Thursday, September 24, 2015

Building the 2015-16 Buffalo Sabres roster--LW, Matt Moulson

Reprinted with permission from

Nearly two years ago, on October 27, 2013 the Buffalo Sabres acquired LW Matt Moulson from the NY Islanders in the Thomas Vanek trade Also coming to Buffalo was what turned out to be a 2015 first round pick (No. 21 sent to Ottawa in the Robin Lehner trade on draft day) and a 2015 second round pick (Brendan Guhle, 51st-overall.) That was the last trade former GM Darcy Regier made before he was fired on November 13th.

Moulson was coming off a lockout-shortened season where he scored 15 goals in 47 games. In his three seasons prior he hit the 30-goal mark each season averaging nearly 32 goals while developing a strong chemistry with former first overall pick John Tavares (2009.) Ironically, Tavares was at Moulson's house when the unexpected trade went down.

It was a curious move by Isles GM Garth Snow as he traded a productive fan favorite in  Moulson for the star-power of Vanek. Expectations were that Vanek would explode with a bona fide #1 center for years to come. Once it was clear that Vanek wouldn't sign long-term, Snow shipped him off to Montreal at the 2015 trade deadline after just 47 games with the club (17 goals.)

As expected, Moulson was also traded at the deadline. He and Cody McCormick went to the playoff-bound Minnesota Wild for Torrey Mitchell, a 2014 second-round pick (No. 39 from Winnipeg, traded to Washington for No. 44, Eric Cornel, and No. 74, Brycen Martin) and a 2016 second rounder which was sent to the Montreal Canadiens for D, Josh Gorges.

After a short stint with the Wild and an equally short playoff-run, Moulson signed a 5yr./$25M contract with the Sabres on July 1, 2014.

It had been a long journey to stability for the Pittsburgh Penguins 2003, 9th-round pick (a round that doesn't even exist any more) out of Cornell University and Moulson paid his dues every step of the way. While playing for the Big Red of the Eastern Conference Athletic Conference he tallied 138 points (71+67) in 134 games but went unsigned by the Pens.

Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi signed Moulson to a two-year, entry-level deal in 2006. He hit the ice in Manchester playing for the Monarchs in the AHL and proceeded to score 25 goals in in 77 games. He earned a stint with the Kings the following year after potting 28 goals in 57 games for the Monarchs. Moulson signed a one-year, two-way deal with Los Angeles in 2008 and scored 21 goals in 54 games in Manchester, but at the end of the season he went unsigned and the Islanders picked him up. It would be the last he'd see of the AHL.

In 2009 the Islanders drafted Tavares who was promptly placed atop the depth chart. With Moulson mainly on his left, Tavares would score 24, 29 and 31 goals in his first three full seasons. He would add 28 goals in 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and after Moulson was traded to Buffalo, Tavares had high praise for his former wing man. "I don't think Matt's ever gotten the credit he's deserved for the success I've had," Tavares said at the time. "A lot of the things he's done so well … the little things he's done that's helped my game. Living together that first year (2009-10), door-to-door neighbors our second year, how long we've known each other, the impact he made -- him and his family -- how much they helped me off the ice. Words can't really describe how much he was there for me."

With that in mind, it's not surprising that Moulson opened up his home to Buffalo's 2015 second-overall pick Jack Eichel. "He had just reached out to me after congratulating me in the draft. He offered it and I think it's a good move for me," said Eichel. "I know that everyone who knows him well says great things about him. I haven't heard a bad thing about the guy. The way he offered his house to me shows what kind of person he is. He's a really generous guy, a good guy to be around."

Moulson and his wife Alicia took to liking the Buffalo area in the short time they were here before the trade to Minnesota, to the point where Alicia stayed behind with their two children during his rental status with the Wild. When Sabres GM Tim Murray came calling about him signing in Buffalo, Moulson was said to be thrilled while being sure to mention that the Sabres were first on his list.

Things have come full circle for the North York Ontario native. After traversing the continent playing on both coasts Moulson and his family get to settle in to a city just an hour from where he was born and less than three hours from where he went to college. In New York he mentored and played on a wing with a top-overall pick in Tavares while in Buffalo he'll be mentoring a young top-two pick in Eichel. He played on a line with Tavares in New York and he started out the preseason playing on a line with Eichel at Minnesota, the team he left to sign with Buffalo.

Eichel and Moulson had Zemgus Girgensons at right wing, a player who's flexibility allowed for the trio to be the most explosive line on the ice that night.

There will be few certainties with the lineup this season as Eichel will probably take over the No. 1 center spot by the time snow starts falling. Head coach Dan Bylsma will then need to do some juggling afterwards and dependent upon how 2014 second-overall pick Sam Reinhart acclimates to the NHL, Moulson could be mentoring yet another top-two center.

Whether he does it on the second line or third line, whether it's with Eichel, Reinhart or even his center from last year, Girgensons, there's plenty of skill down the middle to get Moulson the puck where he's at his best--in the paint.

Perhaps we'll see yet another 30-goal-season out of Moulson.

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