Saturday, September 29, 2018

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster--The field

Published by, 9-28-2018

The Buffalo Sabers head up to Oshawa, Ontario to take on the NY Islanders in their final preseason game.

Yes, you read that right, Oshawa, Ontario.

The city of about 160,000 is home to the Oshawa Generals of the OHL which boasts a long lineage of great players that have played for the club including Bobby Orr, Alex Delvecchio, Dave Andreychuk and Eric Lindros. Another big name, and more recent, is that of John Tavares, who was a member of the Islanders up until this off season when he signed a free agent contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Other Generals alum who were with the Islanders but have moved on are defenseman Calvin de Haan, who signed with the Carolina Hurricanes and prospect Michael del Colle, who was sent to Bridgeport (AHL.) Such was the impetus behind the 2017 planning of the game, but fans looking to see a Generals/Islanders connections will have to settle for Cal Clutterbuck.

It's and awkward situation overall but for the Sabres it's just another preseason game on the road in a different venue. The Sabres were tabbed for the Kraft Hockeyville USA game earlier this week in Clinton, NY which has a population of roughly 1,900. Buffalo played the Columbus Blue Jackets at Clinton Arena which is akin to playing a preseason game at HarborCenter save for the shorter ice and corners that were more square than an NHL rink. It might be safe to say that it was a great experience as the Sabres and Jackets brought the NHL to an intimate setting while also tapping into their early hockey roots playing in a "barn" like that.

The atmosphere should be similar at Tribute Communities Center in Oshawa tonight. Although the Center holds just over 6,000 when standing room is included, it's still a much smaller venue for an NHL team and the smaller city should make for an event similar to what took place in Clinton.

Regardless of the venue, there are 32 players that remain with the Sabers and only a few roster spots up for grabs. All but one player that is on the projected roster we began building in August are still either entrenched in the lineup or are in the mix for a couple of openings. Center Rasmus Asplund was sent to Rochester in a move that wasn't too surprising as the rookie played solid hockey but really didn't do much to separate himself from the crowd. Injuries to projected top-nine winger Conor Sheary and defenseman Zach Bogosian have opened up a couple more spots all of which will be filled by players from this group, with those just outside the top-three looking at reserve roles.

LW, Alexander Nylander

When Nylander was drafted with the eight-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, his skating and skills were never in doubt as most felt that he had possibly the best skill-set of any player in his draft class. The knock on him has always been compete and that followed him into the pros as he made the jump directly to AHL as an 18 yr. old.

That same profile followed him into camp this year although Buffalo GM Jason Botterill reminded everyone that Nylander was still only 20 yrs. old and that most players are just hitting the pro ranks at his age. We were also reminded that a preseason injury pretty much scuttled much of his 2017-18 season and heard that he was determined to make an impact at camp this year.

That he did.

He's been one of Buffalo's best forwards this preseason and with Sheary sidelinded, as of right now Nylander looks to have a spot in the top-six to lose for Thursday's opener against the Boston Bruins. Even if Sheary were healthy, Nylander looks to have had the type of camp that would put him on the roster opening night. Good for him and good for the Sabres.

F, Evan Rodrigues

Rodrigues is entering his fourth pro season after leaving Boston University and signing with the Sabres as a free agent. The versatile forward has worked his way up the pro ranks and has showed definitive year-over-year progress in both Rochester and Buffalo.

Last season was yet another step forward for Rodrigues. After suffering an injury in camp which derailed his NHL plans, Rodrigues hit Rochester for an eight-game stint and scored 10 points (5+5.) He was with Buffalo for 48 games scoring seven goals and adding 18 assists.

Sabres coach Phil Housley has a player in Rodrigues that he can play up and down the lineup at either left wing or center and will be consistent game-in, game-out. The demotion of Asplund means that Rodrigues might find himself in a two-way winger role on the third-line. Although he's played better at center, right now Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt and veteran Patrik Berglund look to be locks there which means Rodrigues could start out on the wing. And we're pretty sure he doesn't care as long as he plays.

D, Lawrence Pilut

The 22 yr. old Swedish defenseman has been making some waves at camp and has caught the eye of Housley. "I think it's just his calmness and poise with the puck," Housley told the media at practice the other day. "He attacks the game the right way. He gets into the play, he'll make those moves on the blue line. It shows the confidence he has in his abilities."

Pilut has never seen a play he wasn't ready to jump into which is the way Housley played the game. However, it looks as if Pilut may have a little more going for him on the defensive side of the equation.

The injury to Bogosian is a huge opportunity for one of the remaining defensemen still with the club and Pilut may have had the best camp thus far amongst a group that includes Nathan Beaulieu, Brendan Guhle and Brandon Hickey.

D, Nathan Beaulieu

Beaulieu has all the skating and puck-moving abilities that Housley and Co. love from their defenseman. The 17th-ovearll pick in 2011 came to Buffalo last year in a trade with the Montreal Canadians and Sabres fans were curious as to why he fell from a top-pairing spot with Shea Weber all the way to the pressbox. Last season they got a pretty good look as to why that happened.

For all the great skills and qualities Beaulieu has, he has a brain fart on the ice seemingly almost every game and it's why the 25 yr, old young vet of 284 NHL games sees himself in a battle with an undrafted rookie like Pilut who is making his North American debut this year.

F, Justin Bailey

Bailey is one of two players drafted in 2013 who hit Rochester in 2015-16. The 23 yr. old has played in 159 games AHL games and 52 NHL games making some solid progress along the way.

Drafted as a powerforward with a good scoring touch, Bailey has yet to have offensive skills translate to the NHL-level and it looks as if his ceiling is that of a bottom-six role player. He still has great size (6'4" 214 lbs) and has tremendous speed which has been on display all camp. Bailey is no longer waiver-exempt which could have put the Sabres in a very difficult position. However, a foot injury to Johan Larsson, who's considered day-to-day looks to have put that decision on hold.

F, Nicholas Baptiste

Is the second of the 2013 draft picks who was with the Amerks beginning in 2015-16. Like Bailey, Baptiste has spent the majority of his time with Rochester (157 games) while also getting a good taste of the NHL game with Buffalo (47 games.)

Baptiste also has speed and size but seems to have little more offensive acumen a higher ceiling than Bailey. However, he's yet to stand out this camp and it will be an interesting decision for Buffalo as Baptiste has also lost his waiver-exempt status.

RW, Tage Thompson

When you see a young guy like Thompson pull off a play like he did against Leafs a week ago, the wow-factor of a 6'5" 205 lb. forward who can create separation like that and finish with a wicked shot whets your appetite to see him skating in a Sabres uniform this year.

Thompson was a 2016 first-rounder (26th-overall) of the St. Louis Blues and has spent nearly the same number of games (41) in the NHL as he has in the AHL (46.) As it stands right now, Thompson is behind at least two right wingers on the club--Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo--and because of Jason Pominville's status both contractually and as a vet on the team, Thompson might only see fourth-line duty with the Sabres at this juncture.

Although it doesn't mean he's worse than a player like Pominville, it wouldn't seem as if Housley will want too many question marks heading into the season as he wants to get off to a fast start. Thompson still has waiver-exempt status and could use more seasoning in the AHL to develop consistency to his game. He's got top-six talent but right now for Buffalo there's really no need to rush him.

D, Brendan Guhle

Might be the most disappointing Sabre at camp this year. That said, perhaps expectations were a little too high for the 21 yr. old second-rounder (51st overall, 2015) entering camp as he's wowed us ever since his first camp three years ago. Guhle's skating and athleticism are top-notch, he has some excellent on-ice vision and can lay the body on people. Although he was never touted as a scorer, Guhle has been able to put up solid point totals in the AHL.

Consistency is the big issue with him at this point in his very young career. With an organization that's steadfast in proper development, the emergence of Pilut as a roster possibility to start the season and Guhle's waiver-exempt status, he could be due for another year of seasoning in the AHL with intermittent call-ups as needed.

F, Johan Larsson

Prior to his foot injury against the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this week, Larsson seemed like a bubble player. He had a rough season last year and despite coming to camp with a different attitude and a sharper focus, Larsson hasn't had an impact in a bottom-six role. Add to that his lack of speed, which most other bubble forwards have, and it looked as if he was on the way out prior to his injury.

