Monday, May 30, 2016

Of the Sabres World Cup "snub(s)"

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres landed three players on the recently announced final World Cup rosters which is pretty good for a team that just emerged from two consecutive last place finishes. Center Jack Eichel was a shoe-in for Team North America and it came as no surprise that Team Finland added defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to it's roster. Sabres goalie Robin Lehner was one of seven players Team Sweden added and he'll be part of a goaltending trio featuring Henrik Lundqvist (NYR) and Jakob Markstrom (VAN.)

It comes as no surprise that Team Canada will be headed to the September 17-October 1 event in Toronto with a star-studded roster featuring some of the best the NHL has to offer. On a younger scale Team North America boasts a roster of burgeoning stars under the age of 23 lead by three franchise players who are still teenagers. And it was these two squads that would leave off a couple of Sabres players that made a strong case to make the World Cup.

Buffalo center Ryan O'Reilly just helped Team Canada to their second consecutive gold medal at the IIHF World Championships in Russia. The two-way center known for his faceoff acumen was an assistant captain for the Canadians and contributed eight points (2+6) in 10 games, was a plus-10, and took nearly every important draw during the tournament, especially in the medal rounds.

As a defensive cog playing a two-way, second-line role, O'Reilly held the fort while the likes of Edmonton's Taylor Hall (6 goals,) Colorado's Matt Duchene (5) and the NY Rangers' Derick Brassard (5) lead Team Canada to a tournament-high 46 goals in 10 games. On the defensive side, the Canadians were second to Team Finland in goals-against giving up only 11 for the tournament while the penalty kill, which O'Reilly helped anchor, allowed only two goals on 29 powerplay opportunities against for a 93.1% kill-rate.

Over the past season, Sabres fans have come to love exactly that from O'Reilly. He's a rock-solid, hard-working leader and consummate professional with one of the best two-way games in the league whose greatest attributes often don't show up on the scoresheet. That said, he also lead all Sabres in points (60) and assists (39) and placed third in goals (21) while missing 11 games due to injury.

Were O'Reilly from another country or under 23, he'd be on a World Cup roster, but he was left off of Team Canada's and there's no shame in that. From Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, to Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Jamie Benn to Patrice Bergeron and Joe Thornton, there just wasn't enough room for him. One could make the argument that O'Reilly could have supplanted LA Kings winger Jeff Carter, but he's a scorer with two Cup rings. Since Duchene was ahead of O'Reilly on the depth chart when the two of them played in Colorado, there really was no room for the two-way play of O'Reilly on a Canadian team that's built to be a scoring machine. In fact, Canada has amassed so much firepower they didn't even have enough room for Hall.

A greater "snub-case" can be made for 20 yr. old Sabres forward Sam Reinhart who was second on the Sabres in goals (23,) third in points (42) and was also a part of the Canadian World's gold medal team. Those 23 goals were fourth amongst rookies while his point total placed him eighth. Reinhart also has been on four gold medal winning international teams and one bronze team for Canada. He was named to the 2015 World Junior All-Star team after leading Connor McDavid and the rest Canadians to the gold medal in a highly regarded performance that outshone the 2015 first-overall pick.

Reinhart's professional game grew by leaps and bounds this season but unfortunately for him, his understated play and solid if not spectacular contributions were overshadowed by players like Eichel and O'Reilly on the Sabres. Being out of the national spotlight on a bottom-third team hampered his visibility, especially when the two main players in Team North America's final roster were co-GM's Peter Chiarelli and Stan Bowman who happen to reside with teams in Edmonton and Chicago, respectively, both in the Western Conference.

Some questionable additions instead of Reinhart would be the Oilers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins whose 34 points were a career-low outside the 24 he scored in the lockout-shortenened 2012 season. Philadelphia center Sean Couturier has been in a bottom-six role for the Flyers ever since they acquired him and it took the Rangers' JT Miller four seasons to have a breakout year of 43 points.

That said, there were other rather curious omissions in addition to Reinhart.  St. Louis' Robby Fabbri and Montreal's Alex Galchenyuk were also excluded from Team North America so Reinhart shouldn't feel too special.

One could say that it's a good thing that talent like the above mentioned couldn't make the team meaning  that the North Americans will have a pretty strong roster heading into the tournament and up-top they'll have three of the best prospects to hit the NHL since Crosby--McDavid, Eichel and Auston Matthews, the presumed first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

As for the Sabres, despite the "snubs" one could say that they did well to have three players picked considering they were on a team that has just begun to climb out of a last place. More would've been nice, especially after the strong years players like O'Reilly and Reinhart had but individually and as a team the Sabres' roster has a ways to go.

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