Monday, September 24, 2018

Thoughts on the loss last night

Published by, 9-23-2018

First things first. This Buffalo Sabres team looks a lot better right now when it comes to their passing, breakouts and the speed with which they play the game then they have in recent memory. But there's still a ton of work to be done.

The Sabres saved their big guns for the second of a home-and-home with the Toronto Maple Leafs and lost last night at KeyBank Center by a 3-2 score. Losing is disappointing whether it's preseason or not and doing it with the likes of Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart, Patrik Berglund, Kyle Okposo, Rasmus Ristolainen, Rasmus Dahlin, Marco Scandella, and Jake McCabe--a group of players who are in the top half for Buffalo--made last night a little tough to take. However it is what it is.

Leafs coach Mike Babcock has been in Toronto for three full seasons and has his systems in place. The Leafs front office, lead by team president Brendan Shanahan the past four years, has been loading the organization up with quality depth that reach down to the bottom lines and pairings of the reining Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies. They know the system and play it well.

So when the Sabres faced off against a Leafs team that was missing some star power up front in John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri along with Ron Hainsey and Morgan Reilly on the blueline, the talent-needle leaned a tad Buffalo's way. However, in a tribute to the quality depth the Leafs have developed and coaching Toronto enjoys with Babcock, the Sabres just couldn't get the job done.

The loss drops Buffalo to 2-2 on the preseason with three games to go. Both of those losses came at the hands of their QEW rival Maple Leafs.

Prior to the game last night the Sabres sent forwards Eric Cornel, Vasily Glotov and Kevin Porter, defensemen Zach Redmond and Devante Stephens and goaltenders Michael Houser and Adam Wilcox to Rochester. They have 43 players still on the roster and head coach Phil Housley told the gathered media post game last night that he doesn't "see too many more roster cuts" pointing to three games this week to close out the preseason.

Players up and down the lineup have been trying to gain the attention of the Sabres brass through four games. On Friday night in Toronto, forward Tage Thompson turned some heads as he showed off some deft stickwork and sniping ability on his goal. Thompson, who was acquired by the Sabres in the Ryan O'Reilly trade with St. Louis, was promised by Buffalo GM Jason Botterill a shot in the top-six and he got it last night when he was placed on a line with Eichel and Skinner.

For as much skill as he has, Thompson's defense needs some work. He was on the ice for both of Toronto's early second period goals and didn't see the top line again as Reinhart moved up to Eichel's right wing. Thompson finished with 13:08 of ice time, had five shots on goal (two on the top line) and was a minus-2. He's a minus-5 for the Toronto home-and-home including Tavares' empty-netter on Friday night.

Reinhart taking Thompson's place on the top line worked pretty well as he played extremely well in his first game back after ending a holdout by signing a two-year contract extension. "I thought he was one of our best forwards," Housley said last night. "He looked comfortable, fit right in, was on the puck. He was making plays." Sure enough. Buffalo first goal he got the puck to Eichel after a powerplay draw and headed towards his spot in front of the net. Eichel passed it to Okposo in the circle and he buried it with Reinhart providing a screen.

Reinhart also drove the net and sent a shot on net that was kicked to the stick of a Skinner who was also crashing the net. Skinner pounced on the rebound from in tight and put it home to tie the score 2-2.

Skinner looked real good again and seems to be developing some chemistry with Eichel. He had a goal while Eichel had two assists.

Dahlin had a couple of hair-raising moments last night, most notably when he had his pocket picked by 39 yr. old veteran Patrick Marleau who went the other way for a breakaway. Housley said afterwards that the 18 yr. old Dahlin will need to learn who's on the ice and that he expects the rookie to make mistakes. To his credit Dahlin motored on through the game with a short memory.

Marleau was stopped on his breakaway by Buffalo goalie Carter Hutton which was good to see for Sabres fans. For the past couple of seasons, opposition breakaways had the tendency to end up in the goal. Not so last night as Hutton closed the door. The former St. Louis Blue who signed a three-year free agent contract with Buffalo this summer looks like he's hell bent on solidifying his spot as the Sabres No. 1 goalie.

Hutton has a lot of good qualities and one of his best ones is how he handles the puck. He's very good with his stick and isn't afraid to wing it up-ice to a skater like he did on many occasions last night. For a team that had trouble moving the puck up ice last season, having a goalie who can move it like that is a huge weapon for this club.

