Monday, October 5, 2015

Building the 2015-16 Buffalo Sabres roster--The reserves

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres entered camp this year with 60 players on their training camp roster. In just over two weeks and with seven preseason games they’ve whittled the roster down to 29 players after Jason Akeson was assigned to Rochester yesterday. A couple more moves will need to be made to get down to the final 23-man roster by 5pm Tuesday.
Four players presently on the roster—F, Cody McCormick, D, Zach Bogosian and Bobby Sanguinetti and G, Linus Ullmark--are all injured and will miss the start of the season with two being of the longer-term variety. McCormick has not been cleared due to a blood clot issue while Ullmark underwent double hip surgery in April and is slated to return to the ice some time next month. Sanguinetti hasn't been on the ice since the first day of training camp and Bogosian was listed as week-to-week late last week. Head coach Dan Bylsma said that "[Bogosian] is working out and doing off ice workouts and progressing well. We don't have a time table for him to return to get on the skates."
Of the two move the Sabres need to make, the easiest one will be waiving veteran center Cal O'Reilly. The older brother of Buffalo center Ryan O'Reilly, Cal played for the Utica Comets (VAN) of the AHL last year was brought in to fortify the Amerks roster for this season.
That leaves the reserve forward spot for another veteran, David Legwand.

The 35 yr. old Legwand came to Buffalo in the draft-day trade that netted goalie Robin Lehner from the Ottawa Senators and was a condition of the deal. If Sabres GM Tim Murray wanted Lehner, Legwand and his $3.5M salary had to be included in the deal.
Legwand is a former 2nd-overall pick (1998) of the Nashville Predators and he's logged over 1,000 NHL games total scoring 223 goals and adding 381 assists for a total of 604 points. He started his career with Nashville playing his first NHL game during the 1998-99 season and spent 15 seasons there before being traded to the Detroit Red Wings at the 2014 traded deadline. When Legwand left he was the Preds leader in all offensive categories as well as games played (956.)
While with Detroit Legwand conituned what would end up being his second-best statistical season as  he finished with 61 points. He was held scoreless in five playoff games, however, and at the end of the season he was not offered a contract. The Sens signed him to a one-year deal and he produced marginal numbers with nine goals and 18 assists in 80 games while going scoreless again in three playoff games.
Many have seen Legwand in the starting lineup opening night because he brings "veteran leadership" to the ice. Perhaps he should be looked at as the answer to "who's coming out to make room for Johan Larsson?"
Defense is a bit trickier and the injuries that have hit the blueline leads one to believe that the Sabres will keep two in reserve. Buffalo had been hit hard by the injury bug during the preseason but two regulars will be in the lineup opening night. Rasmus Ristolainen returned to action last week while Josh Gorges says he's ready to hit the ice on Thursday for opening night.
Having Bogosian sidelined opens up the door for veteran Carlo Colaiacovo to step into the top six on Thursday.
The 32 yr. old Colaiacovo is a former 1st round pick of his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs (2001, 17th overall) but has been a nomad since being traded to the St. Louis Blues in November, 2008. He spent four fairly productive seasons in St. Louis before signing a two-year deal with the Red Wings. A shoulder injury in the second game of the lockout shortened 2012-13 season limited him to only six games for Detroit and at the end of the season he was a compliance buyout.
St. Louis brought him back on a one-year deal but he played in only 25 regular season games mainly due to injury once again. The injury prone Colaiacovo, ironically enough, was signed by the Philadelphia Flyers on October 30, 2014 due to a rash of injuries that hit their blueline. Young stud Shane Gostisbehere had been in the lineup playing well but the Flyers wanted him developing in the AHL so on came Colaiacovo. He had a good season in Philly, but went unsigned at the end and Murray picked him up this off season.
With Colaiacovo moving into the top-six on the blueline, three players are looking to fill the final two roster spots and one would think that the odd man out is Matt Donovan.
The 25 yr. old Donovan had spent his brief hockey career with the NY Islanders after they drafted him with the 96th pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He had three solid seasons with their AHL affiliate, Bridgeport Sound, scoring 98 points (25+73) in 153 games including tying Justin Schultz (EDM) for the league lead in points by a defenseman (48) during the 2012-13 season.
When Donovan hit the ice for an April 3, 2012 game against the NJ Devils he became the first Oklahoman to skate in an NHL game. He played in three games that season then appeared in 52 the next season for the Islanders. Last year the team kept him with the big club in a reserve role and he ended up hitting the ice for only 12 regular season games. The Islanders declined to give him a qualifying offer and the Sabres picked him up.
Donovan was somewhat of a long-shot to make the opening night roster to begin with and even with injuries, two players who represent the future of the Sabres blueline may have beat him during camp. Even though he'll need to clear waivers, it appeared as if he was signed for duty in Rochester while being a first call-up for the organization.
Even though soon to be 22 yr. old Jake McCabe made plenty of mistakes befitting his youthful status, he's done enough things right and has progressed methodically enough to the point where a good taste of the big club until Bogosian gets back would enhance his development.
McCabe makes mistakes like any young defender but has shown the propensity to bounce back from them rather quickly. He's a smart player with enough beef to rattle some bones and enough skill to produce. Time is his friend right now and one more year of seasoning in Rochester should make him a lock for next seasons roster. Until then it will be a matter of honing his skills and adapting to an even faster pace this season.
Defenseman Brendan Guhle was a revelation during training camp, so much so that he easily answered the question of why Murray signed him to an entry-level deal so soon after drafting him.
Guhle was the 51st overall pick at June's draft and he's been getting rave reviews from Bylsma for his exceptional camp. “For kind of a quiet, unassuming kid, he’s shown a lot of confidence in how he can play,” Bylsma said before the Sabres second preseason game vs. Ottawa. “He’s shown a lot of compete against NHL players."
Those were just the intangibles, but what gives Guhle that confidence is his top-notch, NHL-ready skating. "His skating and ability has been shown pretty well against NHL players," said Bylsma. "You see him in the summer time and in rookie development, then you see him against NHL competition...the Buffalo Sabres aren't the only people saying right now, 'That's a late second-round pick' and being surprised about it."
Guhle's also shown that he's a pretty tough customer. During a game against Toronto, veteran Leafs d-man Dion Phaneuf leveled him at the Sabres blueline with a textbook, noggin'-rattling check. Guhle didn't return to the game for what Bylsma described as precautionary reasons and concussion tests came back negative.
He's still day to day but it would seem as if he'll be ready to start the season.
With the way Murray quickly signed Guhle and with the impression the young defenseman made throughout camp a one game reward and a little taste of regular season NHL action would be apropos before he spends one more season with Prince Albert of the WHL. Perhaps a Saturday matinee against a fast-skating Tampa Bay Lightning team would work in this situation.
Although I'm a big fan of "leadership," Gorges, Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta, the three captains from last season, should be plenty and besides, young players like Ristolainen, Zemgus Girgensons, and Mark Pysyk are mature enough to go without the additional leadership a player like Cal O'Reilly or even Donovan might bring to the table.
Murray has said there will be an influx of two-three young players per season in the near-term and it's time to get the ball rolling.

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