This is part two of seven.
Through Thursday the 19th, Sabres Hockey Central will be releasing the staff selections for the seven categories making up the 2010-2011 Sabres year in review. The posts will be published here at 8 a.m. daily.
Today’s award is”biggest surprise player of the year”. Sunday’s post will feature “rookie of the year”.
Overall staff selection: Andrej Sekera
Surprise of the Year
Andrej Sekera in the regular season and Marc-Andre Gragnani in the playoffs. Sekera put together a nice season and, although I expected him to be good, he did better than I though. Gragnani’s postseason performance was well-deserved. I did not expect that. I’ll also add that the performances by Niedermayer and Grier during the regular season were horrible. I may have been more surprised at that.
Jeff Pawlak – Jordan Leopold
Most fans in Buffalo likely didn’t even know who Leopold was before he signed a 3-year contract with us last summer. They all know him now as one of the team’s top defensemen. He cooled off throughout the season after a positively roaring start, but for a defenseman to finish with 13 goals and 35 points (both NHL career highs for Leopold) is a big bonus to any team. That 11 of those points came on the powerplay was especially significant towards the Sabres’ special teams becoming so much more effective this season.
Brandon Schlager – Marc-Andre Gragnani
There were definitely some surprises this year in the Sabres lineup but I feel none were bigger than Gragnani’s performance in the playoffs. He was called up from Portland to join an injury-riddled defense corps and subsequently led the team in points (7) in the first round and proved to be a huge asset quarterbacking the power-play unit.
Adam Qutaishat – Andrej Sekera
I said early in the offseason that Sekera would be a good defenseman again this season so I wasn’t too surprised to see him play well. I was pleasantly surprised that for two stretches he was hands down the Sabres best defenseman. He won a NHL player of the week award and turned his career around. He also surprised me with stretches of horrible play that got him benched. I didn’t think I’d have a Sekera jersey at the beginning of this season and now I do. Oh well, you live and you learn.
Ryan Wolfe – Andrej Sekera
He went from being benched mid-season to having the greatest season in his young NHL career. Set career-high in assists, points, and plus/minus with 26 assists (previous high was 16), 29 points (previous high was 19) and he was a plus 11 (previous high was plus 5).
Chris Downey – Paul Gaustad
Recorded 31pts, in 81 games and was a +7. Had the highest plus/minus of all Buffalo’s centermen. Also got physical late in the year and was, as always, amazing at faceoffs. Surprise player for one reason. I would never hear of him.
The occasional “Goal by Gaustad…” or “with an assist from Gaustad” and that would be the end of it. This year, the words “hit”, “shot”, “deflection” were all said with his name following. It was great to see what he was doing and getting in the gritty areas and stepping it up for most of the season. Definitely a surprise this year, as opposed to past.
Tony Fiorello – Jordan Leopold
When the Sabres signed Leopold in July, most fans knew that he could provide help for the power play. But no one expected Leopold to put up the most goals for a Sabre defenseman since Alexei Zhitnik in 1998.