D, Brandon Hickey

Hickey was acquired in the Hudson Fasching trade with Arizona. The Boston University product who signed with the Sabres after the trade has had a solid camp in a steady, stay-at-home defenseman role for the club. Although still raw for the pro ranks, Hickey plays the game with a lot of poise. He was a very long shot to make the club but should be a strong addition to an already strong Amerks blueline.

D, Matt Tennyson

Last year Tennyson was the beneficiary of a rash of blueline injuries in Buffalo and ended up playing in 15 games for the Sabres. Unfortunately things didn't go well for him or the team last season in Buffalo and he was sent to Rochester. This year he's behind quite a few players in the pecking order.

F, Sean Malone

It's a shame that Malone was injured as he was having an eye-brow raising camp. The 2013 sixth-rounder (159th overall) relishes his role as a checking line center that does all the dirty work and he was performing every bit the part until suffering a knee injury a week-and-a-half ago. The West Seneca, NY native will have a six week recovery time before heading to Rochester once deemed healthy.

D, Matt Hunwick

Acquired from the Penguins along with Sheary, Hunwick suffered a neck injury in camp that have some thinking that it might be career threatening for the 33 yr. old.

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Conor Sheary / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Jeff Skinner / C, Casey Mittelstadt / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Patrik Berglund / C, Rasmus Asplund / RW, Jason Pominville
LW, Scott Wilson / C, Zemgus Girgensons / RW, Vladimir Sobotka

Alexander Nylander, Evan Rodrigues, Justin Bailey

LHD, Marco Scandella / RHD, Rasmus Ristolainen
LHD, Rasmus Dahlin / RHD, Zach Bogosian
LHD, Jake McCabe / RHD, Casey Nelson

Lawrence Pilut, Nathan Beaulieu

G, Carter Hutton
G, Linus Ullmark

Friday, September 28, 2018

From Clinton to Pittsburgh, Sabres preseason rolls on

Published by, 9-26-2018

Those in attendance last night for the 2018 Kraft Hockeyville USA preseason game between Buffalo and Columbus may have left the rest of the hockey world a little envious. Clinton arena in the sleepy village of Clinton, NY, just outside of Utica, hosted the game and there was ample star power on the ice for the roughly 2,000 in attendance who won the opportunity for a seat via the lottery. For Sabres fans it would be akin to a preseason game being held at HarborCenter which seats about 1,800.

Among those skating for the Sabres in their fifth preseason game were forwards Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart, which will probably be Buffalo's top line for the season opener on October 4. Also skating up front were young guns Casey Mittelstadt and Alexander Nylander while 2018 first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin was working some magic from the Sabres blueline. The Blue Jackets had some star power of their own as forward Artemi Panarin and defensemen Seth Jones were part of a group that downed the Sabres 4-2.

Some notes on the game:

--Dahlin is one slick son-of-a-gun. Because of his incredibly fast and fluid skating ability, the 18 yr. old just seems to appear near the puck and he did so last night. He also showed some nice "bat-control" as he took a puck off the boards in mid-air and bunted it to himself to escape the forecheck. And then there was that pass where he whirled in his own zone and hit Eichel at center ice who then entered the Columbus zone with speed. Eichel beat the defender and found Reinhart for the layup.

--Once again, Eichel's speed was jaw-dropping. He hit the blueline with some speed then hit the after-burners and in three strides he was around the defenseman before sending a perfect pass to a streaking Reinhart.

--Speaking of Reinhart, he's off to a very fast start this preseason after holding out in a contract dispute. One would think that he and his agent weren't 100% pleased with the 2yr./$7.3 million contract he signed last week and it looks as if he wants to make the Sabres pay later. Good for him and good for the team if he can do that.

--Casey Nelson was Dahlin's d-partner most of the night and he had a real good game. He got Buffalo on the board early with a nice shot from a pretty tough angle. He finished the night a plus-1 and logged substantial minutes.

--Nylander got the primary assist on Nelson's goal and generally had another strong game although he did have some gaffe's, especially on the penalty kill. No worries, Sabres fans, if he does make the roster, he probably won't see any PK time.

--After some fairly lackluster efforts so far this preseason, Mittelstadt put together a real nice game and was as engaged as we've seen him all preseason. He's a tenacious player when he's on his game and when you add in his skill and smarts, he can make things extremely difficult on the opposition.

In general the defense looks much better as they're using their mobility to jump into the play and head deep into the zone. Although they still have some trouble in their own zone, they're getting better at that, especially because the forwards seem to be supporting them more. In fact, if the forwards aren't in attack mode they're doing a much better job of supporting their team mates all over the ice.

Head coach Phil Housley has said that he expects mistakes and that his team shouldn't be afraid to make them. And there have been plenty of them but that's why there's preseason. But perhaps he should modify it just a tad and force any player to the bench who makes a blind, back-hand pass to the slot in their own end.  It's Hockey-101, don't send blind passes to the slot in your own end (or anywhere, for that matter.) There's such a thing as getting too fancy and using the "I'm allowed to make mistakes" alibi.

The Sabres lost by two goals last night, the exact number of goals they were outscored on the powerplay. Buffalo went 1/1 while the Jackets went 3/3.

Tonight the Sabres "B-squad" is in Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins who loaded up on their forward ranks. Early indications have the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Patrik Hornqvist and Phil Kessel, among others, skating against Buffalo tonight.

The Sabres might be countering with a preliminary lineup like this (via

28 Zemgus Girgensons - 17 Vladimir Sobotka - 29 Jason Pominville
20 Scott Wilson - 22 Johan Larsson - 95 Justin Bailey
41 Victor Olofsson - 74 Rasmus Asplund - 72 Tage Thompson
13 Nicholas Baptiste

6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
24 Lawrence Pilut - 5 Matt Tennyson
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 27 Taylor Fedun

40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark

Of note, they originally had F, Kyle Criscuolo in the lineup on the fourth line but according to reports, he's been waived. With him out they'll also need a couple of bodies from last night to fill in.

Game time is 7 pm.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster--The Fourth Line

Published by, 9-24-2018

An injury to left winger Conor Sheary may end up affecting the opening night roster as will play from rookies up-front like Alexander Nylander, Tage Thompson and Rasmus Asplund. The roster built here thus far has a couple of rookies down the middle flanked by seasoned veterans and if that were to occur, the Sabres would have to make a difficult choices on players they'd need to expose to waivers after filling out the roster. Should Sheary miss the opener on October 4, that would open up a spot as would the probability of a waiver-exempt Asplund being sent to Rochester, which opens up another spot.

However, since the roster here has been built as such, we're going to continue to build it and lay out the fourth line.

C, Zemgus Girgensons
24 yrs. old
6'2" 211 lbs.
2012, 14th-overall (Trade-up with Calgary)

Career stats:  348 games | 44 goals | 57 assists | 101 points | -41

It's the type of move that many in Sabreland will hate simply because Girgensons has gone from a hard-working, fan-favorite who looked promising in a top-nine role to the guy who's often seen falling on the ice and missing what few opportunities he and his linemates generate. Add in that he was the guy who got tangled up with Jack Eichel the day before the 2016-17 opener which sent the superstar to IR and also that "Gus," as he's known, is the longest continuously-tenured Sabres player and has known more losing than any other player and you can understand why many want to move on from him.

Girgensons started as an 18 yr. old in the AHL, hit the Sabres the following year and was with Buffalo for both tank years. As the Sabres added talent, his stock dropped and he was found mostly in the bottom-six the past three seasons. Yet during those three years both coaches--Dan Bylsma and, now, Phil Housley--moved him around from line to line, position to position. What we've learned from it all is that Girgensons right now is best suited in a fourth line energy role with the way the team is constructed now. And he should succeed in that role while also being a part of Buffalo's penalty kill.

After being benched for two games last season, Girgensons came back and earned a promotion to the top-six, according to Housley with the coach saying, "He was just tenacious on the forecheck, really physical, demanding the puck, making the right decisions in the neutral zone and just brought a really good energy to our team,” This preseason has been a continuation of that and there's no reason to believe that he won't continue that in a fourth-line role.

