Friday, May 31, 2019

Impressions of, and questions concerning--LW, C.J. Smith

C.J. Smith--Left Wing
DOB:  December 1, 1994 (age, 25)
Draft:  Undrafted college FA
How acquired:  Signed by Buffalo out of UMASS-Lowell (3-30-2017)
Last contract signed:  July 16, 2018, 1yr. $874,125
Final year of contract: 2018-19

2018-19 Stats:  11 games | 2 goals | 0 assists | 2 points | even | 10:39 ATOI

Buffalo Career Stats:  13 games | 2 goals | 1 assists | -1 | 10:47 ATOI

What we wrote preseason:  N/A

What we wrote mid-season:  N/A

Impressions on his play this year:  C.J. Smith did most of his work in the AHL with the Rochester Americans this season and built upon the foundation he laid out two years ago. In his second season with the Amerks, Smith was second on the team in goals (28,) assists (30) and points (58) while also leading the team with a +26 rating and it should also be pointed out that only six of his goals came on the powerplay. In 119 AHL games Smith has 102 points (45+57) and is a plus 30.

Smith was incredibly consistent in an all-situations role for Rochester last season and of all the prospects on the Amerks, he was the one that stood out with his speed, quickness and overall sense for the game. In his 62 games last seasons he never went more than two games without a point. The 5'11" 181 lb. Smith got the call from Buffalo last season and never really looked out of place. Although his ice-time was limited he did manage to score a couple goals on a team that was out of whack. 

It would seem as if Smith has all the qualities general manager Jason Botterill likes in a player and to their credit, the Sabres have not rushed his development. In the end Buffalo could have themselves a versatile player on a low-dollar contract that would be beneficial to the club in a number of ways.

Questions moving forward:  Will Smith slot into a bottom-six role in Buffalo? How much quality penalty kill time can they get out of him? Can he continue his development at the NHL-level? What might that development look like? Has he shown enough promise to land a two-year deal? 

Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via and hockey

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Impressions of, and questions concerning--F, Scott Wilson

Forward--Scott Wilson 
DOB:  April 24, 1992 (age, 27)
Draft:  PIT, 2011 seventh round (209th overall)
How acquired:  Trade w/DET, December 4, 2017
Last contract signed:  July 1, 2018, 2yr./$2.1 million
Final year of contract: 2019-20

2018-19 Stats:  15 games | 0 goals | 3 assists | -8 | 11:27 ATOI

Buffalo Career Stats:  64 games | 6 goals | 11 assists | -25 | 12:22 ATOI

What we wrote preseason: [Sabres GM Jason] Botterill had been with Pittsburgh when they selected Wilson in 2011 out of the Junior-A Georgetown Raiders, 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.

What we wrote mid-season:  Suffered a broken ankle and has been out all season. He's skating with the team and is expected to return after the first of the year. 

Impressions on his play this year:  Wilson is of that interchangeable collection of fourth line/reserve players that constituted a problem for the Sabres last season. Having one of Wilson, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, or Vladimir Sobotka is about right, having two would be stretching it and having three or more equals a team destined for a lower place finish. 

Wilson suffered that ankle injury in camp and didn't hit the ice until the latter part of February when the team's fate had pretty much been sealed. No one thought that having him in the lineup would move the needle and it didn't as the Sabres fall continued. As a fourth-liner Wilson provides energy and his effectiveness is directly related to overall team success. When he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins he was a minus-2 in 106 regular season games while in Buffalo he's a -25 in only 64 games.

If the Sabres ever make it to the playoffs with him on the roster he may provide some valuable playoff insight to this group as he has his name on the Cup twice. However, the Sabres may be hard pressed to make the playoffs this season and Wilson might be prime trade-bait come trade deadline as a team is always looking for good, cheap depth forwards for a playoff run. The Sabres might even recoup the 2019 fifth round pick they sent to Detroit for Wilson.

Questions moving forward:  What role will Ralph Krueger see for him? Can he put in a full season for Buffalo? Would teams be interested in him right now at his $1million cap-hit? 

Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via and hockey

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Just one reason to root against the Blues. Plus, Buffalo's goal song should be...

Published by, 5-27-2019

I'm from Buffalo. I get it.

If your looking at tonight's Stanley Cup opener featuring Boston and St. Louis, there's not much to like with either team. With the Bruins, it's pretty simple--they're a hated rival even if they don't believe there's a rivalry. They have villains in Brad Marchand and an aged Zdeno Chara and although one might find something to like about Boston, like Aerosmith and the fact that Jack Eichel is from there, when it comes to hockey, Jim Schoenfeld would smack a Sabres fan around for even thinking about rooting for the Bruins.

On the other side we have the St. Louis Blues who came into the league in 1967 and appeared in three consecutive Cup Finals their first three seasons in the league. We're they that good? Well yes and no. They were good enough to win the West which featured all six 1967 expansion teams. However, the East had the Original Six and the Blues were swept all three times they made it to the Finals (twice by Montreal, once by the Bruins.)

