Friday, March 4, 2016

Keep an eye on at least two more Sabres for World Cup roster spots

The 2016 World Cup of Hockey preliminary rosters were announced yesterday with 16 players on each of the eight teams being locked in for the tournament that begins September 17 in Toronto, ON.

Although the tournament, which could run as late as October 1, conflicts with NHL training camps, the rosters are packed with the best that the NHL has to offer, many of whom would be minimally involved in their team's early preseason schedule.

Two Buffalo Sabres players have been selected to represent their respective countries/continents thus far--C, Jack Eichel and D, Rasmus Ristolanen.

Eichel will be on the North American team which is comprised of players under 23 yrs. of age with at target cut-off date of September 1. One only need to look at the crop of NHL rookies this year to know that the Youngstars team will be a formidable foe. Eichel will be joining the likes of fellow 2015 top-pick, phenom Connor McDavid and the No.2 rookie goal-scorer in the Detroit Red Wings', Dylan Larkin. Names like Nathan MacKinnon (COL,) Aaron Ekblad (FLA,) Johnny Gaudreau (CGY,) and Brandon Saad (CBJ) are also a part of the preliminary North American roster.

Ristolainen was tabbed to be a part of Team Finland. The Sabres defenseman is no stranger to the world stage as he scored the golden goal for Finland in overtime at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championships in Malmo, Sweden. Which fans can watch here, thanks to NHLUniverse:

Not surprisingly, Ristolainen was named the tournament's best defenseman.

Team North American GM Peter Chiarelli, who is the GM in Edmonton probably has an eye on Sabres rookie forward Sam Reinhart as an addition to his team. Chiarelli's Oilers just finished "McEichel-I" in Buffalo with Reinhart pulling off a nifty no-look pass to a streaking Cal 'OReilly for the Sabres only goal of the night. Reinhart also starred on the world stage as he and McDavid lead Team Canada to the gold medal where he tied for the tournament lead in points with 11 points (5+6)  and was named to the All-Tournament team.

In the here and now, Reinhart moved into third amongst rookie goal-scorers with 18.

WGR's Paul Hamilton mentioned another Sabres player to keep an eye on for the North American team--defenseman, Jake McCabe.

McCabe is in his first full season with the club and has been quite the surprise for Buffalo. The 22 yr. old native of Eau Claire, Wisconsin has been playing admirably in a second-pairing role for the Sabres despite many, including Hamilton, slating him for a year of seasoning in Rochester. But "he bulled his way on the roster" out of camp, according to Hamilton, and has been making his presence known all season.

There's room for both Reinhart, who I believe will be on the final NA roster, and McCabe should he continue to play as well as he's been playing. One more quick note on McCabe, he was the captain of the 2013 Team USA World Junior squad that won the gold medal that season and was named to the All-Tournament team that season. He also scored two goals in a semi-final win against Team Canada that season.

For those counting, beginning with McCabe, that's three consecutive All-Tournament players on three consecutive gold medal winning junior teams.

The Canadian roster for the 2016 World Cup, as usual, is stacked with top-notch talent like Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty and Shea Weber, amongst the many other All-Stars announced, and they'll continue to add more of the best that Canada has to offer. There are seven spots remaining on Team Canada and a boatload of talent to choose from.

Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly may have been on track to make the squad, but his recent injury may have put the kibosh on those plans. Regardless, should he continue his pace upon returning, he should at least be considered for a spot.

When looking at the World Cup preliminary rosters having at least two and possibly as many as four players (Eichel, Ristolainen, Reinhart and McCabe) participating is a good sign for the Sabres. And with all four being 22 yrs. old and younger, it shows where Buffalo's strength lies. GM Tim Murray has himself a nucleus of some of the best young players in the game. His "our time is the future" mantra is beginning to move more towards "the future is now" side of the equation and despite a roller-coaster season thus far, the future's looking pretty bright.

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