It was good to see Zach Bogosian back on the ice. He looked pretty solid considering he hasn't played since January after undergoing back surgery. He was on Buffalo's third pairing with Nathan Beaulieu and came away with a plus-1 rating in over 18 minutes of ice-time.

The Sabres have a day off before preparing for Tuesday's Kraft Hockeyville USA game against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Clinton, NY just outside of Utica.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sabres "B-squad" hold it's own at TOR. Leafs in BUF tonight

Published by, 9-22-2018

If you were in the process of getting yourself a snack and/or a frosty adult beverage to take in the first game of a preseason home-and-home between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs you missed something pretty rare. Buffalo's Andrew Oglevie pounced on a rebound off of a Casey Nelson shot to make the score 1-0 only :30 seconds into the game last night. In 82 regular season games last season the Sabres scored a minute or less into a game only twice--Justin Bailey did it exactly 1:00 into a game against the Vancouver Canucks on October 20 while Ryan O'Reilly scored :30 into a game vs. the Ottawa Senators on April 4.

Buffalo lost both of those games by the same 4-2 score.

In fact it was pretty rare for Buffalo to score an opening goal in the first period last season. They did so once in six preseason games and only 26 times in 82 regular season games.

What a jolt. What a treat. Right?

Not really. Buffalo was blitzkrieged last night after that opening marker as the Leafs slapped three quickies on the Sabres beginning :18 seconds later. Toronto's Ron Hainsey, Pierre Engvall and John Tavares all scored in a 2:54 span to give the Leafs a 3-1 lead before Buffalo gathered their senses.

Toronto did what a lot of teams did to the Sabres last season--attack with speed and pressure while Buffalo was on it's heels. The Sabres top line of Casey Mittelstadt, Alexander Nylander and Tage Thompson were victimized on the latter two goals while Toronto's top two lines were responsible for two of the three goals.

For comparison's sake, these where the team's top two lines:

Tavares, Mitch Marner, Zach Hyman
Nazem Kadri, Connor Brown, Josh Leivo

Mittelstadt, Nylander, Thompson
Vladimir Sobotka, Oglevie, Zemgus Girgensons

Much to their credit, the Sabres bounced back and pulled to within one goal as Smith charged the net off the half-wall and waited patiently before depositing it past a sprawling Garrett Sparks and into a gaping Toronto net to make it 3-2.

The Sabres would eventually tie it on a beautifully wicked toe-drag/snapshot from Thompson but the Leafs answered and would tack on an empty-netter for the 5-3 win.

There's a lot to be said about this Sabres team last night as the "B-squad" group of players held their own pretty well, especially after being down. Most of the players who struggled during Toronto's 3-goal outburst settled down and played well the rest of the way, beginning with goalie Linus Ullmark.

The 25 yr. old Ullmark who's slated for backup duty in Buffalo looked shaky as the Leafs buzzed the zone. He couldn't bail out his skaters on the first two goals as turnovers in their own zone caused some Keystone Cops moments, especially amongst the defensemen. On the third goal, Ullmark kicked out a rebound that went to an unchecked Tavares who was trailing on the play. He buried it into a gaping net.

Mittelstadt lost coverage on that one and perhaps Buffalo head coach Phil Housley had seen enough as he demoted the 19 yr. old his next shift. Without singling him out, Housley told the gathered media post game, "It wasn't working. So you try to make some changes."

Housley said that his team "got some momentum" off of those changes and that they scraped their way back into the first period.

Thompson's toe drag was nasty, as shown here from

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster--G, Linus Ullmark

Published by, 9-20-2018

G--Linus Ullmark
25 yrs. old
6'4" 213 lbs.
2012, sixth round (163rd overall)

Career stats:  26 games | 9-13-2 | 2.52 GAA | .917 Sv% | 0 shutouts

At 6'4" 213 lbs., Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark definitely has the size and with 127 AHL games with the Rochester Americans, he's definitely gained a lot of experience since first coming over from his native Sweden in 2015. Add in that he faced over 3,000 shots the last two seasons, by far the most in the AHL over that span, and you might say he more than paid his dues for his NHL shot.

