Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray traded for young vets like Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly for a number of reasons. First, they were very talented players who were available, the Sabres had the goods to make the deals and Murray wasn't afraid to pull the trigger. In going after those two (and goalie Robin Lehner as well,) Murray stated often that he didn't want to be atop the draft every year and that he felt players like Kane and O'Reilly would speed up the rebuild.
In addition to that, especially in the case of O'Reilly as the team's No. 1 center, the most important aspect may have been that these young vets could act as a shield while allowing rookies like Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart the opportunity to grow into their roles. O'Reilly lead all NHL forwards in average time on ice with 21:44 while Kane was second at 21:02, both of them taking all the heat that the opposition's best players could through at them.
Murray's plan, executed by head coach Dan Bylsma and his coaching staff, worked to a "T" as O'Reilly, Eichel, Reinhart and Kane occupied four of the top five scoring spots on the team. O'Reilly topped 60 points for the second time in his career while his team-leading 39 assists was a career best. Eichel's 24 goals lead the team in scoring, the first time a Sabres rookie had done that since, according to Sabres PR, the 1987-88 season (Ray Sheppard.) Despite missing 17 games due to injury, Kane finished fifth on the team with 35 points (20g + 15a.)
But perhaps the biggest surprise of the season came from the stick of Reinhart.
Reinhart was drafted as a playmaking center but found himself on the wing with the Sabres this year while also being placed in front of the net on the powerplay. His 42 points on the season was a very strong showing but if someone back in 2014 (his draft year) were shown 19 and 23 as the make-up of that stat, one would have assumed the larger number to be assists.
Not so. Reinhart finished second behind Eichel in goals with 23 and tied for the team lead with eight powerplay goals. After starting out the year slow, Reinhart picked up steam and consistently showed the ability to put the puck in the net. He still displayed world-class hockey sense with some nifty passing that lead to many assists, which was his forte, but his goal-scoring touch proved to be a revelation.
It was a tribute to his work-ethic as he and O'Reilly spent time after practice working on various aspects of his game as mentioned often by the Sabres' beat reporters. WGR550's Paul Hamilton, The Buffalo News' Jon Vogl and Mike Harrington, Sabres.com's Jourdan LaBarber and The Olean Times' Bill Hoppe, whom I'd like to thank for their efforts and for their insight which added much to my blogs this year, all said the same thing, that O'Reilly's leadership was on display in after-practices workouts with a very hungry Reinhart.
By and large, most of those who follow the Sabres will tell you that O'Reilly is the team MVP. Those outside Sabreland will state the obvious, that he lead the league in ATOI and lead the team in scoring, but his contributions to the success of the team, as stated partially above, goes way beyond that.
Shortly after the trade from the Avalanche, O'Reilly expressed his desire to be put in a position to lead by example on a young Sabres team. Here's how he put it. "I think in the past with Colorado I wasn’t really looked at as much of a leader. I've always wanted to be a big piece like that, have that leadership role and be seen as that by the management," he said at the time of the trade. "It's another area to grow my game. If I can do that and transfer what I know and still at the same time learn new things, it's only going to benefit the team and benefit myself. It's a huge step that I can't wait to get started with."
The top-five in scoring this season was rounded out by defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, the 21 yr. old "angry Finn," as Bylsma put it, who skated as the team's No. 1 defenseman all year. He lead the team in ATOI with 25:16 which placed him 10th in the league. He was fourth on the team in scoring with 41 points, tied for second with 32 assists and lead the team with 17 powerplay assists. Ristolainen was also the only Sabre to appear in all 82 games this season.
O'Reilly, Eichel, Kane, Reinhart and Ristolainen give the Sabres a strong nucleus moving forward while Murray and Bylsma will be looking to fill the holes around those five. Secondary scoring should be an area of focus as Jamie McGinn finished fifth in goals scored on the Sabres with 14 despite being traded to Anaheim at the trade deadline. McGinn played 63 games for Buffalo, and 20 for the Ducks finishing with 22 goals between the two clubs.