Their appearance in the Finals now leaves the Toronto Maple Leafs with the longest Finals drought, which is good, right? At the moment the Blues are still tied with the Leafs for second longest Stanley Cup drought at 51 years, only two behind the NY Rangers record 53 years between Cups.

Yet, the other side of the coin has the Sabres tied with their fellow 1970 expansion Vancouver Canucks for third-longest Cup drought. Fans are getting edgy, and are set to root against the Blues because they would get a Cup before the Sabres and, well, they don't like that idea. Seems as if it adds to the doldrums of being a city without a championship banner in the four major North American sports.

It's a notion that's understood here, but is something that I don't subscribe to.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Impressions of, and questions concerning--G, Linus Ullmark

Goalie--Linus Ullmark
DOB:  July 31, 1993 (age, 25)
Draft:  2012 sixth round (163rd-overall)
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  June 13, 2017--3yr./$1.5million
Final year of contract: 2018-19

2018-19 Stats:  15-14-5 record | 3.11 GAA | .905 SV% | 2 shutouts

Buffalo Career Stats:  24-27-7 | 2.87 GAA | .910 SV% | 2 shutouts

What we wrote preseason:  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 they were swept in the first round with him 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. 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 as the new faces of Buffalo's goalie tandem.

What we wrote mid-season:  The backup [to Hutton] mentioned above is Ullmark, who's in his fourth season with the Sabres organization. Ullmark was drafted in the sixth round (163rd-overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft and has worked his way up the pipeline. He performed well as a rookie when called into emergency service for the Sabres back in 2015-16 and was the Rochester Americans starter and team MVP the last two seasons. Botterill said Ullmark would be in the mix this season and he certainly has with a 8-1-3 record and a solid .922 Sv%. After posting his second shutout of the season on Saturday night, some are already making the call to the bullpen to have him dubbed as Buffalo's starting goalie. In due time, my friends. Ullmark still has his inconsistencies as evidenced by a 2.71 GAA despite having two shutouts in 13 games, but his strong positional play and how he looks big in the crease, plus the poise he's showed, has given us every indication that he could be a No. 1 goalie.

Impressions on his play this year:  The operative word in the above paragraph is 'could'. Ullmark was real strong at times, especially in and around Buffalo's 10-game winning streak, but he also struggled mightily during the Sabres December-April slide. He had some spectacular moments, including a shutout, during that span, but for the most part he was exactly what his 10-14-3 record, 3.27 GAA and .889 SV% would indicate.

Yet as we move away from last season and begin looking ahead we can't help but wonder how much of the Sabres train wreck was caused by a head coach striving for offense from his blueliners while paying so little attention to the defensive zone. Buffalo had no idea what to do back there and ultimately goaltending took a dive along with the team. Disjointed in the d-zone might be too kind for what we witnessed in 2018-19 and perhaps that's why we saw a lot of overcompensation from Ullmark on plays which left him far past the post at one side of the net while the play was clear away on the other side. It was very troubling seeing that on almost a game-by-game basis and I'd asked Kris Baker (a former goalie) of if it was something that was correctable. He said, "yes." So that's good news. 

Other than that, at 6'4" 213 lb. Ullmark has the size and he also has all the tools to be a No. 1. He has good technique, is calm in net and seems to bounce back well which is a good foundation for himself and the team. He also provides honest, quirky post-game interviews which is good for fans and the media. Ullmark has been working up the ranks step by step and developed some consistency at each level along the way. He appeared in 37 games for Buffalo last season which is a career high and one would expect to see him in a few more next season, should his play warrant it.

Questions moving forward:  What will the restricted free agent's new contract look like? How much will new head coach Ralph Krueger help the defense and goaltending overall? Is Sabres GM Jason Botterill content with this tandem? Will Ullmark and Hutton develop a mutual trust with the skaters?  Can Ullmark get his glove working a little quicker? Can he refrain from overcompensating? Can he quicken his side-to-side movement? Will his post-game interviews get better?

Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via and hockey

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Impressions of, and questions concerning--F, Victor Olofsson

Published by, 5-24-2019

Forward--Victor Olofsson
DOB:  July 18, 1995 (age, 23)
Draft:  2014 seventh round (181st-overall)
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  April 24, 2018; 2yr. ELC/$1.85 million ($1.35million total base salary)
Final year of contract: 2019-20

2018-19 Stats:  6 games | 2 goals | 2 assists | 4 points | +1 | 18:01 ATOI

Buffalo Career Stats:  6 games | 2 goals | 2 assists | 4 points | +1 | 18:01 ATOI

What we wrote preseason:  N/A

What we wrote mid-season:  N/A

Impressions on his play this year:   There was a good level of anticipation concerning Olofsson finally coming to North America. Although the Swedish winger was a seventh-rounder he had lit up the SHL for a league-leading 27 goals before signing his entry-level deal with the Sabres in April. Buffalo was devoid of talent on the wing last summer before Jason Botterill traded for Jeff Skinner and Conor Sheary and even though Olofsson wasn't projected to play in Buffalo this past season, he brought more skill to an area in desperate need of it.

