By tomorrow at 5 pm, the Sabres will need to trim their roster to a maximum of 23 players. Injuries to forwards Corey Tropp and rookie Joel Armia as well as rookie defenseman Nikita Zadorov has made the process a bit easier. Tropp and Armia will be out 5-6 weeks and Zadorov, who had a strong training camp, will be out a couple.
Zadorov had a real strong camp and were he on a team lacking NHL d-men, he'd probably join the club after his injury healed. On this edition of the Sabres he was caught up in a numbers game. Pretty sure they're reserving a spot for him for the 2014-15 season.
Putting together the d-pairings and line combos will be a bit tricky for bench boss Ron Rolston and his staff. Two rookie forwards--Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons--have made strong pitches to stick with the team up-front. And according to WGR's Paul Hamilton, rookie defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (#8 overall, 2013) has made the team.
It was said all along that Ristolainen was NHL-ready after playing two years against pros in the Finnish Elite League.
Veteran AHL'er Luke Adam was waived yesterday. He'll be in Rochester should no team claim him.
Without Tropp, Armia, Zadorov and Adam, the roster stands at 24. One more player needs to be trimmed, and it looks as if it will come from the forward ranks.
So, without further ado, this is where I think they'll be headed. We'll start from the goal out.
No surprise here, Ryan Miller will be the starter and Jhonas Enroth will be his back-up.
On defense, the top pairing should be Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff. Forget the Myers/Hank Tallinder pairing, Myers came into camp with something to prove and proceeded to dominate the way he did in his Calder-winning rookie season, regardless of his d-partner.
The second pairing is where Tallinder comes into play as he should be paired with rookie Mark Pysyk. This is a smooth, puck-moving pairing what plays a smart defensive game. Pysyk is as steady as they come and has Calder potential.
Ristolainen will start the season on the third-pairing with Mike Weber. Weber has really stepped up his game and finally begins the season in the top-six. Weber's toughness and Ristolainen's smooth two-way game make for a very solid third-pairing for Buffalo.
On the bench will be journeyman Alexander Sulzer and recently acquired offensive defenseman Jamie McBain.
Offense is where it gets tricky for Rolston.
The top line will have Thomas Vanek on the wing and Cody Hodgson in the middle. What wing Vanek plays will be determined by their linemate who I think should be Tyler Ennis. Ennis can play both wing and center and can be placed anywhere in the top-six.
Putting Ennis there means that rookie Mikhail Grigorenko will have a strong comfort-zone with veterans Steve Ott and Ville Leino on the wings. That trio has worked well together in the past and it gives Grigorenko the best chance to succeed right now.
The bottom six is where the decisions will be made.
On the third line I think Larsson makes the cut. The steady, NHL-ready two-way center will likely be flanked by Marcus Foligno on the left and Drew Stafford on the right forming a big, gritty two-way line.
The fourth line will have veteran Patrick Kaleta on the right side (until, inevitably, injury strikes) but the rest is up in the air. As much as I like Cody McCormick, methinks he starts out in Rochester (if he doesn't get claimed) and Kevin Porter lands his spot. On the other side Brian Flynn continues in his bottom-six role.
Enforcer John Scott is the reserve.
Girgensons played real well in the preseason, but still looks as if he needs a touch more seasoning in the AHL. Might not be a bad idea to put a letter on him either.
The roster predictions:
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.