Of note:  Since 2013-14, the Sabres have had 16 players score shorthanded goals and only six have scored multiple. Girgensons leads them with six shorties.

LW, Scott Wilson
26 yrs. old
5'11" 186 lbs
2011 seventh round (207th overall,) PIT
Acquired in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings, December 4, 2017

Career stats:  172 games | 19 goals | 27 assists | 46 points | -20

The Sabres were really struggling last season and despite a 6-15-4 record through the first two months, GM Jason Botterill did nothing. After watching his team look like Bantams against the Pittsburgh Penguins in back-to-back games to start December, Botterill pulled the trigger on a trade for Wilson sending a fifth round pick to the Wings for a player he knew well.

Botterill had been with Pittsburgh when they selected Wilson in 2011 out of UMASS-Lowell and watched him turn into a point/game player at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2015-16, his second AHL season. Wilson got the call to Pittsburgh that year and responded with five goals and an assist in 24 games. He played three games for the Pens in the playoffs and got his name on the Stanley Cup. The following year he played in 78 regular season games for the Pens and 20 in the playoffs and had his name etched on the Cup again.

Botterill said of Wilson when acquiring him, "Scott is a hard-working, young player that will be a great fit for our club. As a two-time Stanley Cup Champion, his experience will be an asset both on and off the ice."

Wilson signed a two-year contract extension with the Sabres and is yet another player that can move up and down the lineup. He's in Buffalo for a reason and one would have to believe he'll be in the starting lineup come October 4.

Vladimir Sobotka
31 yrs. old
5'11" 189 lbs.
2005 fifth round (106th overall,) BOS
Acquired from the St. Louis Blues, July 1, 2018

Career stats:  463 games | 47 goals | 108 assists | 155 points | -4

It's been a long journey for the 31 yr. old Sobotka, one that includes now three NHL teams and professional contracts that had him play on two different continents in the middle of his career as he bolted to the KHL after becoming a restricted free agent in 2014.

Sobotka was drafted as an excellent skating, high-energy player that could play sound defense, was proficient on the dot and could get physical. He could also score a bit and he was as advertised his first few seasons in St. Louis. When he went to the KHL, he played more of a scorer's role and upon returning to the Blues, he felt that's how he'd fit in. His versatility had him playing up and down the lineup last season and he responded with a career-high 11 goals. 

After a workout this summer Sobotka, who can play all forward spots, stopped and chatted with Viktor Maudr about the trade to Buffalo and where he expects to play. He told Maudr, "I think I don't care. I'm more involved in the game when I play center. I'm on faceoffs and also play more with the puck. On the other hand, when I play wing, I have more time and space with the puck. I don't prefer one more than the other." The discussion continued about where he'd play in the lineup and he responded, "I've come back from the KHL to confirm that I'm a guy for the second or third line. I definitely won't play on the fourth line."

Sobotka has shown well in the preseason playing in all situations, scoring a goal and adding an assist in his first outing against Pittsburgh then playing over 21 minutes at Toronto, which was tops amongst forwards that game. Buffalo could easily switch around Jason Pominville and Sobotka on the right side of the bottom-six and dependent upon how the rest of the preseason plays out (with injuries and such,) Sobotka could end up playing center. He said in the Maudr interview that he prefers the right side, but the bigger question might be how he envisions himself within this lineup and if he can accept a role that might not be to his liking.

All-in-all, no matter how the bottom-six shakes out, the three player mentioned here give the Sabres plenty of versatility at forward as they can play center or wing and/or can move up and down the lineup.

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Conor Sheary / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Jeff Skinner / C, Casey Mittelstadt / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Patrik Berglund / C, Rasmus Asplund / RW, Jason Pominville
LW, Scott Wilson / C, Zemgus Girgensons / RW, Vladimir Sobotka

LHD, Marco Scandella / RHD, Rasmus Ristolainen
LHD, Rasmus Dahlin / RHD, Zach Bogosian
LHD, Jake McCabe / RHD, Casey Nelson

G, Carter Hutton
G, Linus Ullmark

Columbus vs. Buffalo for 2018 Kraft Hockeyville in Clinton, NY

Published by, 9-25-2018

Quick. Raise your hand if you know where Clinton, NY is?

Good for you if you knew and good for the roughly 1,900 residents of the Oneida County village just outside of Utica, NY who will be hosting the 2018 Kraft Hockeyville preseason game featuring the Columbus Blue Jackets versus the Buffalo Sabres. Not only is Clinton hosting the event but they've also secured $150,000 for upgrades to their arena.

For posterity sake, Clinton beat out Brandon, SD, third place Shreveport, LA and fourth place finisher Middlebury, VT for the win.

Buffalo is just under 200 miles from Clinton, as the crow flies east on I-90. The Sabres are the home team today and according to reports from the 2,000 seat arena, fans started were chanting 'Let's Go Buffalo!' as they took the ice for the morning skate. Clinton rolled out the red carpet for the event with players signing autographs on the way in.

Also from the rink, Paul Hamilton tweeted out these lines for the Sabres:

Jeff Skinner-Jack Eichel-Sam Reinhart
Alexander Nylander-Patrik Berglund-Kyle Okposo
C.J. Smith-Casey Mittelstadt-Andrew Oglevie
Justin Bailey-Evan Rodrigues-Danny O'Regan

Some quick notes:

--Reinhart picks up where he left off after the Toronto game on Saturday. The 22 yr. old signed a contract extension last Wednesday and started out on Buffalo's second line before replacing Tage Thompson on Eichel's line vs. the Leafs. It wouldn't be surprising to see this trio start the season opener on October 4.

--Nylander is having an excellent training camp and gets a premier spot on the second line with veterans Berglund at center and Okposo on the other wing. With LW, Conor Sheary out, Nylander has a prime opportunity to not only land on the opening night roster, but also skate in a top-six role. So far Nylander looks as if he's taken that opportunity to heart.

--Props to Okposo who has looked much better so far this camp. We had vague ideas as to how serious his bout with concussion treatment went but Tim Graham of The Athletic took us into the deep, dark recesses of just how bad it was for Okposo. He looks as if he's back to where he was prior to the problems he suffered through in the Spring of 2017.

--The third line is interesting in that Mittelstadt has been meh so far this camp while Smith and Oglevie have been excellent. It's a line featuring three college players--Mittelstadt who was selected eighth overall (2017) before attending the University of Minnesota and college free agent signees Smith (UMASS-Lowell, 2017) and Oglevie (Notre Dame, 2018.) This might be the line to watch tonight.

--Rodrigues has been on the wing all camp and has floundered. Last season he played much better at center than he did on the wing yet head coach Phil Housley put him on the wing in camp. We'll see if the change back to center can get Rodrigues going.

--O'Regan will probably be dropped off in Rochester on the way back to Buffalo as the waivers-exempt forward will continue his development with the Amerks. As for Bailey, he's been pretty good but has yet to do anything to set him apart from the rest of the Sabres bottom-six forwards. Unlike O'Regan, Bailey is not waivers-exempt and if his so-so camp continues, Buffalo will have a tough decision to make when they pare their roster to 23.

Clintonians are in for a treat as not only will they see the likes of Eichel, Skinner and Reinhart up front, but they'll also get a close up view of defenseman Rasmus Dahlin who, according to, will be on the top-pairing with Casey Nelson. The other d-pairings are Jake McCabe/Zach Bogosian, a duo that played very well together when both were healthy, and Brendan Guhle/Will Borgen.

The Guhle/Borgen pair is interesting. Guhle has been struggling all camp while Borgen and his stay-at-home style seems to provide a solid anchor for anyone who's paired with him. Borgen's almost assured of starting out in Rochester while Guhle was considered a possibility for the big club before camp. As of now, both could end up with the Amerks.

The goaltenders are Jonas Johansson and Scott Wedgewood.

Game time is 7 pm on NBCSN.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Thoughts on the loss last night

Published by, 9-23-2018

First things first. This Buffalo Sabres team looks a lot better right now when it comes to their passing, breakouts and the speed with which they play the game then they have in recent memory. But there's still a ton of work to be done.

