Thursday, September 14, 2017

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster--LW, Evan Rodrigues

Published by, 9-13-2017

Evan Rodrigues
24 yrs. old
5'10" 183 lbs.
FA, 2015

Career stats:  32 games  | 5 goals  | 3 assists  |  8 points  |  -5

Forward Evan Rodrigues has been getting up to speed at the pro level for the last two seasons, mostly in Rochester. Although a tad small at 5'10" 183 lbs., the 24 yr. old native of Toronto, Canada has displayed the hockey smarts, skating and skills to make it in the NHL while his shot may keep him climbing up the ladder on the depth chart.

His versatility won't hurt either.

Coming out of Boston University in 2015, Rodrigues was known more for being Jack Eichel's wingman than anything else. In his final season at BU Rodrigues lit things up with 61 points (21+40) in 41 games, good for fourth in the nation, while playing on Eichel's left wing. It was a huge jump for Rodrigues who matched his goal output from the previous three seasons combined and had more total points as well.

However, Rodrigues is proving that he can stand on his own.

Rodrigues impressed at Sabres Development Camp in 2015 but had a slow start to his pro career as it took him 17 games to notch his first goal for the Rochester Americans. After a rough first half of the season, Rodrigues pulled it together to finish with 30 points (9+21.) He finished his rookie campaign donning the Blue and Gold for two games and scored his first goal of the season in the finale against the NY Islanders while also adding an assist.

Last season Rodrigues matched his previous Amerks point output of nine goals and 21 assists but did so in 24 less games (48) while also dropping his plus/minus rating from minus-15 to minus-2 for the season. With injuries hammering the Sabres last season, and with his play on an upward trend, Rodrigues played 30 games for the Sabres in a bottom six role scoring four goals and adding two assists while averaging 12:56 of ice-time. And he did so while playing both center and wing, sometimes within the same game. After a late-season game in Columbus where he scored a goal playing both positions, Rodrigues was asked by a reporter if it was an easy transition for him. "I've been doing it all year," he replied. "There's no real difficulty in that. You're either taking draws or you're not."

When talking with long time Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens late last season he said that Rodrigues played even better in Buffalo than he did in Rochester. "Overall," said Stevens, "I think he had an outstanding year and certainly has made a case for him to win a full-time job [in Buffalo.]"
With obvious weakness on the Sabres left side, there's a huge opportunity for Rodrigues to land a spot at left wing in Buffalo if that's where new head coach Phil Housley sees a fit for him. Housley was on The Instigators yesterday talking about versatility in his players, something GM Jason Botterill had also mentioned as well, which bodes well for a player like Rodrigues. "We're gonna move guys around," he told the hosts, "this is going to be part of the evaluation process.

"Guys are going to be in different spots," continued Housley, "we're going to find that chemistry, hopefully by that final exhibition game, where we say this is close to where we're going to be."

In looking at Rodrigues through Housley's eyes, he has a player who skates very well, has the hockey sense to get to open ice or find a teammate in open ice and has a quick and accurate shot while also showing the versatility to play wing or center. About the only thing Rodrigues doesn't have is loads of NHL experience, which he seems to have earned while working his way up the ranks in Rochester.

Rodrigues will have a good shot of landing a spot in the bottom-six in Buffalo out of camp should his progress continue. Placing him at left wing (or even center if that's how it unfolded) on the third line would be optimal projection for him heading into camp. We're not sure if he has the upside to ride shotgun on Eichel's wing but then again it shouldn't be ruled out.

Botterill came from a Pittsburgh organization that saw a number of different players excel on Sidney Crosby's wing while a noted goal-scorer like Phil Kessel did his thing on the third line.

One of the keys for the Sabres moving forward will be if he can play in a scorers role while his salary remains on the lower end of the scale like Connor Sheary and Jake Guentzel have done for the Penguins have done. Eichel's set to command a pretty hefty salary and he, along with players like Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, are set to take up a huge chunk of the salary cap in the near future. That makes a player like Rodrigues very attractive.

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Benoit Pouliot / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Evan Rodrigues / C, Johan Larsson /

D, Marco Scandella / D, Rasmus Ristolainen
D, Jake McCabe / D, Zach Bogosian

G, Robin Lehner

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