Tuesday, August 30, 2016

On Robin Lehner, Tyler Ennis and Gustav Possler

Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner opted out of the inaugural World Cup of Hockey this season by telling Team Sweden that he won't be joining them for the tournament that begins less than three weeks from today.

With an extremely slow summer for news outside the world of Jimmy Vesey, various media outlets jumped on the story from various angles with some going as far as to imply that Lehner had an injury. CBSSports.com's Fantasy Hockey page, citing a Renaud Lavoie report, began it's piece by saying "Lehner is dealing with an undisclosed injury" while stating in the next paragraph that their not sure whether it's "a new injury or one related to the high-ankle sprain" Lehner dealt with all last season.
In it's lead paragraph for the piece, the Associated Press said that "Sweden replaced him on its World Cup of Hockey,"
And the Ottawa Sun's Ken Warren injected some NY Post-style sensationalism calling Lehner's career "never-ending soap opera" as he proceeded to state that "the slow recovery is troublesome for the Sabres," while having Murray "trying to put out any fires" concerning Lehner before prodding  his audience to "Stay tuned. Life with Lehner is never boring."

An official statement from Sabres GM Tim Murray reads like this:

"As Robin continues to progress during the offseason in his rehab from last season's ankle injury, he felt that it was best to withdraw from Team Sweden for the upcoming World Cup. Robin felt it was important to continue his rehab in Buffalo to prepare for training camp. He has been working out both on and off the ice and we look forward to seeing him on the ice with our team next month."

Lehner suffered a high-ankle sprain in the second period of last seasons opener for Buffalo. He came back from the injury in January then was shelved prior to undergoing surgery in March. Team Sweden coach Rikard Gronborg, in a statement released by the Swedish Ice Hockey Association said, "We really wanted to give Robin the opportunity to recover from his injury from last year, but unfortunately it wasn't enough time for him to feel 100 per cent recovered."
The fact that Lehner is not hitting the competitive ice while feeling less than 100% is a good thing for the Sabres and the fact that he's in Buffalo rehabbing is also a good thing. Because he's rehabbing in Buffalo, and thanks to "a goalie dad friend" of Chris "Bulldog" Parker, we have some video of him working out "in case [the word] 'injured' scared you" according to Bulldog's tweet.
Speaking of injuries, Sabres forward Tyler Ennis is no stranger to them having suffered two concussions last season that left him in a "dark place."
Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal caught up with the Edmonton native after a 3-on-3 pro camp skate and Ennis talked about a rather difficult 2015-16. "Lots of ups and downs," the 5'9" 169 lb. center told Matheson. "Some dark times."
Ennis had a scary go of it while recovering from his concussions stating that there were times when he needed people to drive him about town to run errands and/or shuttle him to the rink. Ennis was finally able to get in some practices at the end of last season saying of the recovery process that he “went through a lot of different emotions, a lot of ups and downs,” Ennis said in April at First Niagara Center (via Jon Vogl of The Buffalo News.) “There’s days where you feel great, and there’s days where it’s tough. To say I wasn’t scared at some point would probably be a lie, but I feel so good right now. I feel great. I feel 100 percent."
Although there were two games remaining in the season, Ennis never hit the ice and continued his recovery this summer to the point where he told Matheson last week, "now I feel better than 100%. I've had a lot of time to heal, a long summer of training."
Now that he's healthy, word is that the diminutive forward might be on the trade-block. Again.

Ennis, the longest-tenured Sabre, is the player now being mentioned in the rumor-du jour featuring Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler and he's fully cognizant of what's going on around him. That  includes the mass turnover the team has went through, his lack of a no-trade clause and the fact that Murray is not afraid to make a move, no matter how big or small, if he believes it will help his team. "Yeah, he's kind of a gun-slinger," laughed Ennis.
According to Matheson, Ennis said that "it's the first time he's heard of trade talk." And while acknowledging the possibility, Ennis continued saying "most players play on more than one team but my plan is to stay in Buffalo forever. It feels like home and I feel we're close to winning."
Buffalo made huge strides last season and head coach Dan Bylsma said he expects them to take the next step this season with a 95-point effort, which should get them into the playoffs. The aforementioned Lehner will be a big part of that as will a healthy and productive Ennis. The defense, although not ideal, may have enough parts to hold the fort in lieu of a trade. Last year's defense helped the Sabres to the 16th-best goals-against average (2.62) and already received a jolt of veteran defensive acumen when Murray acquired Dmitry Kulikov from the Florida Panthers.
 In this blogger's eyes, Ennis will get the first crack at playing left wing on a line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart or even Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo. He has the speed, skill and vision to keep up with either of those pairings and could be a valuable contributor provided he can ditch the east-west, dangle tendencies that were a huge part of his repertoire last season before he was concussed. There's a gaping hole in the top-six thanks to a sub-par season from LW, Matt Moulson, and inconsistent season from Zemgus Girgensons as well as the Vesey flight for the Big Apple.
With a Sabres offence that finished 25th in the league having a three-time 20-goal scorer in the top-six certainly couldn't hurt. Which makes me wonder why there's all of this speculation about Murray trading a that for a defenseman.
Buffalo Sabres left wing propsect Gustav Possler recently went from a relegated MODO team to Djurgårdens Hockey in the Swedish Elite League then proceeded to sign a two-year contract with his new club. The former 2013 5th-round draft pick hit Sabres Development Camp the year of his draft, but has remained overseas ever since leaving many to wonder just what his status is. Last year he opted to stay in Sweden during Development Camp to focus on the 2015-16 season with MODO and this year nothing was heard as he stuck in the homeland to ready himself for his new team.
Since being drafted by Buffalo, Possler's road has been full of trials and tribulations beginning with a knee injury he suffered in the season after the Sabres plucked him with the 130th-overall pick. Possler started out the 2013-14 season extremely well with 15 points (8+7) in 22 games for MODO before the injury that kept him out the remainder of the season. He began 2014-15 with lingering issues and played on a poor MODO team that barely escaped relegation  (thanks in large part to fellow Sabres prospect--goalie Linus Ullmark.)

This year, after another middling season and with MODO being relegated, he made the switch to Djurgardens to begin anew. "I felt I was looking to develop even more and Djurgården has something going on and have had it for a while now," said Possler in a Djurgarden Hockey release (loosely translated.) "It is a team that plays with a lot of speed and applies a lot of pressure and I fit well into such a system."

Possler has slowly been maturing as a player. He was drafted as skilled shooter with a quick first step and a shoot-first mentality but since the injury he has been rounding out his game. In a March interview with Dala Demokraten's Martin Wik and Adam Johansson, Sabres European scout Fredrik Andersson said that Possler's been developing in that mode saying, "he has become a different type of player. He may not have the same bite in skating now as he had then, but he does a very good job short-handed, he works hard, is a good team player and blocking shots and is on the way, very useful for MODO."

Maybe that role will change back as Possler's with a team that has plenty of speed to open up more ice giving him more of an opportunity to snipe.

Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com is always on the scene when it comes to the youngins and twice within a week's span he's posted videos of Possler goals.

Possler remains an intriguing prospect for Buffalo as their left side is pretty weak at this juncture. He has a long road in front of him whether we ever see him in the Blue and Gold might be totally out of the team's hands. Some players prefer to stay in their homeland and it's possible that Possler may choose do so.

Regardless of what may transpire one or two years down the road, he may be worth keeping an eye on this year.


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