It's been a good, long development curve for Ullmark beginning in Sweden as a teenager and playing his first games in Sweden's top pro league (SHL) as a 19 yr. old for MODO Hockey. He would work his way into a starting role in MODO for two seasons, eventually saving them from relegation in 2014-15 with a stellar four-game performance that featured a 0.50 GAA and .980 Sv% (the next season MODO was demoted.)

From there it was pretty simple, right? Leave the SHL on that high note, come over to North America, play in the AHL and learn the game with the focus upon making it to the NHL. However there were some twists and turns along the way.

In April 2015, at the end of the SHL season and his career over there, Ullmark elected to have double-hip surgery that would keep him out 4-6 months. Which was fine. The organization expected him to be ready for full time duty somewhere in late November and didn't have him dress for opening night.

That changed pretty quick.

Buffalo starter Robin Lehner went down with a knee injury in the very first game of the 2015-16 season and were forced to do some goaltender juggling. Ullmark started Rochester's second game of the season and less than two weeks later he was in Buffalo as Chad Johnson's backup and made his NHL debut on October 24. He played 20 games for the Sabres that season and returned to Rochester in January to tack on 25 more Amerks games.

Ullmark did not have the best Amerks team in front of him in 2016-17 and lead the league in shots-against with 1,678 yet he still managed a decent .909 Sv% on a Rochester team that finished with the sixth-worst record. Last year he clipped his GAA to 2.44 and upped his Sv% to .922 and helped the Amerks reach the playoffs for the first time in three years. But the were swept in the first round with Ullmark sporting a 5.50 GAA and .880 Sv%.

Earlier at training camp Ullmark, ever the thoughtful and level-headed one, was asked about the finish to last season and he told the press that he "was going to go out there and try his very best and hope that works."

As of now it looks as if he'll be a 1B to Carter Hutton's 1A for the Sabres and at worst he'll be considered a backup getting a good amount of starts. Ullmark started Buffalo's first preseason game at Columbus allowing one goal on 21 shots in two periods of hockey. He looked positionally strong, as he always does, and flashed some leather as he's been know to do as well. He'll need to work out some kinks, like over-committing, but hopefully he'll pare that back with more ice-time.

The Sabres will need some solid goaltending if they want to entertain thoughts of going on a playoff run this season. There will a lot of new faces amongst the skaters on the ice opening night while Ullmark will join Hutton the new faces of Buffalo's goalie tandem.

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Conor Sheary / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Jeff Skinner / C, Casey Mittelstadt / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Patrik Berglund / C, Rasmus Asplund / RW, Jason Pominville

LHD, Marco Scandella / RHD, Rasmus Ristolainen
LHD, Rasmus Dahlin / RHD, Zach Bogosian
LHD, Jake McCabe / RHD, Casey Nelson

G, Carter Hutton
G, Linus Ullmark

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The 2yr./$7.3 million extension for Sam Reinhart is the right deal

Published by, 9-19-2018

Perhaps Sam Reinhart and his agent looked at what the Washington Capitals gave forward Tom Wilson this off season and had visions of the Buffalo Sabres forward signing for similar money. Wilson signed a six-year deal with the Caps for an AAV of $5.166 million following a season where he scored 14 goals and 35 points in 78 regular season games.

In a tale of two Sam's, Reinhart's 2017 portion of last season had him at a pace that would produce far less than Wilson while in 2018 Reinhart was nearly a point/game player which far exceeded what Wilson produced. In the end the Sabres forward finished the last year of his entry-level deal with a nice, symmetric 25 goals and 25 assists in 82 games for Buffalo.

Maybe forgotten in all of this is that although Wilson never reached top-six status on the Capitals, he was one of their best players in the playoff season while helping Washington to their first-ever Stanley Cup. And at 24 yrs. old, he's just begun to hit the middle of his prime and still has a lot of tread on the tire.

Then again, maybe Reinhart and his agent looked at Buffalo's preseason game last night and liked what they saw. Center Jack Eichel showed a little rust but showed flashes of dominance that reverberates through the entire team. We saw 18 yr. old defenseman Rasmus Dahlin skating like the breeze and sending tape-to-tape passes with the poise of a veteran. Those were just two of the players Reinhart should be on the ice with this season but a holdout on his part prevented that.

Now he can join them.