The Sabres saved their big guns for the second of a home-and-home with the Toronto Maple Leafs and lost last night at KeyBank Center by a 3-2 score. Losing is disappointing whether it's preseason or not and doing it with the likes of Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart, Patrik Berglund, Kyle Okposo, Rasmus Ristolainen, Rasmus Dahlin, Marco Scandella, and Jake McCabe--a group of players who are in the top half for Buffalo--made last night a little tough to take. However it is what it is.

Leafs coach Mike Babcock has been in Toronto for three full seasons and has his systems in place. The Leafs front office, lead by team president Brendan Shanahan the past four years, has been loading the organization up with quality depth that reach down to the bottom lines and pairings of the reining Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies. They know the system and play it well.

So when the Sabres faced off against a Leafs team that was missing some star power up front in John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri along with Ron Hainsey and Morgan Reilly on the blueline, the talent-needle leaned a tad Buffalo's way. However, in a tribute to the quality depth the Leafs have developed and coaching Toronto enjoys with Babcock, the Sabres just couldn't get the job done.

The loss drops Buffalo to 2-2 on the preseason with three games to go. Both of those losses came at the hands of their QEW rival Maple Leafs.

Prior to the game last night the Sabres sent forwards Eric Cornel, Vasily Glotov and Kevin Porter, defensemen Zach Redmond and Devante Stephens and goaltenders Michael Houser and Adam Wilcox to Rochester. They have 43 players still on the roster and head coach Phil Housley told the gathered media post game last night that he doesn't "see too many more roster cuts" pointing to three games this week to close out the preseason.

Players up and down the lineup have been trying to gain the attention of the Sabres brass through four games. On Friday night in Toronto, forward Tage Thompson turned some heads as he showed off some deft stickwork and sniping ability on his goal. Thompson, who was acquired by the Sabres in the Ryan O'Reilly trade with St. Louis, was promised by Buffalo GM Jason Botterill a shot in the top-six and he got it last night when he was placed on a line with Eichel and Skinner.

For as much skill as he has, Thompson's defense needs some work. He was on the ice for both of Toronto's early second period goals and didn't see the top line again as Reinhart moved up to Eichel's right wing. Thompson finished with 13:08 of ice time, had five shots on goal (two on the top line) and was a minus-2. He's a minus-5 for the Toronto home-and-home including Tavares' empty-netter on Friday night.

Reinhart taking Thompson's place on the top line worked pretty well as he played extremely well in his first game back after ending a holdout by signing a two-year contract extension. "I thought he was one of our best forwards," Housley said last night. "He looked comfortable, fit right in, was on the puck. He was making plays." Sure enough. Buffalo first goal he got the puck to Eichel after a powerplay draw and headed towards his spot in front of the net. Eichel passed it to Okposo in the circle and he buried it with Reinhart providing a screen.

Reinhart also drove the net and sent a shot on net that was kicked to the stick of a Skinner who was also crashing the net. Skinner pounced on the rebound from in tight and put it home to tie the score 2-2.

Skinner looked real good again and seems to be developing some chemistry with Eichel. He had a goal while Eichel had two assists.

Dahlin had a couple of hair-raising moments last night, most notably when he had his pocket picked by 39 yr. old veteran Patrick Marleau who went the other way for a breakaway. Housley said afterwards that the 18 yr. old Dahlin will need to learn who's on the ice and that he expects the rookie to make mistakes. To his credit Dahlin motored on through the game with a short memory.

Marleau was stopped on his breakaway by Buffalo goalie Carter Hutton which was good to see for Sabres fans. For the past couple of seasons, opposition breakaways had the tendency to end up in the goal. Not so last night as Hutton closed the door. The former St. Louis Blue who signed a three-year free agent contract with Buffalo this summer looks like he's hell bent on solidifying his spot as the Sabres No. 1 goalie.

Hutton has a lot of good qualities and one of his best ones is how he handles the puck. He's very good with his stick and isn't afraid to wing it up-ice to a skater like he did on many occasions last night. For a team that had trouble moving the puck up ice last season, having a goalie who can move it like that is a huge weapon for this club.

It was good to see Zach Bogosian back on the ice. He looked pretty solid considering he hasn't played since January after undergoing back surgery. He was on Buffalo's third pairing with Nathan Beaulieu and came away with a plus-1 rating in over 18 minutes of ice-time.

The Sabres have a day off before preparing for Tuesday's Kraft Hockeyville USA game against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Clinton, NY just outside of Utica.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sabres "B-squad" hold it's own at TOR. Leafs in BUF tonight

Published by, 9-22-2018

If you were in the process of getting yourself a snack and/or a frosty adult beverage to take in the first game of a preseason home-and-home between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs you missed something pretty rare. Buffalo's Andrew Oglevie pounced on a rebound off of a Casey Nelson shot to make the score 1-0 only :30 seconds into the game last night. In 82 regular season games last season the Sabres scored a minute or less into a game only twice--Justin Bailey did it exactly 1:00 into a game against the Vancouver Canucks on October 20 while Ryan O'Reilly scored :30 into a game vs. the Ottawa Senators on April 4.

Buffalo lost both of those games by the same 4-2 score.

In fact it was pretty rare for Buffalo to score an opening goal in the first period last season. They did so once in six preseason games and only 26 times in 82 regular season games.

What a jolt. What a treat. Right?

Not really. Buffalo was blitzkrieged last night after that opening marker as the Leafs slapped three quickies on the Sabres beginning :18 seconds later. Toronto's Ron Hainsey, Pierre Engvall and John Tavares all scored in a 2:54 span to give the Leafs a 3-1 lead before Buffalo gathered their senses.

Toronto did what a lot of teams did to the Sabres last season--attack with speed and pressure while Buffalo was on it's heels. The Sabres top line of Casey Mittelstadt, Alexander Nylander and Tage Thompson were victimized on the latter two goals while Toronto's top two lines were responsible for two of the three goals.

For comparison's sake, these where the team's top two lines:

Tavares, Mitch Marner, Zach Hyman
Nazem Kadri, Connor Brown, Josh Leivo

Mittelstadt, Nylander, Thompson
Vladimir Sobotka, Oglevie, Zemgus Girgensons

Much to their credit, the Sabres bounced back and pulled to within one goal as Smith charged the net off the half-wall and waited patiently before depositing it past a sprawling Garrett Sparks and into a gaping Toronto net to make it 3-2.

The Sabres would eventually tie it on a beautifully wicked toe-drag/snapshot from Thompson but the Leafs answered and would tack on an empty-netter for the 5-3 win.

There's a lot to be said about this Sabres team last night as the "B-squad" group of players held their own pretty well, especially after being down. Most of the players who struggled during Toronto's 3-goal outburst settled down and played well the rest of the way, beginning with goalie Linus Ullmark.

The 25 yr. old Ullmark who's slated for backup duty in Buffalo looked shaky as the Leafs buzzed the zone. He couldn't bail out his skaters on the first two goals as turnovers in their own zone caused some Keystone Cops moments, especially amongst the defensemen. On the third goal, Ullmark kicked out a rebound that went to an unchecked Tavares who was trailing on the play. He buried it into a gaping net.

Mittelstadt lost coverage on that one and perhaps Buffalo head coach Phil Housley had seen enough as he demoted the 19 yr. old his next shift. Without singling him out, Housley told the gathered media post game, "It wasn't working. So you try to make some changes."

Housley said that his team "got some momentum" off of those changes and that they scraped their way back into the first period.

Thompson's toe drag was nasty, as shown here from

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster--G, Linus Ullmark

Published by, 9-20-2018

G--Linus Ullmark
25 yrs. old
6'4" 213 lbs.
2012, sixth round (163rd overall)

Career stats:  26 games | 9-13-2 | 2.52 GAA | .917 Sv% | 0 shutouts

At 6'4" 213 lbs., Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark definitely has the size and with 127 AHL games with the Rochester Americans, he's definitely gained a lot of experience since first coming over from his native Sweden in 2015. Add in that he faced over 3,000 shots the last two seasons, by far the most in the AHL over that span, and you might say he more than paid his dues for his NHL shot.

