As training camp is underway, and the season lockout is over, I wanted to take a look at the potential lines and roster of the Sabers come opening day on 1-19-13 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
There is an overstock of both forwards and defensemen, with the call ups from Rochester and the acquisitions in the offseason. According to all hockey outlets in Buffalo, Nathan Gerbe is possibly out the first few games recovering from back / neck surgery and Cody McCormick longer with a finger issue.
Of course, this is written before the training camp starts, and with some assumptions that all the call ups will still be here as well as the current roster. There are a total of 26 eligible players up right now for the Sabres.
Regarding the Froward lines, this is how I feel it would shake out:
Hodgson is clearly the #1 center on this team going into training camp. He suffered an injury in Rochester this season in late October, which kept him out of the lineup the entire month of November. With his strong play of late for the Amerks, and the Natural chemistry with players on the second line, it is a no-brainer.
Vanek is still the team’s goal-scorer, and has earned the spot on the left with the top line. Captain Jason Pominville scored 30 goals from the right wing last season for the second time in his career. He showed that wearing the “C” on his jersey did not weigh him down at all with the additional pressures of being the leader in the locker room.
Even in a shortened season, I have high expectations. All three players played some during the lockout, with Pominville and Vanek in Europe, and Hodgson in the AHL.
Line 2: Marcus Foligno – Tyler Ennis – Drew Stafford
This line showed great natural chemistry in the last month of the 2011-12 season for Buffalo. When Ennis was finally healthy and playing at his natural position of center, he was great with the puck and making plays to his wingers Stafford and Foligno. Foligno ended up with 13 points in 14 games, including six goals.
He was found consistently in front of the net looking for the “dirty” goals. Stafford started very slow last season after signing a huge contract, but seemed to find his niche with this line. Both Foligno in the AHL, and Ennis over in Europe on the limited basis, played during the lockout. I am curious to see if Stafford is able to keep up with the two younger forwards without playing any organized hockey since the end of last season.
Line 3: Ville Leino – Mikhail Grigorenko (R) – Steve Ott
This combination intrigues me. Leino had one of the most disappointing seasons in recent Sabres memory for me. Big money and small production is a bad combination in the NHL, especially for a team with a plethora of forwards to use. Leino was signed to play center last season, and after less then a month told Lindy he didn’t feel comfortable there anymore. Needless to say, that threw quite the wrench into the planning of the forward lines.
Leino has to step it up this year, or find himself a buyout casualty at the end of the year per the new CBA. I am truly, utterly excited about Mikhail Grigorenko. With the shortened season, he can play six games before being sent back to Juniors. He has shown promise at every level he has played. In the under 18 World Junior Championships in 2011, he scored 18 points in eight games and helped Russian capture the Bronze Medal.
In the same season, his first in the QMJHL, he scored 40 goals and added 45 assists for a well balanced and impressive rookie campaign in only 59 games. In the 2012 World Junior Under 20, he scored five points in six games, and helped Russia defeat the highly touted Canadian team for the Silver. His current QMJHL stats for 2012-13, include 29 goals and 21 assists for 50 points in only 32 games.
Credit to Patrick Roy, his coach on the Remparts, for developing this young man so quickly. Last, but certainly not least, is Steve Ott. I see Ott as a Kaleta plus 5 levels. He can hit, fight, play center and take face-offs if needed. In a full season I would expect Ott to score 12-17 goals. Hopefully he can reap the benefit of being on a line with Grigorenko, while protecting the future star of the Buffalo Sabres.
Line 4: Matt Ellis / Nathan Gerbe – Jochen Hecht / Cody McCormick – Pat Kaleta / John Scott
Gerbe and McCormick will likely start the year on the injured list, from what I am hearing out of Buffalo Radio and the Buffalo News. On the left wing,Gerbe had a disappointing 2011-12 season with all the line moving by Lindy Ruff. You would expect that he will get the opportunity when healthy to earn that spot back.
Matt Ellis is a work horse, and will give you 110% every night. This makes him very attractive to the lineup on a nightly basis. He wont score a lot, but is a serviceable 4th line forward. At the center position, this is Jochen Hecht’s spot to loose. He is being brought back as a he is a good two way forward and plays center. Pominville was quoted in the Buffalo Media stating he thought Hecht was healthy from the concussions, and played well in Germany during the lockout.
McCormick is injured and will start the year on the injured list. Unfortunately, I think he is the odd man out in this scenario. With the signing of John Scott and acquisition of Steve Ott, McCormick’s role here is diminished even further. I could see using him once healthy against a tough divisional matchup like Boston, anticipating some bad blood.
On the right wing, you have an injury prone Pat Kaleta, who when healthy is a pain in the neck of teams every night when on the ice. He blocks shots, hits, causes frustration and in turn draws penalties. This is compared with John Scott, who has no scoring ability whatsoever, but will provide that “protection” the Sabres have sorely missed for so many seasons. I see this 4th line as a rotation as to who is needed strictly on a matchup basis per night.
D-Pair 1: Tyler Myers – Robyn Regher
Myers is the future of the blue line for the Sabres, and the future is now. Myers in entering season four, of what we are all hoping is a storied career in the Blue and Gold. Regher looks good on this pairing, providing some defense stylings to Myers more offensive side, barring a trade.
D-Pair 2: Christian Ehrhoff – Alexander Sulzer
When healthy, Ehrhoff is a danger with the puck, and a scoring threat from the blue line. He can be that quarterback on the power play, and is good in his own end as well. Once he and Sulzer were paired up at the end of last season, they had chemistry that came together immediately most likely from their days in Vancouver. The once thought to be throw in in the Hodgson deal, proved himself to be enough of an asset when injuries be-felled the Sabres last season that he earned himself a contract for one year in the offseason.
D-Pair 3: Jordan Leopold / Adam Pardy / Mike Weber – TJ Brennan / Andrej Sekera
As with the fourth forward line, there are plenty of options here for the Sabres. There are a lot of pieces here, and someone may be dealt prior to the start of the season. If not, one or two of these guys will need to be sent down to the AHL. All of them will need to clear waivers to do so.