The Buffalo Sabres announced that Reinhart signed a 2yr./$7.3 million dollar contract with the club. Reinhart, the second-overall pick in 2014, will make $3.55 million this year and $3.75 million in 2019-20.

At only 22 yrs. old Reinhart has a lot of upside but, unlike Wilson, we're really not sure who he is right now.

Reinhart was drafted as a center but was moved to wing by former head coach Dan Bylsma. He played extremely well there, especially alongside Eichel and was good for 40 goals and 49 assists in the two seasons Bylsma was head coach. New head coach Phil Housley liked the idea of Reinhart playing his natural position and moved him back to center last season. It was a disaster and he was moved back to wing. Beginning with the Winter Classic on New Year's Day, Reinhart went on a tear that would see him score 37 points in 38 games.

"Throughout the season you kind look for a spark," Reinhart told the press about the Winter Classic in hindsight weeks later, "and that’s probably the spot where you can look back and see things started turning around because I did feel good."

But there was more to it than that. At locker cleanout day he had this to say of his Saul-to-Paul transformation, "The biggest thing for me was, I wasn't happy with the way anything was going and I just said to myself, 'Screw it, I'm playing my game,." he told the gathered press that day. "I think it's more important for me to play my game, it's more beneficial to me and the team. I think it was important for me to get back to what I do best."

Although we're not sure whether "playing my game" meant him finding that game within himself and within coach Housley's system or whether it was a stealth deviation from Housley's system that got him going. Whatever it was, something clicked and one would think that he and his agent had the mindset that he'd passed through some threshold and was ready for a big contract.

However, it would seem as if Buffalo GM Jason Botterill and the Sabres brass thought differently.

Rumors of a stalemate with the Sabres offering $5 million and Reinhart wanting $6 million had many believing the end result would be somewhere within that range. But from a team perspective it never really made a lot of sense to pay that much to a player whom they weren't 100% sure about.

Reinhart has a lot of skill and much of his talent is subtle, but one of the big knocks on him is his speed. He has average to slightly above average skating ability and the main reason he was able to keep up with the likes of Eichel and to an extent Ryan O'Reilly was his smarts and vision. Reinhart is always a step or two ahead of the play and can either get to where he needs to go or get the puck to where it needs to go to play faster.

In addition, when he was drafted out of Kootenay of the Western Hockey League, Reinhart was seen more as a set-up guy from the middle but that didn't really transfer to the NHL. Bylsma put him in a position to succeed by putting him on the wing in more of a scorer's role while also putting him in front of the net on the powerplay. The result was a 23-goal rookie season. That would flip-flop next season as he scored only 17 goals but was good for 30 assists.

At two years, Reinhart will have plenty of time to show his worth and at the end of two years the Sabres will be out from under a couple of unfriendly contracts and will have begun to galvanize their core. Right now, CapFriendly has the Sabres with only six contracts for 2020-21 with Eichel, Kyle Okposo and Patrik Berglund up-front, Rasmus Ristolainen and Rasmus Dahlin on the back end and Carter Hutton in goal who combine for $25,340 million of cap dollars. Reinhart, Tage Thompson and Casey Mittelstadt will all be restricted free agents heading into that season and could represent a big chunk of change for the Sabres that year. Dahlin will be coming off of his entry-level deal the following year and will probably command a pretty big hit.

When all things are considered, a bridge deal of two years for Reinhart is appropriate and if you thought the low range of the deal was $5 million then Botterill got himself a helluva bargain, especially when you look at the deals handed out this summer. But really in looking at this earlier in the summer based upon Reinhart's young career in Buffalo, neither side should be unhappy with this short-term deal.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Nylander impresses vs. Blue Jax. Dahlin and Sabres' "A-squad" at home tonight

Published by, 9-18-2018

No, there's not really an 'A' squad and 'B' squad for the Buffalo Sabres right now but when you look at some of the players that will be playing for Buffalo at home tonight vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins, it sure looks that way. Although we're not sure who the headliner should be, the double-bill of Jack Eichel and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin will top this group of Sabres with Dahlin getting most of the attention because of his rookie status.