It's been a good, long development curve for Ullmark beginning in Sweden as a teenager and playing his first games in Sweden's top pro league (SHL) as a 19 yr. old for MODO Hockey. He would work his way into a starting role in MODO for two seasons, eventually saving them from relegation in 2014-15 with a stellar four-game performance that featured a 0.50 GAA and .980 Sv% (the next season MODO was demoted.)

From there it was pretty simple, right? Leave the SHL on that high note, come over to North America, play in the AHL and learn the game with the focus upon making it to the NHL. However there were some twists and turns along the way.

In April 2015, at the end of the SHL season and his career over there, Ullmark elected to have double-hip surgery that would keep him out 4-6 months. Which was fine. The organization expected him to be ready for full time duty somewhere in late November and didn't have him dress for opening night.

That changed pretty quick.

Buffalo starter Robin Lehner went down with a knee injury in the very first game of the 2015-16 season and were forced to do some goaltender juggling. Ullmark started Rochester's second game of the season and less than two weeks later he was in Buffalo as Chad Johnson's backup and made his NHL debut on October 24. He played 20 games for the Sabres that season and returned to Rochester in January to tack on 25 more Amerks games.

Ullmark did not have the best Amerks team in front of him in 2016-17 and lead the league in shots-against with 1,678 yet he still managed a decent .909 Sv% on a Rochester team that finished with the sixth-worst record. Last year he clipped his GAA to 2.44 and upped his Sv% to .922 and helped the Amerks reach the playoffs for the first time in three years. But the were swept in the first round with Ullmark sporting a 5.50 GAA and .880 Sv%.

Earlier at training camp Ullmark, ever the thoughtful and level-headed one, was asked about the finish to last season and he told the press that he "was going to go out there and try his very best and hope that works."

As of now it looks as if he'll be a 1B to Carter Hutton's 1A for the Sabres and at worst he'll be considered a backup getting a good amount of starts. Ullmark started Buffalo's first preseason game at Columbus allowing one goal on 21 shots in two periods of hockey. He looked positionally strong, as he always does, and flashed some leather as he's been know to do as well. He'll need to work out some kinks, like over-committing, but hopefully he'll pare that back with more ice-time.

The Sabres will need some solid goaltending if they want to entertain thoughts of going on a playoff run this season. There will a lot of new faces amongst the skaters on the ice opening night while Ullmark will join Hutton the new faces of Buffalo's goalie tandem.

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Conor Sheary / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Jeff Skinner / C, Casey Mittelstadt / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Patrik Berglund / C, Rasmus Asplund / RW, Jason Pominville

LHD, Marco Scandella / RHD, Rasmus Ristolainen
LHD, Rasmus Dahlin / RHD, Zach Bogosian
LHD, Jake McCabe / RHD, Casey Nelson

G, Carter Hutton
G, Linus Ullmark

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The 2yr./$7.3 million extension for Sam Reinhart is the right deal

Published by, 9-19-2018

Perhaps Sam Reinhart and his agent looked at what the Washington Capitals gave forward Tom Wilson this off season and had visions of the Buffalo Sabres forward signing for similar money. Wilson signed a six-year deal with the Caps for an AAV of $5.166 million following a season where he scored 14 goals and 35 points in 78 regular season games.

In a tale of two Sam's, Reinhart's 2017 portion of last season had him at a pace that would produce far less than Wilson while in 2018 Reinhart was nearly a point/game player which far exceeded what Wilson produced. In the end the Sabres forward finished the last year of his entry-level deal with a nice, symmetric 25 goals and 25 assists in 82 games for Buffalo.

Maybe forgotten in all of this is that although Wilson never reached top-six status on the Capitals, he was one of their best players in the playoff season while helping Washington to their first-ever Stanley Cup. And at 24 yrs. old, he's just begun to hit the middle of his prime and still has a lot of tread on the tire.

Then again, maybe Reinhart and his agent looked at Buffalo's preseason game last night and liked what they saw. Center Jack Eichel showed a little rust but showed flashes of dominance that reverberates through the entire team. We saw 18 yr. old defenseman Rasmus Dahlin skating like the breeze and sending tape-to-tape passes with the poise of a veteran. Those were just two of the players Reinhart should be on the ice with this season but a holdout on his part prevented that.

Now he can join them.

The Buffalo Sabres announced that Reinhart signed a 2yr./$7.3 million dollar contract with the club. Reinhart, the second-overall pick in 2014, will make $3.55 million this year and $3.75 million in 2019-20.

At only 22 yrs. old Reinhart has a lot of upside but, unlike Wilson, we're really not sure who he is right now.

Reinhart was drafted as a center but was moved to wing by former head coach Dan Bylsma. He played extremely well there, especially alongside Eichel and was good for 40 goals and 49 assists in the two seasons Bylsma was head coach. New head coach Phil Housley liked the idea of Reinhart playing his natural position and moved him back to center last season. It was a disaster and he was moved back to wing. Beginning with the Winter Classic on New Year's Day, Reinhart went on a tear that would see him score 37 points in 38 games.

"Throughout the season you kind look for a spark," Reinhart told the press about the Winter Classic in hindsight weeks later, "and that’s probably the spot where you can look back and see things started turning around because I did feel good."

But there was more to it than that. At locker cleanout day he had this to say of his Saul-to-Paul transformation, "The biggest thing for me was, I wasn't happy with the way anything was going and I just said to myself, 'Screw it, I'm playing my game,." he told the gathered press that day. "I think it's more important for me to play my game, it's more beneficial to me and the team. I think it was important for me to get back to what I do best."

Although we're not sure whether "playing my game" meant him finding that game within himself and within coach Housley's system or whether it was a stealth deviation from Housley's system that got him going. Whatever it was, something clicked and one would think that he and his agent had the mindset that he'd passed through some threshold and was ready for a big contract.

However, it would seem as if Buffalo GM Jason Botterill and the Sabres brass thought differently.

Rumors of a stalemate with the Sabres offering $5 million and Reinhart wanting $6 million had many believing the end result would be somewhere within that range. But from a team perspective it never really made a lot of sense to pay that much to a player whom they weren't 100% sure about.

Reinhart has a lot of skill and much of his talent is subtle, but one of the big knocks on him is his speed. He has average to slightly above average skating ability and the main reason he was able to keep up with the likes of Eichel and to an extent Ryan O'Reilly was his smarts and vision. Reinhart is always a step or two ahead of the play and can either get to where he needs to go or get the puck to where it needs to go to play faster.

In addition, when he was drafted out of Kootenay of the Western Hockey League, Reinhart was seen more as a set-up guy from the middle but that didn't really transfer to the NHL. Bylsma put him in a position to succeed by putting him on the wing in more of a scorer's role while also putting him in front of the net on the powerplay. The result was a 23-goal rookie season. That would flip-flop next season as he scored only 17 goals but was good for 30 assists.

At two years, Reinhart will have plenty of time to show his worth and at the end of two years the Sabres will be out from under a couple of unfriendly contracts and will have begun to galvanize their core. Right now, CapFriendly has the Sabres with only six contracts for 2020-21 with Eichel, Kyle Okposo and Patrik Berglund up-front, Rasmus Ristolainen and Rasmus Dahlin on the back end and Carter Hutton in goal who combine for $25,340 million of cap dollars. Reinhart, Tage Thompson and Casey Mittelstadt will all be restricted free agents heading into that season and could represent a big chunk of change for the Sabres that year. Dahlin will be coming off of his entry-level deal the following year and will probably command a pretty big hit.

When all things are considered, a bridge deal of two years for Reinhart is appropriate and if you thought the low range of the deal was $5 million then Botterill got himself a helluva bargain, especially when you look at the deals handed out this summer. But really in looking at this earlier in the summer based upon Reinhart's young career in Buffalo, neither side should be unhappy with this short-term deal.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Nylander impresses vs. Blue Jax. Dahlin and Sabres' "A-squad" at home tonight

Published by, 9-18-2018

No, there's not really an 'A' squad and 'B' squad for the Buffalo Sabres right now but when you look at some of the players that will be playing for Buffalo at home tonight vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins, it sure looks that way. Although we're not sure who the headliner should be, the double-bill of Jack Eichel and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin will top this group of Sabres with Dahlin getting most of the attention because of his rookie status.