The only other Sabres to hit double-digits in goals were Brian Gionta (12,) Johan Larsson (10) and Marcus Foligno (10.) Of note, those three constituted the Sabres best, most consistent line for the last eight weeks of the season.
We all know plus/minus is a funny stat, but kudos to rookie defenseman Jake McCabe for leading the team with a plus-6 on the season. McCabe had been paired with young-veteran Zach Bogosian for most of the season and the two became a formidable second pairing for the club. They were especially strong in March and April where they went a combined plus-15 to finish the season.
On the downside, Ristolainen, O'Reilly, Eichel and Kane occupied the bottom portion of the plus/minus stat with much of their negative attributed to empty-netters being scored while they were on the ice. Nicolas Deslauriers, who finished minus-14 on the season, was also in that bottom-five grouping.
Big props to goalie Chad Johnson for a strong season, one that might see him leave Buffalo in his quest to be a starting goalie somewhere. Johnson came up with numerous highlight reel saves while on his way to a career-best 22 wins and a .920 save percentage that was second only to his time in Boston when a stingy 2013-14 Bruins defense finished second in the league in team goals-against (2.09/gm.)
And finally, props to captain Brian Gionta who fittingly scored two goals, including the overtime winner, last night it the season finale. Gionta finished the season just outside the top-five in goals (12) and had a fourth-best 21 assists for the Sabres. The 37 yr. old was the driving force for the above mentioned line as he helped Foligno and Larsson reach career highs in goals. Of Gionta's 21 assists, 15 were primary, easily the best ratio on the team.
Buffalo Sabres Individual Stats--Final Totals (top-five, minimum 50 games played):
--October: Ryan O'Reilly, 12; Tyler Ennis, Matt Moulson, Rasmus Ristolainen, Cody Franson, 5
--November: Ristolainen, 9; Jack Eichel, 8; O'Reilly, 6
--December: Evander Kane, O'Reilly, 14; Eichel, Ristolainen, 11
--January: Eichel, 11; O'Reilly, 7; Kane, Ristolainen, 6
--February: O'Reilly, 9; Sam Reinhart, 8; Eichel, Kane, 7
--March: Reinhart, 12; Eichel, 10; Kane, Brian Gionta, Zach Bogosian, 9
--Final: O'Reilly, 60; Eichel, 56; Reinhart 42; Ristolainen, 41; Kane 35
--October: O'Reilly, Eichel, 4; Ennis, Moulson, 3
--November: Reinhart, 5; Eichel, O'Reilly, 4
--December: O'Reilly, 7; Kane, 6; Jamie McGinn, 4
--January: Eichel, 5; Reinhart, 4; Kane 3
--February: Kane, Reinhart, 6; McGinn, Marcus Foligno, 4
--March: Eichel, Larsson, 6; Reinhart, 4
--Final: Eichel, 24; Reinhart, 23; O'Reilly, 21; Kane, 20; McGinn, 14
--October: O'Reilly, 3; Eichel, Ennis, 2
--November: Reinhart, 2; Eichel, O'Reilly, McGinn, Ristolainen, 1
--December: O'Reilly, Ristolainen, 2; Kane, Zemgus Girgensons, McGinn, 1
--January: Eichel, 3; Reinhart, 2; Kane, O'Reilly, McGinn, Franson, 1
--February: McGinn, Reinhart, 2; Gionta, Bogosian, 1
--March: Eichel, Bogosian, 2; Four with 1
--Final: Eichel, O'Reilly, Reinhart, 8; McGinn, 6; Ristolainen, 4