Dahlin, the No. 1 overall pick at the 2018 NHL Draft, is widely regarded as the best prospect in hockey right now while the Sabres also have the fourth best prospect, according to The Athletic's Corey Pronman, in center Casey Mittelstadt who is also scheduled to be on the ice tonight. Joining that trio is recently acquired, three-time 30-goal scorer Jeff Skinner, Buffalo's probable top-pairing on defense to start the season--Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella--as well as veteran forwards Kyle Okposo and Jason Pominville plus a host of rookies looking to make their mark amidst this  group of Buffalo's high end players.

With close to 50 players in training camp hockey, like baseball, does split-squad games. As we move through the preseason the roster will be whittled down until the final opening night lineup begins practicing for the Sabres October 4 season opener at home against the Boston Bruins. In a nod to capturing the moment, Buffalo's brass decided to wait until tonight's home game for Dahlin to make his debut while it seems as if the coaching staff, based on the lineup tonight, wants to leave the fans with a huge first impression of their 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres.

The process began last night with the 'B-squad' in Columbus taking on the Blue Jackets and one player who needed to catch the attention of the Sabres certainly did.

Winger Alexander Nylander has been dogged by a number of issues since the Sabres drafted him eighth-overall at the 2016 NHL Draft. The very fact that he was taken instead of defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who's already completed a full season and played a meaningful role in 17 playoff games for the Tampa Bay Lightning. There was the stigma of disappearing for large chunks of games, and the injury that he suffered last off season that put him behind the 8-ball in 2017-18.

Throughout it all we saw glimpses of his high-end skills and were constantly reminded that he was still young during his two pro seasons, to the point where Sabres GM Jason Botterill noted this off season that most players his age are just turning pro.

Nylander is healthy this year and he bulked up in preparation for camp. He had a strong Prospects Challenge and was fully engaged last night at Columbus. The 20 yr. old was on a line with veteran forward Patrik Berglund at center and 2016, 26th-overall pick Tage Thompson in what was the clearly the best line on the ice. The stat sheet is solid as Nylander had two assists in 19:28 of ice-time with 1:29 on the powerplay and 2:03 on the penalty kill included. Buffalo beat the Blue Jackets 4-1 with Nylander notching the primary assists on the Sabres first two goals.

But stats are nothing more than numbers to be manipulated without context and in the case of Nylander, those numbers may not have done justice to the game he had. He was making the smart plays, chipping in the puck, working the corners and the wall behind the net and on Buffalo's first goal by Berglund he made a pass that not many players can make.

"If I was Nylander," Berglund told the gathered media post-game,"I would never try to pass that puck because I could never make that play. It was a great play by him." The 30 yr. old veteran of nearly 700 NHL games also said of Nylander, "from what I saw today and at practice, I think he's been taking big steps [towards] playing the game the right way."

For Nylander it's progression and if he continues to play engaged hockey while displaying a skill-set that was considered one of the best, if not the best, of his draft class, some great things could be on the horizon for him and the Sabres.

Now for a bucket of cold water.

The Jackets, like the Sabres, did not offer up their A-team either. Although captain Nick Foligno, top-six center Pierre-Luc Dubois and forward Oliver Bjorkstrand did play, they did not have the likes of forwards Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner play nor did they have their top defensive pairing of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski on the ice for this one.

Jackets head coach John Tortorella expressed some concern heading into the tilt as he alluded to a tough training camp thus far for his charges. "I'm a little concerned about these two games for us, because they have skated and skated, and it's been really hard for them," he told the Columbus media. "You've got to be really careful, as far as how you evaluate [these guys], because I think we're going to have some tired players out there tonight."

Brad Shaw, who ran the Jackets bench while Tortorella watched from above, echoed that sentiment saying that his club wasn't as sharp in the defensive zone as they could have been but despite those shortcomings, Columbus still took it to Buffalo in the offensive zone outshooting the Sabres by a 37-20 margin.

Which leads us to Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark who played extremely well while stopping 20 of 21 shots in 40 minutes of ice-time. The 25 yr. old who's been steadily working his way up the ranks ever since the Sabres drafted him in the sixth round (163rd overall) of the 2012 draft, showed excellent form and a quick glove to stymie the Jackets and help Buffalo to a 3-1 lead heading into the final period. Although he still has some kinks to work out he looks to be a solid 1B for Buffalo in the crease this season.

