The 2013-14 NHL season begins tonight, with the Blackhawks beginning their Stanley Cup defense. The Buffalo Sabres season is one day away, and many people find themselves unable to wait any longer. While many people’s expectations seem to be low going into this season, there is a lot to be excited about.
This franchise has become all about the development of a perennial Stanley Cup contender. That is being illustrated by the readiness to start multiple rookies on the opening day roster in order to begin the developmental process at the NHL level. That being said, the inquiries are all the same – what will this season bring for the Sabres franchise?
Before that question gets answered, you need to take the following storylines into consideration.
Youth Gone Wild
The Buffalo Sabres find themselves entering the 2013-14 NHL season with a saturation of young talent. While this young talent may not bring the Stanley Cup to Buffalo this season, names such as Grigorenko, Girgensons, Pysyk and Ristolainen paint a very bright future for this franchise.
There will undoubtedly be growing pains, but developing young talent is how championship teams are built. Grigorenko and Pysyk’s previous NHL experience may help them hit the ground running, while Girgensons and Ristolainen have impressed Sabres coaches and NHL scouts throughout the league this preseason.
The craziest part about the Sabres youth movement? The average age between the aforementioned four players is 19.25 years old.
Head coach Ron Rolston has made his career out of being a teacher. This year, he finds himself at the helm of the Buffalo Sabres, for a full season, working on creating a winning franchise. Looking back at Rolston’s former coaching tenures, the question is not if but when Rolston will begin to have success at this level.
Success will depend on many different things. Will Rolston be able to mold the team’s young prospects into stars? Will he be able to solve the squad’s defensive woes? All signs point to this rebuild taking a few seasons to complete, but if Ron Rolston can make his imprint on this squad early in the 2013-14 season, the sky is the limit.
The Sabres find themselves very strong on the defensive side of the puck entering this season. The return of Henrik Tallinder seems to be the biggest offseason story for the Sabres defensive corps. Not only does Tallinder give the Sabres a veteran, stay-at-home defenseman but Tallinder will find himself beginning the season paired with Tyler Myers.
Last time that pairing was a thing, Myers found himself being named the Calder Trophy winner. Since Tallinder left for New Jersey after the 2010 season, Tyler Myers has not been the same. With Myers not being a great defenseman, the rest of the Sabres squad has suffered. From Darcy Regier on down, the Sabres hope that reuniting Tallinder and Myers will pay big dividends this season.
Looking at the other defenders, there is a lot to be excited about. Christian Ehrhoff will find himself paired with Mark Pysyk, which couples the team’s best defender with the team’s top defensive prospect. Pysyk developed and showed a lot of potential in 19 games last season. It will be a big step-up for Pysyk, but he seems capable and ready to accept the challenge.
The final pairing will feature Mike Weber and Rasmus Ristolainen. Weber, who showed himself to be a very steady defender last year and capable of being in the Sabres top four, finds himself with the responsibility of helping mold and develop young draft pick Rasmus Ristolainen. While Weber seems ready for the challenge, things could get bumpy once the season begins although many scouts have raved about the perceived NHL-readiness of Ristolainen, who is only 18 years old.
Just like every other year, there is a time in the offseason when hockey fans look at their team’s lineup and predict where scoring will come from. As you can tell by now, Drew Stafford’s performance last season being a perfect example, you can’t guarantee any scoring from any player.
If the Buffalo Sabres want to have any success this season, they’ll have to rely on more secondary scoring from the veteran likes of Drew Stafford, Ville Leino, Tyler Ennis and Steve Ott, to name a few. Young rookies, Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko, will be leaned on for some of that secondary scoring as well.
While Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson will likely put up their usual numbers, you can not expect to be a successful hockey team when you rely on the top line every single game. If young players develop and normal scorers find themselves putting the puck in the net, you could see an increased win total for this Sabres squad.