One of the biggest issues for the Buffalo Sabres last season was a lack of talent on the blue line. Owner Terry Pegula and newly-signed general manager, Jason Botterill, quickly addressed this issue over the summer as the Sabres’ front office made notable upgrades to their defense.
These included the signings of Victor Antipin and Nathan Beaulieu, and trading for Marco Scandella from the Minnesota Wild. Most importantly, however, is the addition of defensively-minded head coach, Phil Housley, who was influential on the success of the Nashville Predators‘ blue line last season – a team that arguably had the best top four defenseman in the NHL. All of these additions are crucial to the Buffalo’s success and should help the team in multiple aspects.
Out of the many changes made this offseason, the addition of Scandella is perhaps the most impactful. Scandella is key addition due to his abilities inside the defensive zone, and aggressive playing style that will certainly improve the amount of time that the Sabres spend in their own zone.
“He does everything really well. He’s got a huge shot. He’s a horse to play against defensively.” – Jason Pominville
Scandella’s defensive-first mentality could also help in limiting the number of shots that Robin Lehner or Chad Johnson face per game. While Scandella is not often described as an offensive defenseman, it is not unreasonable to assume that he may add over 20 points if he stays healthy, especially if often paired with Rasmus Ristolainen.
The other notable addition is former KHL player, Victor Antipin, who will be entering his first year in the NHL and is looking to make an immediate impact. Antipin is a fantastic defenseman, especially when backed into his own zone, where he is excellent at clearing pucks from the front of the net as well as blocking close range shots.
“I like to play attack during the rush, skate the puck. I see how [Housley] played on video, he was a good defenseman and I like how he played, so I want to play like he played.” – Antipin
Antipin also has a particular knack for getting points as he often enters the rush from the wing and utilizes his quick release to beat the netminder. Antipin will be an interesting player to watch this season as it is unknown how well or how quickly he will adapt to the fast-paced play of the NHL, along with being on a smaller ice surface than he is used to in Russia.
Finally, Beaulieu was welcomed to Buffalo after a five-year stint in Montreal. While the young defenseman didn’t live up to Montreal’s expectations, Beaulieu still remains a solid option who will most likely play on the third pairing with Antipin as they both attempt to prove themselves.
Which new #Sabres defenseman excels the most this season?
— BuffaloHockeyCentral (@BHCdotcom) September 27, 2017
Beaulieu added 28 points with Montreal last season, a number that shouldn’t be overlooked considering he played slightly less than a full season and did not receive top line minutes. Beaulieu could be a pleasant surprise under Housley’s system.
It took 17 games for the Sabres defense to score a goal during the 2016-17 season, with Cody Franson finally breaking the slump. With a new and improved defense, the team might see that first defensive goal happen much sooner.
An improved defensive unit may be pivotal in helping the team pose a threat in the standings as Buffalo looks to end the second-longest playoff drought in the NHL.