Dahlin, the No. 1 overall pick at the 2018 NHL Draft, is widely regarded as the best prospect in hockey right now while the Sabres also have the fourth best prospect, according to The Athletic's Corey Pronman, in center Casey Mittelstadt who is also scheduled to be on the ice tonight. Joining that trio is recently acquired, three-time 30-goal scorer Jeff Skinner, Buffalo's probable top-pairing on defense to start the season--Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella--as well as veteran forwards Kyle Okposo and Jason Pominville plus a host of rookies looking to make their mark amidst this  group of Buffalo's high end players.

With close to 50 players in training camp hockey, like baseball, does split-squad games. As we move through the preseason the roster will be whittled down until the final opening night lineup begins practicing for the Sabres October 4 season opener at home against the Boston Bruins. In a nod to capturing the moment, Buffalo's brass decided to wait until tonight's home game for Dahlin to make his debut while it seems as if the coaching staff, based on the lineup tonight, wants to leave the fans with a huge first impression of their 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres.

The process began last night with the 'B-squad' in Columbus taking on the Blue Jackets and one player who needed to catch the attention of the Sabres certainly did.

Winger Alexander Nylander has been dogged by a number of issues since the Sabres drafted him eighth-overall at the 2016 NHL Draft. The very fact that he was taken instead of defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who's already completed a full season and played a meaningful role in 17 playoff games for the Tampa Bay Lightning. There was the stigma of disappearing for large chunks of games, and the injury that he suffered last off season that put him behind the 8-ball in 2017-18.

Throughout it all we saw glimpses of his high-end skills and were constantly reminded that he was still young during his two pro seasons, to the point where Sabres GM Jason Botterill noted this off season that most players his age are just turning pro.

Nylander is healthy this year and he bulked up in preparation for camp. He had a strong Prospects Challenge and was fully engaged last night at Columbus. The 20 yr. old was on a line with veteran forward Patrik Berglund at center and 2016, 26th-overall pick Tage Thompson in what was the clearly the best line on the ice. The stat sheet is solid as Nylander had two assists in 19:28 of ice-time with 1:29 on the powerplay and 2:03 on the penalty kill included. Buffalo beat the Blue Jackets 4-1 with Nylander notching the primary assists on the Sabres first two goals.

But stats are nothing more than numbers to be manipulated without context and in the case of Nylander, those numbers may not have done justice to the game he had. He was making the smart plays, chipping in the puck, working the corners and the wall behind the net and on Buffalo's first goal by Berglund he made a pass that not many players can make.

"If I was Nylander," Berglund told the gathered media post-game,"I would never try to pass that puck because I could never make that play. It was a great play by him." The 30 yr. old veteran of nearly 700 NHL games also said of Nylander, "from what I saw today and at practice, I think he's been taking big steps [towards] playing the game the right way."

For Nylander it's progression and if he continues to play engaged hockey while displaying a skill-set that was considered one of the best, if not the best, of his draft class, some great things could be on the horizon for him and the Sabres.

Now for a bucket of cold water.

The Jackets, like the Sabres, did not offer up their A-team either. Although captain Nick Foligno, top-six center Pierre-Luc Dubois and forward Oliver Bjorkstrand did play, they did not have the likes of forwards Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner play nor did they have their top defensive pairing of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski on the ice for this one.

Jackets head coach John Tortorella expressed some concern heading into the tilt as he alluded to a tough training camp thus far for his charges. "I'm a little concerned about these two games for us, because they have skated and skated, and it's been really hard for them," he told the Columbus media. "You've got to be really careful, as far as how you evaluate [these guys], because I think we're going to have some tired players out there tonight."

Brad Shaw, who ran the Jackets bench while Tortorella watched from above, echoed that sentiment saying that his club wasn't as sharp in the defensive zone as they could have been but despite those shortcomings, Columbus still took it to Buffalo in the offensive zone outshooting the Sabres by a 37-20 margin.

Which leads us to Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark who played extremely well while stopping 20 of 21 shots in 40 minutes of ice-time. The 25 yr. old who's been steadily working his way up the ranks ever since the Sabres drafted him in the sixth round (163rd overall) of the 2012 draft, showed excellent form and a quick glove to stymie the Jackets and help Buffalo to a 3-1 lead heading into the final period. Although he still has some kinks to work out he looks to be a solid 1B for Buffalo in the crease this season.

Perhaps the second best skater on the ice for Buffalo last night was Sean Malone, albeit in a different role. Malone is a local boy (West Seneca, NY) who was taken in the sixth round (159th) of the 2013 draft and had been making great progress as he was pressing for a checking line role with the Sabres up until he came up injured last night. Malone got tangled up and left the game with what's being reported as a knee injury that will keep him out an estimated six weeks.

For those heading to tonight's game, or watching it on MSG, have a good time. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons (2016-17) and depleted their organizational depth in the process. Buffalo defeated Pittsburgh at the Prospects Challenge by a score of 10-2 as they faced a team without any first or third round picks and only one second rounder playing in that game. A couple of those players will be in the lineup tonight, yet the Pens will be missing their big guns in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Patric Hornqvist, Olli Maatta and goalie Matt Murray.

So enjoy, Sabreland as it should be a good time tonight. There's a lot to look forward to this season and most of that will be on display tonight.

Buffalo's lineup for today from Paul Hamilton of WGR550 Radio:

53 Skinner - 9 Eichel - 21 Okposo
71 Rodrigues - 37 Mittelstadt - 29 Pominville
49 Smith - 17 Sobotka - 95 Bailey
28 Girgensons - 74 Asplund - 13 Baptiste

26 Dahlin - 19 McCabe
6 Scandella - 55 Ristolainen
24 Pilut - 33 Borgen

40 Hutton
31 Wedgewood

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Sabres open preseason tonight, saving Rasmus Dahlin debut for tomorrow.

Published by, 9-17-2018

It's hockey (pre)season, Sabreland. Summer's great if you love the outdoors, cookouts and warming up your bones from a long, dismal winter. And I love all those things, but the sports fan in me is left with very little during the summer months. There's baseball, which is great at the ballpark, soccer, tennis and golf and then there are three days in July when none of the big-four North American sports are on and we have to sit through the drudge that is the ESPY's.

Football has started and is great, even with the Bills bumbling out of the gate, but hockey is back.

The kid in me said summer was too short but the hockey fan in me says the wait was too long, especially with what has gone on since that dreadful 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres season ended. GM Jason Botterill has been making moves to fill holes on the roster with quality players and has added a ton of depth that allows for meaningful competition for open roster spots. He has wave of young players from previous drafts turning pro and has augmented the organization with free agent signees.

Oh, and there's that guy named Rasmus Dahlin whom the Sabres selected with the first overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Sabres development camp whetted our whistle for things to come as Dahlin wowed the fan base in attendance at HarborCenter and he continued that when 1,800+ fans were at that rink for the Prospects Challenge. The next phase of his drive to the NHL is the preseason.

The Buffalo Sabres are in Columbus, OH tonight to kick off the preseason against the Blue Jackets and since they're at home tomorrow night, the Sabres brass is saving Dahlin's preseason debut until tomorrow. As they should. Unlike the previous regime (head coach) that couldn't grasp the significance of Jack Eichel being on the ice for the opening faceoff against Connor McDavid in their first ever head-to-head matchup, this regime knows what Dahlin means to the fans and will wait one game for his debut.

It took a while, but the Sabres finally released their roster for tonight:

10 Patrick Berglund, 20 Scott Wilson, 22 Johan Larsson, 41 Victor Olofsson, 42 Sean Malone, 51 Kyle Criscuolo, 52 Andrew Oglevie, 64 Tyler Randell, 65 Danny O'Regan, 71 Evan Rodrigues, 72 Tage Thompson, 92 Alexander Nylander

5 Matt Tennyson, 8 Casey Nelson, 27 Taylor Fedun, 44 Brandon Hickey, 45 Brendan Guhle, 82 Nathan Beaulieu

34 Jonas Johansson, 35 Linus Ullmark

Although both Eichel and Dahlin, along with Rasmus Ristolainen, Jeff Skinner and Conor Sheary, among others, won't be in Columbus tonight, there are a number of players who will get the opportunity to make a great first impression for the upcoming season:

Alexander Nylander--needs to get off on the right foot and be engaged from the get-go. There's a top-six opening and if his desire could ever match his skill level, he'd probably be back in Buffalo waiting until tomorrow night.

