Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Buffalo Sabres are in a full-on rebuild.
That’s right friends, the season of Suck for Shane is upon us. The Buffalo Sabres are icing a lineup that barely resembles an NHL roster. Shades of the abysmal 2014-15 season hang over this team. For those that don’t remember, the 2014-15 season saw the Buffalo Sabres shamelessly tank in pursuit of the #1 overall pick and right to draft generational talent Connor McDavid. Ultimately, they fell short of this goal. They lost the draft lottery and had to settle for some scrub named Jack Eichel.
Suck for Shane is of course in reference to projected #1 overall pick Shane Wright of the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. He’s a dynamic center sure to be a key piece of the future for any team that drafts him. All snark aside, building for the future on top of evaluating talent and getting their rather impressive core of young players experience at the NHL level will be the focus of the season.
According to dailyfaceoff.com, the forward lines project as follows:
Jeff Skinner- Casey Mittelstadt- Victor Olofsson
Anders Bjork- Dylan Cozens- Tage Thompson
Arttu Ruotsalainen- Rasmus Asplund- Vinnie Hinostroza
Zemgus Girgensons- Cody Eakin- Drake Caggiula
The Sabres ice a forward group that is relatively light on proven production. Only Skinner has ever eclipsed 20 goals (Olofsson hit 20 on the dot back in the 19-20 season). The center position is especially rough without Eichel in it, with Mittelstadt stepping into the number one role after greatly improved play down the stretch last season once Don Granato took over behind the bench.
The team is also expecting big things from promising young center Cozens, the number seven overall pick from 2019. He had an up and down season as a rookie last year, which isn’t especially surprising given the poor performance of the team as a whole. Cozens is flanked by Anders Bjork and Tage Thompson, the only remaining return from the Ryan O’Reilly trade. Both came into the league with high promise, but have since under-performed (though Thompson showed signs of improvement before having his season ended by a knee injury).
The bottom-six is filled in by career fourth-liners that at least have NHL experience, though Ruotsalainen is an intriguing player. He has put up decent numbers at every level he’s played at, and has the potential to play himself into a bigger role in the lineup. Daily Faceoff isn’t taking into account the presence of Kyle Okposo, who will most likely factor into the bottom six, but could see time higher in the lineup out of sheer necessity.
According to dailyfaceoff.com, the defensive pairings project as follow:
Rasmus Dahlin- Henri Jokiharju
Robert Hagg- Colin Miller
Will Butcher- Mark Pysyk
The Sabres defensive corps will have a relatively new look with the departure of longtime fixture (and critical lightning rod) Rasmus Ristolainen. They will be a largely mobile group, emphasising puck movement rather than size (all players are 6 feet and under besides Dahlin, who measures at 6’2”). There is still size in the system, however. 6’4” Mattias Samuelson is not far from the starting lineup. 6’6” first overall pick Owen Power will likely join the team after he finishes his season at Michigan as well. While this year may be (will definitely be) pretty rough, there are pieces for a solid defensive corp in the future here.
According the dailyfaceoff.com, the goalie tandem projects to be:
Craig Anderson and Aaron Dell
After letting Linus Ullmark walk in free agency, the Sabres had to go out and sign the above listed gentleman just to have NHL goaltending experience on the roster that wasn’t Dustin Tokarski. Anderson has a past where he has been more than serviceable, but the man is 40! Promising goal tending prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen will have his chance to step in and get starts down the stretch.
The Bottom Line
Yikes. The Sabres will be far from competing for a playoff spot this year, but that truly isn’t part of the goal. They are entering another rebuild. Staying competitive and getting young players experience while hitting the draft lottery is the focus of this season. Watching Cozens and company improve as the season progresses will be interesting. It will be another forgettable year in Buffalo, but one that could provide hope.
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