Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
As of right now, Sabres GM Tim Murray has four viable NHL defensemen on the roster--Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros and Mike Weber.
Add in Mark Pysyk, who's almost assured a spot and that brings the total to five leaving two spots open.
With prospects camp this week, 2013 first round draft picks Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov will be looking to showcase their year-over-year development hoping to serve notice that they'll be ready October 9th.
Ristolainen finished last year in Rochester after a 34-game stint with the big club. He was impressive with the Amerks, often times dominating.
There are still kinks in his game as he was hesitant and indecisive at times versus Chicago in the playoffs, especially in the deciding Game-5.
While up against a Wolves team bolstered by NHL talent (Adam Cracknell and Dmitri Jaskin,) Ristolainen was pretty solid. He didn't make any glaring, costly mistakes in that game, but he didn't dominate like he's capable of.
And that's the gist with him.
With the Sabres in reset-mode, they can do one of two things with Risto--they can let him take his lumps with the big club, one that looks to be hovering near the bottom of the league again, or they can keep him in Rochester most of the year on a playoff caliber team in the AHL.
Zadorov showed NHL promise during his seven game stint with Buffalo last year, but he's still very raw.
He was sent back to the London Knights last season and doubled his offensive output scoring 11 goals and 30 points in 36 games (.83ppg.)
Zadorov is ready to make a jump to the pro ranks. Unfortunately he's in the same situation as Mikhail Grigorenko was in--too good for junior, not quite NHL-caliber, but too young to play in the AHL.
Unless he has a mammoth preseason, he may end up in junior again.
Both Ristolainen and Zadorov will be ticked if their NHL aspirations are on hold, but in the long run it may be best for both the player and the organization.
With that in mind, the Sabres will need to grab a veteran defensemen or two this summer.
After an unexpectedly busy July 1st for the Sabres, Murray was asked if he still had moves in store to which he replied, "I might. I don't know."
"Well, I know," he continued, "but I'm not gonna tell you."
Unless he has a trade up his sleeve, the free agent route is where he'll find a journeyman defenseman or two to hold the fort for a year.
The crop of veteran defensemen has pretty much been picked over, but a couple of serviceable d-men are still available.
Andre Benoit is a 30 yr. old offensive minded d-man who scored seven goals with the Colorado Avalanche last season. At 5'11" 191 lbs. he's a bit on the smaller side, but that didn't stop the 'Lanche from using him for over 20 min/game.
Murray knows what he brings to the table as Benoit spent the 2010-11 and 2012-13 seasons in the Ottawa organization.
At the age of 24, former NY Ranger first round pick Michael del Zotto is a bit of a reclamation project.
He once was a force for the Rangers. In 2011-12 del Zotto scored 10 goal, 41 points and was a plus-20. But since then he's taken a few steps back.
Murray already has somewhat of a reclamation project in Meszaros. Would he want another?
Maybe the best addition they could make would be to add 25 yr. old Keaton Ellerby.
Ellerby was a former first round pick of Florida (10th overall) in 2007. He's a 6'5" 220 lb. shutdown d-man who logged bottom-pairing minutes for the LA Kings in 2012-13.
Last year Ellerby played 51 games for Winnipeg logging bottom-pairing minutes. He was not qualified by the Jets this off season.
For a team like Buffalo that may be interested in a place-holder, Ellerby would prove to be quite adequate.
He made $735K last season and could be signed to a one-year deal for around the same amount.
The bonus with Ellerby would be his dual worth. Like Meszaros, should the Sabres not look at them as a piece moving forward, they can shop them to a contender at the trade deadline as teams are always looking to add depth defensemen.
Murray has a ton of options this off season, including cap-casualties.
But we shouldn't be looking for him to make any significant moves that would alter the team too much.
The deconstruction of the old regime is almost complete and the rebuild is entering "build-mode." They have some very strong pieces for the foundation, and all that's needed right now is a little time for proper development.
Look for a placeholder or two on defense this season.