Patrick Berglund--Acquired from the St. Louis Blues, Berglund will be expected to bring his two-way game to Buffalo this year and help transition this team from doormat to at least respectability. He'll be rusty when he hits the ice tonight, but should help guide the youngins.

Brandon Hickey--Another acquisition via trade. The former Calgary Flames pick was part of the Hudson Fasching to Arizona Coyotes deal and will be getting his first taste of pro action.

Johan Larsson--It's been said that Larsson came to camp a little leaner and with a whole lot of gumption. He's excellent in the defensive pest role but got away from it last season. Here's an opportunity for him to show he's back to his old self.

Brendan Guhle--Has the skill, skating and athleticism to make the Sabres this year despite the log-jam. Getting off to a good start tonight will help him get closer to that goal.

Nathan Beaulieu--Last year wasn't the greatest for him. He has all the skills and the skating but had way too many brain cramps. Hopefully he won't have an egregious giveaway that leads to a goal or golden opportunity which he did so many times last season.

Tage Thompson--Had a great Prospects Challenge but needs to further that with a strong preseasons. He's big, can move, has skills and was almost promised an opportunity in the top-six. That opportunity begins tonight.

Victor Olofsson--We saw his shot at the Prospects Challenge and it's wicked. That was on the powerplay, a spot where he scored a league-leading 27 goals in the SHL last season. Can he get that shot off 5v5?

Sean Malone--He progressed nicely in the AHL last season and is poised to take that next step. A role as a checking center is there and the West Seneca, NY native will be all in. A good showing tonight could lead to an extended preseason run and possibly a spot on the roster.

Although there's little importance in this game from a fan's perspective, it means a lot to those playing in it. Head coach Phil Housley has said that there's been a lot of competitive spunk at camp and we'll see who carries this into the preseason tonight beginning at 7pm.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster--RHD, Casey Nelson

Published by, 9-16-2018

RHD--Casey Nelson
26 yrs. old
6'1" 185 lbs.
2016 undrafted free agent

Career stats:  55 games | 3 goals | 9 assists | 12 points | -16

At 26 yrs. old Buffalo Sabres defenseman Casey Nelson is far from being a wide-eyed rookie in the NHL. Yet with only 55 games played he still has a lot to learn at the NHL-level. The cool part about Nelson is the middle ground where his long development curve has allowed for definitive progress while still allowing for upside to his game.

Nelson was an under-the-radar signing by Buffalo in 2016 out of Minnesota State University (Mankato) but caught the attention of Sabreland with four assists in his first three pro games. The smooth skating, offensive defenseman showed well on NHL ice to the point where a good camp would mean a knocking on the door of a spot on the opening night roster for 2016-17. Because of injuries Nelson was on the blueline in the opener and was a minus-1 in 1:47 of ice-time. He would have a rough go of it in the NHL, was sent down and spent most of his first full pro season in Rochester.

Last season went much better for Nelson as he started out in Rochester playing 37 games for the Amerks (2 goals, 9 assists, +11 rating) before getting the call to Buffalo where he showed much year-over-year improvement. In 37 games for the Sabres he scored three goals and added five assists in averaging 18:47 of ice-time before rejoining the Amerks just prior to the Calder Cup playoffs. What might have stood out most for him in Buffalo was how he and defenseman Marco Scandella clicked as a second-pairing duo for a short stint.

Nelson's journey to full-time NHL duty, should it play out that way, was marked by smack-downs and revivals from college onward. He was benched as a freshman at Minnesota but, according to coach Mike Hastings, used that as motivation. "I think you learn the most about people once they get knocked down, once you face that adversity," the coach told me a couple years ago. "He could have thrown a pity-party and I didn't see it. He just went back to work."  He also had a rude awakening two years ago when the NHL smacked him down and he was sent to Rochester. After gathering his senses Nelson was, according to long-time Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens, probably Rochester's most improved player that year.

A numbers game kept Nelson in Rochester for most of last season and from a development standpoint it worked out rather well. He will face a similar situation this year. Buffalo GM Jason Botterill signed Nelson to a two-year contract extension in May and without waiver eligibility for the defenseman, one would expect he and coach Phil Housley expect Nelson to be in the lineup for the opener on October 4.

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Conor Sheary / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Jeff Skinner / C, Casey Mittelstadt / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Patrik Berglund / C, Rasmus Asplund / RW, Jason Pominville

LHD, Marco Scandella / RHD, Rasmus Ristolainen
LHD, Rasmus Dahlin / RHD, Zach Bogosian
LHD, Jake McCabe /

G, Carter Hutton

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster--LHD, Jake McCabe

Published by, 9-15-2018

LHD--Jake McCabe
24 yrs. old
6'1" 210 lbs.
2012, 44th-overall

Career stats:  215 games | 10 goals | 37 assists | 47 points | -15

There's a lot to be said for Jake McCabe that won't show up on the scoresheet. The very fact that head coach Phil Housley has him next to first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin to start camp says a lot about the type of leadership McCabe exudes and the trust Housley has in him to start Dahlin's career off on the right foot.

Housley and McCabe's hockey relationship date back to 2012 when the coach tabbed McCabe to be captain of Team USA at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships. It was Housley's first head coaching job outside of Stillwater (MN) high school and he was impressed with the 19 yr. old Wisconsin Badger's demeanor and named him captain of the team. "I really liked what he brought in Lake Placid in August [at evaluation camp]," he said of McCabe at the time. "He's just a very calm demeanor in the locker room, on the ice. He says the right things at the right time; I think he can control the locker room.

"He's very mature, probably mature beyond his years."

Since he first hit the ice for a seven-game stint late in the 2013-14 season McCabe has made his mark as a player that isn't heard from very much outside the rink or after games but he's managed to make some noise on the ice. At Boston he leveled Bruins forward Daniel Paille with a clean check in the second to last game of the season and in January, 2017 he walloped Winnipeg's Patrick Laine with a fierce open-ice check in the neutral zone that's worth another looks (thx, Sportsnet):

McCabe is a fierce defender who's made (and still makes) his mistakes although he's always had a penchant for bouncing back nicely from them. He's also paid his dues and has gotten a good handle on the speed of the NHL while focusing on the defensive aspects of his game since he turned pro. When you put it all together, pairing a defensive-minded young vet like McCabe with an offensive-minded rookie like Dahlin seems like a good way to start things off at camp.

"I just felt it was a good combination," Housley told the gathered media after their first practice of the season yesterday. "I just felt it was a good mix. You have a veteran guy trying to mentor a young guy and Jake is a good player for that."

Housley also mentioned the obvious in that Dahlin will have a lot of different d-partners leading up to the season. When all's said and done Dahlin will be in the top-half of the d-corps while McCabe will probably be in the bottom half but with McCabe's ability to play either side (and Dahlin's as well,) if the pairing shows promise right now, Housley could go back to them at some point during the season.

Right now there are 15 defensemen at camp and by the end of it only eight or so will by vying for spots in the lineup. McCabe will be in the d-corps somewhere and as of right now he looks to be starting out the season on the bottom-pairing, which is a good sign for Buffalo. The 24 yr. old has shown that he can be a solid second-pairing defenseman so having him here means there are some quality defensemen in front of him.

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Conor Sheary / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Jeff Skinner / C, Casey Mittelstadt / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Patrik Berglund / C, Rasmus Asplund/ RW, Jason Pominville

LHD, Marco Scandella / RHD, Rasmus Ristolainen
LHD, Rasmus Dahlin / RHD, Zach Bogosian
LHD, Jake McCabe /

G, Carter Hutton

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster--RW, Jason Pominville

Published by, 9-14-2018

RW--Jason Pominville
35 yrs. old
6'0" 180 lbs.
2001, 2nd round (55th-overall)
Re-acquired by Buffalo from the Minnesota Wild on June 30, 2017

Career stats: 987 games | 277 goals | 419 assists | 696 points | +48

If you need vets to cover for, and help guide the youngins, there are plenty of them in Buffalo for training camp right now and at 35  yrs. old, right wing Jason Pominville is the senior member of this group. At least for now.

