the Sabres over the course of those two-and-a-half seasons, which is fairly typical of the way things have gone for the hard-nosed defenseman over the course of his career.

Bogosian got off to a tepid start in Buffalo after the trade with former head coach Ted Nolan skating him over 26 minutes/game. The following season with a new coach in Dan Bylsma, Bogosian settled in on the second-pairing with rookie Jake McCabe and at times were the best pairing on the ice. The duo had brain-farts on an individual basis but as a duo they performed pretty consistently with McCabe leading the team in plus-minus with a plus-6.

Last year didn't go as well for Bogosian as put up abysmal numbers in another injury-shortened season scoring a career-low two goals and equaling a career-low in points with 11. He missed 26 games while suffering knee and rib injuries and it took a while for him to get up to game-speed. Although Bogosian is only 27 yrs. old, his rambunctious play over the course of 534 NHL games is beginning to take it's toll and he still has a skill-set that can be put to good use.

Bogosian skates extremely well for a 6'3" 228 lb. defenseman and he's got a heavy shot ta boot. Last season he got up ice and blasted this one past perennial Vezina candidate Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens (1:10-minute mark):

(Thank you, Sportsnet)

Things were amiss in Buffalo last season and we're still not sure exactly what caused the team to take a step backwards. Owner Terry Pegula wasn't satisfied with what transpired and he fired both GM Tim Murray, who orchestrated the trade for Kane and Bogosian, and coachBylsma on the same day. Little by little we're getting a picture of a team that, among other things, was in disarray in part because a clash between coaching style and players.

A lot of the blame for last year's woes fell on what was considered an inadequate, at best, defense corps and although that may be true to an extent, goalie Robin Lehner said that the problem last season was that "we didn't know how to play" while also saying "it was a common misconception" that the defense was the problem. Jack Eichel talked about new head coach Phil Housley wanting to play an up-tempo game that's right in his wheelhouse. "Obviously, pushing the pace, playing with the puck, possessing it, playing fast, all that stuff bodes well for me, and I think it should be a good fit," he said after a recent workout.

And Bogosian called the last two years under Bylsma, "frustrating and disappointing." He told WGR550's Paul Hamilton that "skating is definitely my strong point."

"Last year and the year before I felt like I was handcuffed back there," said Bogosian. "I don't think I got a chance to play my game in the way I know I can play and I'm just looking forward to a new start and play my game which is jumping up into the play.”

He should get the opportunity to "play his game" this season under Housley. The first time head coach was an assistant in Nashville last season and his defense-corps were the most dangerous group in the playoffs. However, regardless of what Housley may or may not be able to do with the d-men as a group, it's up to Bogosian to pick up his game. Coming off of possibly his worst season ever and with three years left on his contract at a $5.143 cap-hit, the Sabres are pretty much stuck with him and an "injury-prone" tag doesn't help matters either.

With a good training camp and, of course, barring injury, Bogosian should get the opportunity to use his skating and skill in a top-four role. The Sabres will have three new faces on defense including a 24 yr. old rookie coming over from Russia and a 24 yr. old who fell down the depth chart and into the press box in Montreal last season.

Either of those two may end up supplanting Bogosian if he falters or is injured, but having two d-men who are familiar with each other like Bogosian and McCabe are, at least to start the season, should help the transition under a new head coach.

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Benoit Pouliot / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo

D, Marco Scandella / D, Rasmus Ristolainen
D, Jake McCabe / D, Zach Bogosian

G, Robin Lehner

Follow me on twitter @boosbuzzsabres