--October: O'Reilly, 9; Franson, 5; Marcus Foligno, Ristolainen, 4
--November: Ristolainen, 6; Ennis, 5; Eichel, Moulson, David Legwand, 4
--December: Eichel, Ristolainen, 8; O'Reilly, 7
--January: Eichel, 6; O'Reilly, Ristolainen, 5
--February: O'Reilly, 9; Eichel, 6; Girgensons, Ristolainen, 4
--March: Reinhart, 8; Gionta, 7; Kane, O'Reilly, Bogosian, 6
--Final: O'Reilly, 39; Eichel, Ristolainen, 32; Gionta, 21; Reinhart, 19
--October: O'Reilly, 5; Foligno, Reinhart, Franson, 3
--November: Ristolainen, 4; Moulson, 3; Eichel, O'Reilly, Legwand, Franson, 2
--December: Eichel, 7; O'Reilly, 5; Reinhart, Ristolainen, 3
--January: Eichel, 5; Ristolainen, 4; Brian Gionta, 2
--February: O'Reilly, 5; Girgensons, Ristolainen, Pysyk, 3
--March: Gionta, 7; Reinhart, 5; Kane, O'Reilly, 4
--Final: O'Reilly, 23; Eichel, 22; Ristolainen, Gionta, 15; Reinhart, 12
--October: O'Reilly 4, Franson, 3 Kane, Gionta, Foligno, Ristolainen, 2
--November: Franson, 3; Ennis, 2; Eichel, O'Reilly, Moulson, Gionta, Legwand, Ristolainen, 1
--December: O'Reilly, Ristolainen, 3; seven players with one each
--January: Eichel, Ristolainen, 4; O'Reilly, 2
--February: Eichel, Ristolainen, 3; O'Reilly, 2
--March: Ristolainen, 3; Eichel, O'Reilly, Larsson, 2
--Final: Ristolainen, 17; O'Reilly, 14; Eichel, 13; Franson, 6; Moulson, Gionta, 5
--October: Moulson, Reinhart, Johan Larsson, Tim Schaller, Girgensons, 0
--November: Legwand, Josh Gorges, +4; McGinn, Foligno, Carlo Colaiacovo, +3
--December: Mike Weber, +5, Cody Franson, +4; McGinn, +2
--January: Moulson, Schaller +2; Gorges, Weber, +1
--February: McCabe, +4; Gionta, Foligno, +3
--March: Foligno, +8; Jake McCabe, +7; Gionta, Larsson, Bogosian, +3
--Final: McCabe, +6; Foligno, +4; Giorgensons, 0; Pysyk, -1; Larsson, Legwand, -4
--October: McGinn, Eichel, -6; Kane, Ristolainen, Franson, -5
--November: Ennis, -6; Larsson, -3; Girgensons, Brian Gionta, Zach Bogosian, Jake McCabe, -1
--December: Gorges, -5; Nic Deslauriers, Bogosian, Colaiacovo, -4
--January: O'Reilly, -14; McGinn, -10; Bogosian, -9
--February: Eichel, Moulson, Deslauriers, -4; Ristolainen, -3
--March: O'Reilly, Colaiacovo, -3; Moulson, Daniel Catenacci, Ristolainen, Gorges, -2
--Final: Ristolainen, -21; O'Reilly, Eichel, -16; Deslauriers, Kane, -14
Goalies (year to date)
--October: 0-0-0; 2.18 gaa; .917 sv.%; 0 shutouts (note: was injured in game-one)
--November: injured, no games played
--December: injured, no games played
--January: 1-3-0; 2.26; .936; 0
--February: 4-7-2; 2.32; .931; 1
--March: 5-9-5; 2.47; .924; 1
--Final: 5-9-5; 2.47; .924; 1
--October: 3-6-0; 3.16; .881; 0 shutouts
--November: 6-7-1; 2.37; .913; 0
--December: 10-10-2; 2.41; .917; 1
--January: 12-13-3; 2.45; .917; 1
--February: 14-14-3; 2.45; .917; 1
--March: 20-16-5; 2.38; .919; 1
--Final: 22-16-4; 2.36; .920; 1
--October: 1-1-0; 2.55; .911; 0 shutouts
--November: 4-5-1; 2.50; .916; 0
--December: 5-9-2; 2.56; .914; 0
--January: 7-10-2; 2.58; .915; 0
--February: no NHL games
--March: no NHL games
--Final: 8-10-2; 2.60; .913; 0
--Final: 0-1-0; 4.00; .867; 0