Pominville has been in the league 13 seasons now and is approaching 1,000 NHL games played. If you don't know him by now you will never, never, never know him. The Repentigny, Quebec is about as solid as they come and has had the skill, skating, smarts and maneuverability to produce consistently throughout his career while also avoid serious injury. In his 13 full seasons he's played all 82 games in eight of them, 73 or more games three times and was one game shy of a full 48-game schedule during the 2012-13 lockout shortened season. He played in only 57 games during his rookie campaign in 2005-06 but that was due to his time in Rochester after clearing waivers.

To think, that a player with nearly 1,000 games played and nearly 700 career points could have been had by any team in the league that season.

However, the years have begun taking their toll, albeit slowly and with his production dipping well below his career averages the last three years, Pominville is slated for bottom-six duty from here on in. With nearly 14 goals and 41 points per 82 games, he's still producing, but far from his 23 goals and 58 points/82 game career average.

Buffalo has a lot players at training camp this year vying for spots on the roster. Young wingers Tage Thompson, Justin Bailey, Nicholas Baptiste and Alexander Nylander along with forwards C.J. Smith, Evan Rodrigues and Andrew Oglevie plus younger vets like Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson as well as vets Scott Wilson and Vladimir Sobotka are all shooting for spots in the bottom six. Of that group Thompson, Nylander, Smith and Oglevie are waivers exempt this year while rest will have question marks surrounding their future should they not land in the remaining spots.

That's the cool part about camp this year--there are a lot of different scenarios all dependent upon the individual players, the type of chemistry they have with their linemates and how much they'll be able to produce during camp. No need to worry about Pominville in any of those areas as he's played with a number of linemates and always developed enough chemistry to continue to produce well into his 30's.

And that's what might make him attractive to a contender.

Although it's not a sure thing that he'll be traded at some point, should the Sabres be out of contention and/or should Pominville be in a second-half slump like he was last season, odds are that he'll be moved by the end of trade deadline day. Which isn't such a bad thing for either him or the team. With most of his $5.6 million cap-hit paid by then, a contender might be interested in his services giving him a shot at the Stanley Cup and the Sabres could get themselves a mid-upper round pick in return.

Unless he's traded this preseason, which seems unlikely at this point, Pominville will probably be in the opening night lineup on October 4 and he'll be in the bottom-six somewhere. In the scenario laid out here, he and fellow vet Patrik Berglund can cover for and/or mentor a rookie center like Rasmus Asplund. Should Asplund head to Rochester and Berglund move to center, Pominville might be shifted to fourth-line duties with PP time while a younger player like Thompson, Bailey, Baptiste or Nylander takes on third-line duty.

Regardless of where he is in the lineup, GM Jason Botterill and coach Phil Housley love the professionalism he brings to the table so a spot on the roster is almost a sure thing. Where he ends up is the question mark at this point.

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Conor Sheary / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Jeff Skinner / C, Casey Mittelstadt / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Patrik Berglund / C, Rasmus Asplund / RW, Jason Pominville

LHD, Marco Scandella / RHD, Rasmus Ristolainen
LHD, Rasmus Dahlin / RHD, Zach Bogosian

G, Carter Hutton

Friday, September 14, 2018

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster--LW, Patrik Berglund

Published by, 9-13-2018

F--Patrik Berglund
30 yrs. old
6'4" 219 lbs.
2006, 25th-overall (STL)
Acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Blues, July 1, 2018

Career stats:  694 games | 168 goals | 154 assists | 332 points | +10

Yesterday, in what might be considered a reach, we put rookie Rasmus Asplund at third-line center in this roster-building exercise. Asplund has the two-way acumen, skating and stick skills, as well as the mental makeup and on-ice vision to do the job and do it well.  However, at only 20 yrs. old and with a projected one-two center punch of 21 yr. old Jack Eichel and 19 yr. old Casey Mittelstadt, the concern wasn't so much about Asplund's attributes as it was about his age and inexperience in North America as well as the overall youth down the middle.

The obvious option for this edition of the Buffalo Sabres would have been to put 30 yr. old Patrik Berglund and his 10 years of NHL experience in the three-hole. With his two-way game and solid faceoff skills, a grey beard like Berglund could add veteran stability to the lineup and carry much of the two-way load that was lost when Ryan O'Reilly went the other way in the trade with the St. Louis Blues. Berglund might also be looked at to take some pressure off of Mittelstadt in the top-six for brief stints.

It's a sound logic that could very well come to fruition. However, there are a number of factors that could/should lead Berglund to a winger role on a line with fellow Swede, Asplund.

Buffalo GM Jason Botterill has touted the versatility of the forwards he has and Berglund certainly fits that description. He was drafted out of Sweden as a big center with a solid all-around skill set who could score, set up and be a two-way No. 2 or No. 3 center for the Blues. But by the end of the 2013-14 season, St. Louis had loaded up at center pushing Berglund to the wing. Couple that with consistency issues and it was a formula that eventually put his name into the rumor mill.

As his career progressed expectations were lowered and as he moved down the depth chart his production was near career lows but he did, however, score a career-high of 23 goals in a 2016-17 contract year and signed a five-year extension just before the 2017 trade deadline. Yet the rumors still persisted and when he was injured to start the 2017-18 season, the natives were getting restless.

"Patrik Berglund should have been traded during the offseason," wrote Dan Buffa in a scathing piece for SB Nation, St. Louis titled, 'The disappearance of Patrik Berglund should baffle no one." Buffa rips Berglund as "ordinary" and "a decent yet unremarkable talent" that could use a change of scenery in his February 11, 2018 piece and his thoughts were echoed when Berglund was given a C-rating by Todd Panula of fansided's Bleeding Blue.

"The fact that St. Louis Blues fans are still wondering what the real Patrik Berglund is and can accomplish," wrote Panula at the end of last season, "is quite astounding. He is 29 and just played his 10th NHL season.

"He gives you just enough to think there is more in there. He disappoints you just enough to figure there is no way he will reach his full potential. Then the juicy middle ground is normally where he falls."

All of this is not to bag on Berglund for who he is or the path his career has taken. Bloggers (myself included) have a tendency to get overzealous and may or may not have the proper insight at to why a player may or may not be performing up to expectations which might differentiate from what others see. What it intended to highlight is that Berglund might not be the best choice as the third line center. When you factor in that his set-up skills may have been overrated, that he never was the fastest skater to begin with and add in that he's offensively streaky while his defensive game might be a little more suspect than originally thought, perhaps having him on the wing might not be that bad of an idea.

In his 23-goal season Berglund played in all 82 games for St. Louis and scored on at a 15% shot-rate. The year prior his shooting percentage was 12.5% and last year it was a career-high 15.2%. In all three of those seasons Berglund's goal to assist ration was roughly 2:1. The guy can still shoot the puck but as his assists and plus/minus might indicate (minus-12 the past two seasons,) he and the Sabres might be better off having a player like Asplund dishing to him as opposed to Berglund trying to set someone up.

Berglund seems as if he'd be a great mentor for Asplund and his versatility could give Asplund the requisite time down the middle to develop as a center. Conversely, Asplund's hockey IQ and on-ice vision could be very helpful in getting Berglund to another 20-goal season.

How it all plays out is up in the air as there's a lot of competition in the bottom six and we're really not sure how far Asplund can take it during training camp. He has all the tools and if he continues to impress, or impress even more, then he could crack the lineup and do so as their third-line center. If that's the case, Berglund would be forced to move to Asplund's wing. Which isn't such a bad proposition.

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Conor Sheary / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Jeff Skinner / C, Casey Mittelstadt / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Patrik Berglund / C, Rasmus Asplund /

LHD, Marco Scandella / RHD, Rasmus Ristolainen
LHD, Rasmus Dahlin / RHD, Zach Bogosian

G, Carter Hutton