As Olofsson got off to a roaring start in Rochester with 12 points (5+7) in only six games expectations were heightened in Sabreland especially as his totals included only one powerplay goal. Of Olofssons 27 SHL goals, 14 came on the powerplay as he had plenty of space to uncork a wickedly accurate one-timer from the right faceoff circle in the Swedish league. Adjusting to a smaller North American rink was supposed to be a great hurdle for the 23 yr. old but those early numbers proved he could adapt and by the end of the season Olofsson led the Americans in all categories with 30 goals, 33 assists and 63 points in 66 AHL games with nine of his goals coming on the powerplay (2nd on the team.)

Olofsson added some bulk to his 5'11" frame this season as he was listed at 181 lbs. There were some minor concerns as to his ability to handle the tougher North American pro game but those fears were allayed as he performed extremely well in the regular season. Although he, like his Rochester teammates, struggled in the post season, his speed and maneuverability kept him out of trouble while his hockey sense got him to open ice where he could score. His 30 goals were the most for an Amerk since Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville in the 2004-05 season. 

It would seem as if Olofsson has a had plenty of seasoning with four professional seasons (one in the AHL, three in the SHL) and one would expect he has a job to lose in Buffalo at training camp. The Sabres need skill and they could really use also a sniper on the opposite half-wall across from Eichel. Like with winger Alexander Nylander (who should be up with the big club despite his waiver-exempt status,) new head coach Ralph Krueger needs to find a home for Olofsson. The former staff went heavy with vets and proved that they could lose with them, but they have skilled youth at their disposal and Lord knows this team could use an influx of that. 

Questions moving forward:  What's the status of Jeff Skinner? How will Olofsson fit in with or without Skinner in the lineup? Should Skinner re-sign with Buffalo, is there really any reason to keep Olofsson in Rochester? Would Krueger and his assistant coach use Olofsson on the top powerplay unit? Will that have the desired effect? Can he adapt in the NHL like he did in the AHL? Can the Sabres right the ship in a positive way so as not to stunt the development of their young players?

Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via and hockey

Friday, May 24, 2019

Impressions of, and questions concerning--F, Alexander Nylander

Published by, 5-23-2019

Forward--Alexander Nylander

DOB: March 2, 1998 (Age, 21)
Draft: 2016, eighth-overall
How acquired: Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed: July 15, 2016, 3yr./$5.325 million (2yr. entry-level slide)
Final year of contract: 2020-21

2018-19 Stats:  12 games | 2 goals | 2 assists | 4 points | -4 | 12:12 ATOI

Buffalo Career Stats:  19 games | 3 goals | 3 assists | 6 points | -9 | 12:20 ATOI

What we wrote preseason:  When Nylander was drafted with the eighth-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 sidelined, 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.

What we wrote mid-season:  N/A

Impressions on his play this year:  Nylander didn't make Buffalo's opening night but he got off to a strong start with nine points (4+5) and a plus-6 rating in his first nine games for the Rochester Americans. However, as has been his M.O., Nylander disappeared for a huge chunk of the season before getting hot prior to his late-season recall to Buffalo where he scored in goals in four consecutive games. After three "ramp-up" games with the Sabres, Nylander hit a nice stretch where he fully looked the part of an eighth-overall pick with two goals and four points in three games before disappearing again. 

Are we sensing a trend yet?

As written back in March during his three-game point-streak many, including this blogger had pretty much written him off as a blunder of former general manager Tim Murray. But he always pulls you back in with stellar play. Nylander should be considered a litmus test as to Buffalo's overall prospect development and so far none of the coaching staff in either Rochester or Buffalo has been able to get him to play consistent hockey that lives up to his talent-level. Much to their credit, the Sabres organization never gave him a free ride and they made him work for everything he got but the mixed results must be frustrating. 

Even with his waivers-exempt status (according to CapFriendly) one would think that after three seasons played mostly in the AHL that Nylander will be given a full opportunity with the big club for the 2019-20 season. Perhaps Ralph Krueger with his wealth of experience coaching internationally can bring out Nylander's talents once and for all. Then again, maybe the 21 yr. old winger is what he is--a highly skilled player who seems to lack NHL-level intensity and motivation on a consistent basis. If that's the case, and with present GM Jason Botterill lacking any ties to him, perhaps Nylander will ultimately be a sweetener in a trade for one of the Sabres needs.

With all that said, Nylander represents a very important prospect for the Sabres. If they can get that top-six skill out of him at the NHL-level that's one less hole to fill moving forward and if Jeff Skinner moves on it becomes even more important. If not, it's another set-back Botterill and the Sabres need to overcome.

Questions moving forward:  Does Botterill feel Krueger can get the most out of the highly-skilled Nylander or is this the real Nylander? Is he a "change-of-scenery" candidate? Having played both wings, where is Nylander most comfortable? If he starts out in Buffalo, how would he play if he landed in the bottom-six or on the fourth line? Would they even put him on the fourth line in Buffalo? If he's still in with the Sabres at camp, how much of a shot will he get in the top-six? Would playing with better players make a difference? How much of a sweetener would he be in a trade? Where might he end up?

Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via and hockey