Perhaps the second best skater on the ice for Buffalo last night was Sean Malone, albeit in a different role. Malone is a local boy (West Seneca, NY) who was taken in the sixth round (159th) of the 2013 draft and had been making great progress as he was pressing for a checking line role with the Sabres up until he came up injured last night. Malone got tangled up and left the game with what's being reported as a knee injury that will keep him out an estimated six weeks.

For those heading to tonight's game, or watching it on MSG, have a good time. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons (2016-17) and depleted their organizational depth in the process. Buffalo defeated Pittsburgh at the Prospects Challenge by a score of 10-2 as they faced a team without any first or third round picks and only one second rounder playing in that game. A couple of those players will be in the lineup tonight, yet the Pens will be missing their big guns in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Patric Hornqvist, Olli Maatta and goalie Matt Murray.

So enjoy, Sabreland as it should be a good time tonight. There's a lot to look forward to this season and most of that will be on display tonight.

Buffalo's lineup for today from Paul Hamilton of WGR550 Radio:

53 Skinner - 9 Eichel - 21 Okposo
71 Rodrigues - 37 Mittelstadt - 29 Pominville
49 Smith - 17 Sobotka - 95 Bailey
28 Girgensons - 74 Asplund - 13 Baptiste

26 Dahlin - 19 McCabe
6 Scandella - 55 Ristolainen
24 Pilut - 33 Borgen

40 Hutton
31 Wedgewood

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Sabres open preseason tonight, saving Rasmus Dahlin debut for tomorrow.

Published by, 9-17-2018

It's hockey (pre)season, Sabreland. Summer's great if you love the outdoors, cookouts and warming up your bones from a long, dismal winter. And I love all those things, but the sports fan in me is left with very little during the summer months. There's baseball, which is great at the ballpark, soccer, tennis and golf and then there are three days in July when none of the big-four North American sports are on and we have to sit through the drudge that is the ESPY's.

Football has started and is great, even with the Bills bumbling out of the gate, but hockey is back.

The kid in me said summer was too short but the hockey fan in me says the wait was too long, especially with what has gone on since that dreadful 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres season ended. GM Jason Botterill has been making moves to fill holes on the roster with quality players and has added a ton of depth that allows for meaningful competition for open roster spots. He has wave of young players from previous drafts turning pro and has augmented the organization with free agent signees.

Oh, and there's that guy named Rasmus Dahlin whom the Sabres selected with the first overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Sabres development camp whetted our whistle for things to come as Dahlin wowed the fan base in attendance at HarborCenter and he continued that when 1,800+ fans were at that rink for the Prospects Challenge. The next phase of his drive to the NHL is the preseason.

The Buffalo Sabres are in Columbus, OH tonight to kick off the preseason against the Blue Jackets and since they're at home tomorrow night, the Sabres brass is saving Dahlin's preseason debut until tomorrow. As they should. Unlike the previous regime (head coach) that couldn't grasp the significance of Jack Eichel being on the ice for the opening faceoff against Connor McDavid in their first ever head-to-head matchup, this regime knows what Dahlin means to the fans and will wait one game for his debut.

It took a while, but the Sabres finally released their roster for tonight:

10 Patrick Berglund, 20 Scott Wilson, 22 Johan Larsson, 41 Victor Olofsson, 42 Sean Malone, 51 Kyle Criscuolo, 52 Andrew Oglevie, 64 Tyler Randell, 65 Danny O'Regan, 71 Evan Rodrigues, 72 Tage Thompson, 92 Alexander Nylander

5 Matt Tennyson, 8 Casey Nelson, 27 Taylor Fedun, 44 Brandon Hickey, 45 Brendan Guhle, 82 Nathan Beaulieu

34 Jonas Johansson, 35 Linus Ullmark

Although both Eichel and Dahlin, along with Rasmus Ristolainen, Jeff Skinner and Conor Sheary, among others, won't be in Columbus tonight, there are a number of players who will get the opportunity to make a great first impression for the upcoming season:

Alexander Nylander--needs to get off on the right foot and be engaged from the get-go. There's a top-six opening and if his desire could ever match his skill level, he'd probably be back in Buffalo waiting until tomorrow night.

Patrick Berglund--Acquired from the St. Louis Blues, Berglund will be expected to bring his two-way game to Buffalo this year and help transition this team from doormat to at least respectability. He'll be rusty when he hits the ice tonight, but should help guide the youngins.

