Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Before we get to add another piece to the 2014 roster, for posterity's sake, a look at who was skating for the Sabres on the first day of training camp:
Marcus Foligno, Sam Reinhart, Chris Stewart
Luke Adam, Johan Larsson, Zac Dalpe
William Carrier, Phil Varone, Colin Jacobs
Jordan Samuels-Thomas, Joseph Blandisi
Andre Benoit, Rasmus Ristolainen
Nikita Zadorov, Mark Pysyk
Nick Petrecki, Ryan MacKinnon
Cody Hodgson, Zemgus Girgensons, Brian Gionta
Matt Ellis, Brian Flynn, Torrey Mitchell
Brendan Lemieux, Mikhail Grigorenko, Joel Armia
Kevin Sundher, Justin Kea, Jack Rodewald
Mike Weber, Andrej Meszaros
Jake McCabe, Chad Ruhwedel
Brycen Martin, Jared Walsh
Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford
Nick Deslauriers, Cody McCormick, Patrick Kaleta
Daniel Catenacci, Tim Schaller, Justin Bailey
Vaclav Karabacek, Eric Cornel, Michael Joly
Josh Gorges, Tyler Myers
Drew Bagnall, Jerome Leduc
Brady Austin, Tyson Strachan
He stands 6' 2", weighs in at a thick 231 lbs. and has the size of an NFL linebacker. And when Buffalo Sabres right winger Chris Stewart wants to dictate on the ice, he usually does.
Stewart came to Buffalo as part of the Ryan Miller to St. Louis deal. Unfortunately he only played in two games before being sidelined by an ankle injury. He return for three more games in April before shutting it down for the final game of the season.
About the only thing Sabres fans have to go on when it comes to how Stewart fits into the grand scheme of things is his history with the team that drafted him, the Colorado Avalanche (2008, 18th overall,) and the team that acquired him, the St. Louis Blues. The 'Lanche sent Stewart, D, Kevin Shattenkirk and a second rounder to St. Louis on February 18, 2011 for D, Erik Johnson, F, Jay McClement and a first round pick.
Colorado paid a hefty price to land the 22 yr. old Johnson who was the first overall pick in the 2006 draft and had huge upside.
As for Stewart, he was already showing big promise as a burgeoning power forward. In his second full season he had 28 goals and 25 assists in 77 games. In 2011 he had 28 goals and 23 assists in 62 games split between Colorado and St. Louis.
The Blues thought they added a real strong piece to a young and growing core group of players and in July, 2013 they signed him to a contract extension. And why not? In 153 games with the Blues to that point he had 48 goals and 41 assists. But probably most impressive was his 15% shooting percentage. Stewart could score.
So why would a big power forward who could score be a part of a blockbuster trade for a rental?
Despite the positive scoring numbers, Stewart was inconsistent on the ice and was beginning to get a reputation as playing only when he wanted to.
It would seem as if Stewart wasn't dedicating himself to off season conditioning either and it may (or may not) have affected his game. In an article from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, writer Jeremy Rutherford quotes Stewart as saying, "I didn’t really get on the scale that much this summer,” Stewart said. “I felt explosive and I felt fast on the ice. That’s more what I’m worried about. I think a lot of the people try to put how I’m playing, or the difference in me, is a number on the scale. I think I’m over that stage in my career and I’m not too worried about it from a weight standpoint.
“I think it’s overrated, to tell you the truth. When I got traded here (to St. Louis) from Colorado, I was probably around 245, and I finished with 16 goals in 25 games and no one had a word to say about it. So, I’m not really too worried about my weight. I have it under control and I feel comfortable anywhere from 230 to 235.”
Juxtapose that attitude with the Sabres' Rasmus Ristolainen and how he came into camp this season. The second-year defenseman who's looking to stick with the Sabres, lost 25 lbs., mostly "baby fat," according to Ristolainen, and added muscle. He's cut and ready to roll.
Stewart is set to be a free agent at the end of this season and looks to be trade-bait at the 2015 trade deadline. Although he said he wants to remain in Buffalo, one can't be so sure he's willing to dedicate himself to the game. At 26 yrs. old if he hasn't done it yet, odds are it probably won't happen any time soon. The team already has one inconsistent winger, Drew Stafford, and with a parade of youngins set to work their way up over the next few years, character players are much more important right now than streaky scorers with questionable work ethic.
It might be a tough decision for the Sabres' staff should Stewart put up the numbers he's capable of. Buffalo GM Tim Murray is holding the cards. The $4.5M cap-hit Stewart carries this season has served it's purpose in helping the team get to the cap-floor and come deadline-time, there should be plenty of teams looking to add a scoring power forward for the stretch run. That would produce a nice return for Murray were he to trade Stewart to a contender.
For now, the team has Stewart in a third-line role, but he's a more than capable top-six winger. When all's said and done, the Sabres will be looking to keep either Stewart or Stafford, two very similar players with very similar inconsistencies.
If I were a buying a sweater at this juncture, I'd spend my money on a player other than Stewart. Like maybe Ristolainen.
Building the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Matt Moulson/C, Tyler Ennis/RW, Drew Stafford
Cody Hodgson/Zemgus Girgensons/Brian Gionta
Brian Flynn/Marcus Foligno/Chris Stewart
LHD, Josh Gorges/RHD, Tyler Myers
Andre Benoit/Rasmus Ristolainen