Before we continue to build a Buffalo Sabres roster for the 2014-15 season, a couple of quick notes.
Hockey is here, or at least in Traverse City, Michigan. A team of Sabres prospects (plus a handful of "vets") will kick things off with a 4:00pm bout versus the Carolina Hurricanes' prospects.
The likes of Rasmus Ristolainen, Joel Armia, Jake McCabe and 2014, 2nd-overall pick Sam Reinhart will be hitting the ice to face most of Carolina's top prospects. The Cane's are anchored by defenseman Hayden Fleury (2014, 7th) on the back end and left winger Brock McGinn (2012, 47th) who scored 45 goals in 58 games for the Guelph Storm of the OHL.
Of note, Michigan State graduate Jake Chelios will hit the ice for Carolina as an invitee. Chelios' father Chris, played 26 years in the NHL and was the first ever to be named a Montreal Canadiens captain when he shared those duties with Guy Carbonneau in 1989-90.
The younger Chelios is a 6'2" 185 lb. defenseman who also played 7 games for the Chicago Wolves (STL,) the team that took down the Rochester Americans last year in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Building a roster for the 2014-15 Sabres has been relatively easy to this point. Granted, out of the nine players profiled thus far, most are a line above where they should be, but the fact remains, on this Buffalo roster the talent level dictates that this is where they will end up.
Andre Benoit is one of three defensemen who could land on that second pairing as a #4 defenseman. A case could be made for 22 yr. old Mark Pysyk, who played off-handed next to Rasmus Ristolainen last year. They were the top-pairing for the Amerks as the lost to the Wolves in the deciding Game-5 of the series.
A case could also be made for left-handed Andrej Meszaros whom the Sabres signed to a $4M free agent contract on July 1st.
But of the three, Benoit seems like the best choice at this point.
Sabres fans don't know much about Benoit except, maybe, that he's a true journeyman defenseman. The St. Albert, ON native has played for two AHL organizations (Hamilton and Binghamton, winning a Calder Cup with each) and has played overseas in three different countries--in Finland for Tappara (Finnish Elite League,) in Sweden for Sodertalje (Swedish Elite League,) and in Russia for Spartak of the Kontinental Hockey League.
All-in all, the 5'11" 191 lb. defenseman played in 480 minor league and international games before his "rookie" season (33 games) with the Ottawa Senators in 2012-13. When you include his eight NHL games with Ottawa in 2010-11 and the four years of junior where he played 324 games for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, Benoit played in 845 games before his first full season last year with Colorado.
What did all that travel and all those games do for Benoit? It helped him land a role as a minute-eater on one of the up-and-coming teams in the NHL.
The Avalanche last season boasted a ton of talent, most of it up-front. The firepower they had upfront included Matt Duchene (2009, 3rd-overall,) Gabriel Landeskog (2011, 2nd,) Nathan MacKinnon (2013, 1st,) Paul Stastny (2005, 44th,) and Ryan O'Reilly (2009, 33rd.) Colorado finished 4th in the league in scoring last season at just a hair under three goals/game.
Benoit was able to jump into the scoring fray himself tallying seven goals (4th amongst defensemen on the team) and adding 21 assists (3rd) in 79 games. The undrafted free agent found himself playing second-pairing minutes while playing 2nd unit special teams. He logged an average of just over 20 minutes per game for the 'Lanche during the regular season, and 21:17/gm. in the playoffs.
Mike Chambers of The Denver Post found Colorado's decision to let Benoit walk somewhat quizzical. In a July 24th piece, he called Benoit "affable" and wrote that "He seemed to be an outstanding teammate, certainly liked by all the guys, and a solid pro."
With scorers like Tyson Barrie (13 goals) and Eric Johnson (nine goals) on the back-end, the 'Lanche seemed to be looking for more size. "Must be his size (he’s 5-11 on paper only)," bemused Chambers, "and the Avalanche’s focus was to get better on the back end. They went bigger and younger by signing free agent Zach Redmond ($750,000) for less than what Benoit made last season ($900,000.)"
Considering Benoit finished the season with a plus-2 rating, his defense wasn't all that bad.
If the Sabres defense lines up the way it's unfolding right now, Benoit will be amongst some trees on defense. Which is OK.
Tim Murray was in Ottawa Benoit's rookie season. He knows what the "kid" has to offer, and it's not bone-rattling checks or crease-clearing strength. Benoit's a slick-skating offensive-minded defenseman who is also responsible in his own zone.
Chambers' compatriot at the Post, Adrian Dater, perhaps laid it out best, "[Benoit's] not physical at all. A little soft, but plays pretty effectively in his own end and can do some things offensively.
Might be a steal for the Sabres."
Although Benoit is getting his first real taste of NHL hockey when most defensemen are right around their prime, the 30 yr. old, likes the opportunity sees before him, an opportunity with a team that has bottomed out and is looking to rise from the ashes.
Benoit's character may not be seen as having the outright leadership of a Brian Gionta, but the tens of thousands of miles he's journeyed to make it to the NHL screams persistence and resiliency.
He did everything he could to make it to the NHL, and, as evidenced by the video below, he'll do everything he can, even take a rising shot from Boston's Jerome Iginla, to prove he wants to stay there.
Building the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Matt Moulson/C, Tyler Ennis/RW, Drew Stafford
-Cody Hodgson/-Zemgus Girgensons/-Brian Gionta
RHD, Tyler Myers/LHD, Josh Gorges
-Rasmus Ristolainen/--Andre Benoit