The season is winding down, but there is still a ton of hockey to be played. The Sabres find themselves in a fight for the playoffs despite struggling over the last couple of months and are looking to snap a seven-year playoff drought.
Every year there are more surpises, but a few of our staff writers have made a bold prediction as to what we could see from this Buffalo team:
Cory Hubbard: Jeff Skinner will win the Rocket Richard Trophy
You have to go back 10 years to when Thomas Vanek had a 40-goal season in order to find a Buffalo player in the top 10 scorers in the NHL. Jeff Skinner has brought Buffalo back to the top 10, holding strong in 2nd place behind Rocket Richard veteran Alex Ovechkin.
It may be bold, a stretch even, but Skinner is poised to dethrone Ovechkin this season. Over the last five seasons, the top scorer in the NHL has averaged 49 goals. With Skinner averaging .63 goals per game and 32 games remaining on the season, he is on pace for 50+ goals himself.
We needed a goal.
Jeff Skinner delivered. pic.twitter.com/b8R1IWyZxf
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) November 17, 2018
Skinner has been consistent as well, finding the net in over 51% of Buffalo’s games, with 80% of the goals coming when Buffalo adds to the win column.
With Ovechkin on a similar pace and guys like Brayden Point and John Tavares hot on his heels, Skinner will have to continue to work hard and find success while Buffalo pushes for a playoff spot. With his speed, hands, and top tier linemates in Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, Skinner has all the tools to win the Rocket Richard Trophy.
Jonathan Scharf: Linus Ullmark will take over the starting job
Carter Hutton was primarily brought in to be the bridge and mentor to Linus Ullmark, the hopeful next franchise goaltender. Prior to this season, Hutton had never started more than 34 games in a single campaign. He is already at 32 this season, and most likely will end somewhere around 47-49 games.
But Ullmark has shown that he is ready to take the next step in what it means to be a franchise starter. He is 10-4-3 with a .914 save percentage, standing behind a defense that can’t mark a man in their own end.
???? I-N-C-R-O-Y-A-B-L-E ????
Linus Ullmark 1
Jakub Voracek 0 pic.twitter.com/EJTdHxT3rw
— LNH (@LNH_FR) December 8, 2018
There have been multiple games this season where he was the reason the Sabres either won or were still in the game in the 3rd period. If he is indeed the future, Housley and Botterill may want to increase his workload and truly see how much this guy can handle as they prepare for multiple years of playoff runs shortly.
John Krieger: Rasmus Dahlin will win the Calder Memorial Trophy
A bright spot in this interesting season has been Buffalo’s 1st overall pick back in June of 2018, Rasmus Dahlin. He has been exactly as advertised by many NHL experts. Unbelievable at times, while making the occasional mistake. At only 18 years of age, the young Swede is on his way to Rookie of the Year.
Elias Pettersson is an absolute stud. But when is the last time the league has seen an 18-year-old stud defenseman like Dahlin? With 50 games played, he’s collected five goals and 23 assists and is on pace for 46 points. That would be the 2nd most points as an 18-year-old defenseman ever!
From BUF 5 CBJ 4#Sabres now 25-18-6 (56 pts) within 2 points of Pittsburgh (26-17-6, 58 pts) for the final Wild Card spot in East
— Bruce Bolton (@BruceDBolton) January 30, 2019
20-year-old Pettersson, the 5th overall pick back in 2017 is on pace for 80 points this season for the Vancouver Canucks. As of now, he has missed 11 games due to injury. While this is a very impressive rookie season, Dahlin’s accomplishments at only 18 stand out among the all-time greats. It will be a close battle, but No. 26 gets the nod.
Abbi Sales: Buffalo will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs
Some people may think it’s too bold to predict but the truth is, but Buffalo is within reach of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They are currently three points out of a Wild Card spot but that’s nothing compared to 10 years ago.
Jack Eichel rips it past David Rittich for the OT win. ????
— theScore (@theScore) January 17, 2019
Pittsburgh, Washington and Columbus struggle to stay consistent, giving the Sabres a real chance to bounce back. Although the Sabres are also struggling to string together wins, they have plenty of time to gain traction and patch up their current woes. This seven-game homestand could be the start of the Sabres playoff push.
Craig Schutts: Tage Thompson reaches 20 goals
Indeed, as of this writing, Thompson is only at seven goals, but let’s look at a few trends. Thompson has two goals in his last five games, and has compiled 10 shots in that time as well. While currently playing on the third forward line, he’s averaging roughly 14 minutes of time-on-ice, which is giving him more of an opportunity to utilize his best asset, the wrist shot.
More importantly though, Thompson is now seeing time as the point-man for the second power-play unit. Though it’s a small sample size, Thompson ranks third on the team in expected goals per 60 minutes on the man-advantage, thus showing the potential danger he poses on the power play.
— Buffalo Hockey moments (@SabresPlays) January 30, 2019
After a very slow start which had many fans questioning Jason Botterill’s decision to keep Thompson with the big club through his development struggles, Thompson is making appearances on the score sheet on a much more consistent basis, thus giving him the chance to hit that magical 20-goal plateau.
Let us know what you think of these and leave a comment with your own bold prediction below!