As training camp opened up over this past weekend, Sabres fans alike can feel the excitement brewing out of Buffalo, NY. As always, fans are amped up and ready for another season to begin. However, this year feels a bit different. Ever since winning the NHL Draft Lottery on April 28th, there has been an overflow of optimism coming from the forever-dedicated fan base that bleeds blue and gold.
Scouts around the world have been saying for years how good this future franchise-defenseman really is. With comparisons to players like Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, and the great Nicklas Lidstrom, there are many reasons to get excited. These kinds of hyped up players (McDavid, Matthews, etc…), have lived up to the hype. Let’s welcome our co-franchise leader, Rasmus Dahlin!
Onto the forwards:
Line 1: Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart
This wasn’t a tough decision at all. Eichel has been without an elite, goal-scoring winger and now he has one in Jeff Skinner. Also, I’ve seen far too many Sam Reinhart experiments. He and Jack have always played well together. Let’s let that develop.
Line 2: Alex Nylander, Casey Mittelstadt, Kyle Okposo
I truly believe Alex breaks out this year. He has dealt with injuries and confidence issues in the past. The time has come for the 2016 eighth overall pick to shine. He is in great physical shape and ready to earn a big time role playing next to rookie stud, Casey Mittelstadt. The creativity between these two offensive dynamos will be fun to watch this year. The biggest piece of this line, and probably the most forgotten, is Kyle Okposo. Finally 100% healthy and apparently in fantastic shape, Okposo is primed for a comeback season while mentoring these young guns. This line could be REALLY GOOD…
"Did we just become best friends?"
"Yup!" – Casey Mittelstadt and Alex Nylander #Sabres #ProspectsChallenge #NHL pic.twitter.com/kIRuScfYdq
— Ted Goldberg (@TedGoldbergTV) September 10, 2018
Line 3: Conor Sheary, Rasmus Asplund, Patrik Berglund
Rasmus Asplund will be the biggest surprise this season if/when he makes the team. I know the plan was probably to start him in Rochester this year, but from what I’ve heard and seen, this kid could very well force himself onto the team. Sheary and Berglund will add much-needed experience and skill to this team and the Swedish connection between Asplund and Berglund will be helpful for the 2016 2nd round pick.
Line 4: Zemgus Girgensons, Evan Rodrigues, Tage Thompson
Girgensons does not want to lose his NHL job to the up-and-coming talent that Botterill has acquired over the past year. He will be grinding to make the team and will be a great 4th liner this year. E-rod has shown a bit of potential, but gets moved to the 4th due to the added skill level. Thompson is a very intriguing prospect. At 6’5″, 205 lbs, Thompson has plenty of size to be a dominant power forward in this league.
Rasmus Dahlin sent the puck Tage Thompson's way, and he did the rest for the shorty. #ProspectsChallenge pic.twitter.com/ek1iJWcbhV
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) September 8, 2018
Extra Forwards: Jason Pominville, Scott Wilson
While their skill levels don’t translate to a starting spot, these are great locker room guys to have around and solid depth in case of immediate injuries.
On the back end:
Pairing 1: Marco Scandella, Rasmus Risotlainen
Last year’s first pairing looks to build on their chemistry. Watch for Risto to take a big step this year in his development.
Pairing 2: Jake McCabe, Rasmus Dahlin
24 year old Jake McCabe was the first one to be paired with Dahlin in training camp. While Housley has said that Dahlin will play with a lot of different d-partners throughout camp and preseason, this particular combo offers lots of intrigue. Once captain of the USA U20 team in 2012-13, McCabe has yet to find his way through a complete season in the NHL. Coming off a shoulder surgery and a broken finger last season, McCabe seems to be ready to go. Keep an eye on these two.
Pairing 3: Brendan Guhle, Zach Bogosian
Brendan Guhle cannot be kept off of this roster any longer. He is too good for the AHL and needs to learn the ways of the NHL. Bogo looks to be healthy entering training camp (fingers crossed) and has yet to really explode, but from what other players and coaches say, he has the potential to be a big-time difference maker. Bogo can also provide some great leadership to Guhle.
Brendan Guhle drops a hammer on Justin Bailey #Sabres #NHL pic.twitter.com/yJCYxz585v
— Ted Goldberg (@TedGoldbergTV) September 16, 2018
Extra Defenseman: Matt Hunwick
While dealing with a minor injury, Hunwick will likely not start for the big club. However, he will have a spot of the 23 man roster as he also brings leadership and experience to the locker room. He can also fill in if someone comes down with an illness or minor injury.
Carter Hutton will be the “starter” for the Sabres this year as he is coming off a great season with the St. Louis Blues. While leading the NHL in save percentage (.931) and sporting a 17-7-3 record, Hutton stepped up big time for the Blues when starter Jake Allen went down. Another fantastic locker room guy, Hutton will look to help Linus Ullmark in his quest of becoming the next franchise goalie of this team. Like many other successful teams, Buffalo will be rocking a 1A-1B goalie tandem. Hutton will likely carry a majority of the starts, but Housley would be wise to ride the hot goalie.
We've signed Linus Ullmark to a 2-year deal.
Congrats @icebeardude! Details: https://t.co/KOzZ2dCK9r pic.twitter.com/KBRDPbjkr3
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) June 13, 2017
Vladmir Sobotka: Originally had him on the 4th line, but Thompson is too good to be left out of the lineup. Sobotka could have some good years left, but his time in the NHL may be running out.
Victor Olofsson: SHL’s top goal scorer last season, 2014 7th round pick Victor Olofsson has the best release I have seen in a Sabres uniform since Thomas Vanek. This guy can SHOOT!
C.J. Smith: Had a great season in Rochester last year before getting injured. Big question mark heading into camp as to what he can do.
Sean Malone: A solid bottom 6 centerman who could get called up should someone go down for an extended period.
Baptiste/Bailey: These two have been linked together ever since getting drafter together in 2013. Both have the speed and skill it takes to succeed in the NHL, but neither can seem to consistently produce when getting a chance. This may be their last Sabres training camp if they can’t step up this year.
Nathan Beaulieu: A guy who never took that next step. Still relatively young at 25 years old, Beaulieu may be a prime trade candidate if he fails to find his footing.
Casey Nelson: Showed lots of promise while getting his chance last year, but will likely be grinding it out in Rochester this year with the infusion of higher talent at the D position.
Will Borgen: A guy who could eventually be a real solid bottom pair defenseman. A big, stay at home guy who also possesses great leadership qualities.
Laurence Pilut: Maybe the most talented defenseman in the system behind Dahlin, Pilut won the SHL’s Salming trophy for best defensman of the year in 2017-18. While I am fully on board for a season in the AHL to get used to the North American ice, Pilut could give Housley no other option than to start him with the big club.
I can’t remember the last time that there was this much internal competition to make the team. Botterill has made some brilliant moves over this past year and has his team primed for a big bounce back season.
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