Monday, September 29, 2014

The 2014-15 Sabres Training Camp "Also-rans"

Reprinted with permission from

Also-rans might be a little tough, but the Sabres still need to do some serious trimming down of a roster that began with 59 players to open camp.

The next wave has been sent down. On Friday night before their game vs. Toronto, the Sabres sent 11 players to Rochester. Forward Luke Adam is the only one of the group that will need to clear waivers, the rest are:  forwards William Carrier, Dan Catenacci, Colin Jacobs, Justin Kea, Jordan Samuels-Thomas, Kevin Sundher and Phil Varone plus defensemen Brady Austin, Jerome Leduc and Chad Ruhwedel.

The team also returned two forwards to their junior clubs, Justin Bailey (Kitchener) and Brendan Lemieux (Barrie).

There are still plenty to go. Here's a list of players, some more notable than others still with Buffalo who might eventually be considered an "also-ran" this season as they head back to their respective clubs :

C, Sam Reinhart--Regardless of the professionalism he shows off the ice and the intelligence on it, the fact of the matter is:  Reinhart has not hit the scoresheet in seven preseason games. During the Traverse City Tournament we were told that he was playing as advertised, but that he played the role of set-up man to inexperienced wingers and that's why he had zero points in four games. Maybe that scenario carried over to the first two preseason games as well, but last night he was held off the scoresheet playing between Cody Hodgson and Brian Gionta. Reinhart also had 2:33 of powerplay time. In just over 16 minutes of ice time he registered one shot. Unless he lights it up the final three games, Reinhart should be sent back to Kootenay for one more season and not be rushed like Mikhail Grigorenko was last season. It's a tough predicament for both player and team. There are three more preseason games left of which Reinhart will be probably be playing in two (he'll probably be out of the lineup tonight.) Sabres head coach Ted Nolan lauded Reinhart for his analytical approach to the game, and he may be offered the opportunity to analyze through nine regular season games. If they're going to continue with the projection that Reinhart will be a consummate set-up man, the Sabres will need to provide him with competent wingers, and right now, consistent depth on the wing is not there. Next year should be a different story.

D, Nikita Zadorov--Fans are clamoring for the big rear-guard to make the team this season, but he is still a very raw prospect. If (when?) he gets sent back to junior, it will be a big disappointment for Zadorov, but nothing should be given to him. He had the opportunity to dominate at Traverse City but failed to show up against Dallas and was benched for the second half of the game. That pretty much punched his ticket back to London for another season in junior. Zadorov has tons of talent, including untapped offensive potential, but he's still a kid that needs to mature both physically and mentally. Physically he needs to work on his conditioning. Mentally he needs to adopt a more a professional approach to make it to the NHL. There's a wonderful, fun-loving, mischevious child inside of Zadorov that could eventually meld with his skills, size and aggressiveness to produce a top-notch player that's a fun teammate to be with, but a pain to play against. That personality could eventually balance out the somewhat stiff, very professional Rasmus Ristolainen on a "Twin-towers" defensive pairing (like they did at the 2012 Traverse City tournament) of the future. But Zadorov needs to pay his dues. It's as simple as that.

D, Jake McCabe--The difference between McCabe and the two above him is his maturity level. A natural leader, the former Wisconsin Badger paid his dues for three years in college before turning pro. He plays a strong game on defense and has the confidence to attack on offense. He's done that at every level thus far and he did it Friday night vs. Toronto. After the game, Nolan said of McCabe, "This kid has some good hockey sense, some good vision to his game." There's no reason to believe that McCabe won't continue to do what he's been doing--bring a strong, confident two-way game to the ice--at the pro-level. The only thing he needs to work on is his consistency. He had a very choppy Traverse City which might be attributed to a summer away from hockey, but even if he plays strong the rest of the preseason, the best place for him to do really work on consistency in his game will be logging top-pairing/all-situations minutes in Rochester.

G, Andre Makarov--Although he hasn't seen the ice yet, Makarov might get a start at Toronto before he heads to Rochester to battle Nate Lieuwen for the top spot on the Amerks.

F, Mikhail Grigorenko--Simply put, Grigorenko should welcome the opportunity for a full season with one team this year as last season he moved around more than anyone should playing under four different coaches. And that one team should be Rochester. His has been a slow progression that's finally beginning to take hold after two years of turmoil in an organization that's just been turned upside down. Grigorenko had a solid Sabres' Prospects Camp and looks to have really improved since last we saw him in Buffalo. No reason why they won't continue with him on the development road that runs through Rochester.

F, Joel Armia--As with Grigorenko, so it should be with Armia. The big right-winger has acclimated to the North American game quite well, but still has some work to do. He skates well, knows how to battle and is a magician with his stick, unfortunately, often he'll do a lot of choppin' but no chips are flying as his scoring isn't where it needs to be. That will come as he continues to acclimate himself to the professional game. The biggest thing he'll need to work on is getting of his wicked shot faster. That extra half a second he's taking (one which was afforded him on the bigger ice surface in Finland) is costing him scoring opportunities. It's important to note that Armia missed the first part of the Ameks season after suffering a hand injury on September 25 that kept him out six weeks. He came on strong at the end of the season and was the Amerks best forward in their first round loss to the Chicago Wolves.  If Armia can build upon that, he could be on the precipice of a breakout campaign in the AHL.

F, Zac Dalpe--A July 13, depth-signing by Tim Murray, Dalpe has been going back and forth between the AHL and NHL for the past four seasons and he looks to be doing the same for the Sabres this year. There are a lot of players vying for a few spots and Dalpe is in that mix. He's working hard for a spot, but numbers may have him in Rochester should he clear waivers.

D, Tyson Strachan--Another July depth-signing by Murray, the 6'3" 215 lb. tough, stay at home d-man who isn't afraid to drop the gloves will find plenty to do in Rochester protecting the teams' assets in the AHL.

F, Tim Schaller--Schaller was to be sent down before the Toronto game last night, but Nolan loved the way he played during practice and decided to give him a game. Schaller "kind of grew" on Nolan.“I just thought his hockey intelligence was evident to a few of us,” Nolan said yesterday morning. “He kept doing it day after day after day. We just felt that he deserves an opportunity.” Schaller finished strong in Rochester last season and will be back looking to build upon that. Having a taste of the NHL will add more fuel to his competitive fire.

F, Matt "Freakin'" Ellis--The world needs more hero's like him, unfortunately there's no room for players like him. The youngins in Rochester will do well to follow his lead.

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