Brandon Hickey--Another acquisition via trade. The former Calgary Flames pick was part of the Hudson Fasching to Arizona Coyotes deal and will be getting his first taste of pro action.

Johan Larsson--It's been said that Larsson came to camp a little leaner and with a whole lot of gumption. He's excellent in the defensive pest role but got away from it last season. Here's an opportunity for him to show he's back to his old self.

Brendan Guhle--Has the skill, skating and athleticism to make the Sabres this year despite the log-jam. Getting off to a good start tonight will help him get closer to that goal.

Nathan Beaulieu--Last year wasn't the greatest for him. He has all the skills and the skating but had way too many brain cramps. Hopefully he won't have an egregious giveaway that leads to a goal or golden opportunity which he did so many times last season.

Tage Thompson--Had a great Prospects Challenge but needs to further that with a strong preseasons. He's big, can move, has skills and was almost promised an opportunity in the top-six. That opportunity begins tonight.

Victor Olofsson--We saw his shot at the Prospects Challenge and it's wicked. That was on the powerplay, a spot where he scored a league-leading 27 goals in the SHL last season. Can he get that shot off 5v5?

Sean Malone--He progressed nicely in the AHL last season and is poised to take that next step. A role as a checking center is there and the West Seneca, NY native will be all in. A good showing tonight could lead to an extended preseason run and possibly a spot on the roster.

Although there's little importance in this game from a fan's perspective, it means a lot to those playing in it. Head coach Phil Housley has said that there's been a lot of competitive spunk at camp and we'll see who carries this into the preseason tonight beginning at 7pm.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster--RHD, Casey Nelson

Published by, 9-16-2018

RHD--Casey Nelson
26 yrs. old
6'1" 185 lbs.
2016 undrafted free agent

Career stats:  55 games | 3 goals | 9 assists | 12 points | -16

At 26 yrs. old Buffalo Sabres defenseman Casey Nelson is far from being a wide-eyed rookie in the NHL. Yet with only 55 games played he still has a lot to learn at the NHL-level. The cool part about Nelson is the middle ground where his long development curve has allowed for definitive progress while still allowing for upside to his game.

Nelson was an under-the-radar signing by Buffalo in 2016 out of Minnesota State University (Mankato) but caught the attention of Sabreland with four assists in his first three pro games. The smooth skating, offensive defenseman showed well on NHL ice to the point where a good camp would mean a knocking on the door of a spot on the opening night roster for 2016-17. Because of injuries Nelson was on the blueline in the opener and was a minus-1 in 1:47 of ice-time. He would have a rough go of it in the NHL, was sent down and spent most of his first full pro season in Rochester.

Last season went much better for Nelson as he started out in Rochester playing 37 games for the Amerks (2 goals, 9 assists, +11 rating) before getting the call to Buffalo where he showed much year-over-year improvement. In 37 games for the Sabres he scored three goals and added five assists in averaging 18:47 of ice-time before rejoining the Amerks just prior to the Calder Cup playoffs. What might have stood out most for him in Buffalo was how he and defenseman Marco Scandella clicked as a second-pairing duo for a short stint.

Nelson's journey to full-time NHL duty, should it play out that way, was marked by smack-downs and revivals from college onward. He was benched as a freshman at Minnesota but, according to coach Mike Hastings, used that as motivation. "I think you learn the most about people once they get knocked down, once you face that adversity," the coach told me a couple years ago. "He could have thrown a pity-party and I didn't see it. He just went back to work."  He also had a rude awakening two years ago when the NHL smacked him down and he was sent to Rochester. After gathering his senses Nelson was, according to long-time Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens, probably Rochester's most improved player that year.

A numbers game kept Nelson in Rochester for most of last season and from a development standpoint it worked out rather well. He will face a similar situation this year. Buffalo GM Jason Botterill signed Nelson to a two-year contract extension in May and without waiver eligibility for the defenseman, one would expect he and coach Phil Housley expect Nelson to be in the lineup for the opener on October 4.

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Conor Sheary / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Jeff Skinner / C, Casey Mittelstadt / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Patrik Berglund / C, Rasmus Asplund / RW, Jason Pominville

LHD, Marco Scandella / RHD, Rasmus Ristolainen
LHD, Rasmus Dahlin / RHD, Zach Bogosian
LHD, Jake McCabe /

G, Carter Hutton