Monday, December 26, 2016

Merry Christmas everyone. Some quick hits on the forward group.

Published by hockeybuzz, 12-25-2016

Merry Christmas everyone.

With very little time between Sabres games, today's as good a day as any to take a look at individual players from the forward group with the NHL on it's Christmas break. After 33 games Buffalo has a 12-13-8 record but with an 0-2-2 slide in their last four, instead of grinding up in the standings, the Sabres find themselves at the bottom of the division and conference.

Here are some quick hits on each player for the Sabres.

Jack Eichel--Came back as a force after missing the first 21 games of the season. His presence opened up the ice for everyone and his eight points (5g+3a) in seven games lead the Sabres to a 4-2-1 record. Eichel is not 100%, and probably won't be for the rest of the season due to high ankle sprain injury. At this point he's carrying the weight of the entire franchise while also trying to figure out why head coach Dan Bylsma does the things he does concerning himself and the team.

Kyle Okposo--The cool part about Okposo is that he can produce in a run and gun or dump and chase offense. He's very quick to the puck and is pretty fast for a 6'1" 218 lb winger while also displaying great stickwork and exceptional hockey sense. Until Rasmus Ristolainen made a run, Okposo had been leading the Sabres in points while his powerplay acumen has the team ranked fourth in the league (22.3%) with the man advantage. Like the rest of the team, there was, is and still are major adjustments to be made, but he's been one of the most consistent forwards on the team.

Ryan O'Reilly--Another one who may not be 100% due to lingering problems. Suffered back spasms in preseason then had a go at it before the team shut him down to fully recoup. Is no where near the force he was last season as he carried the team while they all got acquainted with each other and their new coach. Bylsma had to keep O'Reilly off the ice to allow his body to heal, but by the looks of it, a healing may not fully happen until the off season. However, O'Reilly does have his moments.

San Reinhart--There are and always will be comparisons to the other forwards in his 2014 draft class and one would think that something like that is relevant only outside KeyBank Center. Reinhart is quietly on a pace to eclipse his point total from last season, but detractors point to his failing to fully take charge when Eichel was out making the 21 yr. old supposedly unworthy of a second-overall pick. He's a cog in the wheel, but well into his sophomore season Reinhart may not be as big a cog as some would've hoped and/or expected him to be. That said, with Jack back, Sam's picked up his game.

Evander Kane--Has had a Jekyll and Hyde season thus far. Here's yet another one who was injured as he spent 11 games on IR recovering from broke ribs suffered in the season opener. His first 10 games back were forgetful but he's really picked things up since. We're still getting a feel for Kane on the ice, well into his second season in Buffalo, and we've seen both good and bad. Kane's a Leo which means he needs a lot of attention and needs to be in charge. Those Leonic tendencies haven't meshed well in certain situations (see Eichel as a linemate) but when he's on his game he's a force. Is required by the court system to stay out of trouble for six months, but common sense says that if he  stays out of trouble for the rest of career, he could have a good one.

Marcus Foligno--Probably playing some of the best hockey of his career right now. The strapping 6'3" 228 lb. winger has been playing up and down the lineup and is on pace to slightly exceed his career highs set last season. Unfortunately those career highs of 10 goals and 13 assists really only point to a third-liner at best but because of a hole on the wing the Sabres have him in the top-six. In an ideal world he'd be putting up those numbers on the fourth line, wreaking havoc on the oppositon with a gritty, bare-knuckles game. However, as of right now, both he and the team are not quite there yet.

Brian Gionta--The Sabres' captain keeps on keepin' on and has been a pleasant surprise. Gionta has not been putting up age-defying numbers, although seven goals and seven assists through 33 games is solid for almost any 37 yr. old not named Jagr. He has been doing quite well in keeping up with the speed of the game by using veteran savvy and while still pretty fast for his age he uses his vast experience to almost never find himself out of the play. Although his role as captain may come to an end this summer along with his contract, at this point in the season he's done enough to land a short-term deal with the Sabres if he wants to continue playing.

Johan Larsson--Larsson's good moments have largely outweighed his bad ones and most of the time this season he's been pretty solid. Was centering Buffalo's second line when both Eichel and Kane were out of the lineup, which is well above where he should be playing. Like with Foligno, in an ideal situation Larsson would be centering a hellish fourth line to play against for the Sabres hounding the opposition at every turn while producing points. But, Buffalo's not there yet.

Matt Moulson--Moulson entered the season a favorite whipping boy after coming off the worst season of his nine year professional career and only his prowess on the powerplay kept things from getting worse. At a cap-hit of $5 million, we should be expecting more than the one 5v5 point (a goal) that Moulson has so far this year. Ideally (yup, there's that word again) Moulson would be in the top six but he hasn't been producing so he's been moved up and down the lineup. With two and a half more years on his contract and the expansion draft on the horizon, he may not be a Sabre after this season no matter how he finishes the season.

Zemgus Girgensons--"Gus" scored his third goal of the season against the NY Islanders on Friday. Yay!!! Unfortunately he hasn't been anything close to the hard-driving player we saw two years ago. Is it him in a new system? Is it Bylsma and his system? We're still not sure. He has his moments, like when he scored against Washington on a breakaway but most of the time he either looks lost or disinterested.

Derek Grant--Grant's play at the beginning of the season was inspiring as the former Ottawa fourth-round pick looked indespensible in a fourth-line/penalty-kill role. But the enthusiasm, like his overall play, has waned. He's still on the fourth line and is still next to O'Reilly on the top PK unit, but he's still without a goal in his 69-game NHL career. The team could easily move another player into Grant's spot, like veteran Cal O'Reilly (Ryan's brother,) but for some reason he has the decision-makers under some sort of weird spell.

Nicolas Deslauriers--"D-lo" is supposed to come off as some crazed lunatic on skates rumbling up and down the ice striking fear into the opposition because you never know what's behind his deranged look. Since returning from injury he's mostly seen single-digit ice-time, has goose-eggs across the board and has played like a player that can easily be replaced.

William Carrier--Man. dude's got speed and there's no reason why he shouldn't be in the lineup every night. Bylsma was impressed by Carrier's performance earlier in the year to the point where he awarded the rookie top-six playing time. Carrier's got speed alright, but he's yet to figure out how to turn that into production at the NHL-level (one assist in his last 14 games.) That said, I don't think anyone has a problem with him learning the NHL game in a bottom-six role the rest of the season.

Nick Baptiste--The former third round pick (2013) has been tearing it up in Rochester since being sent down with 11 goals in 16 games for the Amerks. His fourteen goals in 21 games has him tied for the league lead in that category having played in seven less games. Baptiste has cooled off lately, going pointless in his last three, but management had to have taken notice and there's no reason why he shouldn't be trying to add to his two goals in 12 NHL games stat-line with a call-up. Hopefully very soon.

Tyler Ennis--Ennis wasn't exactly the hottest player on the team before he went down with a groin injury that required surgery, but his loss did create a hole in the lineup. Ennis, like Girgensons and Moulson, were team leaders in production under former bench boss Ted Nolan, but since Bylsma came aboard they've all slipped mightily. That said his return, which could be sometime in the near future, might be a blessing or a curse. If he's playing well and using his greaziness to create opportunities for himself and his linemates, great. However, if he's playing an east/west, dangle 'til a turnover type of game, the Sabres will be worse off. One would hope that upon his return he can fit into the top six and produce. His 40% shootout success rate from 2014-16 certainly wouldn't hurt either as the Sabres have been woeful in the skills competition this season losing five of six shootouts and only producing three goals on 15 attempts (20%.)

Once again, Merry Christmas everyone hope your day was filled with happiness.

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