With training camp quickly approaching it’s time to remind fans about the things to watch heading into the regular season.
Who will be the 2nd line winger?
To me in order for the Sabres to be truly successful one of three players need to step up and show the Sabres they are ready for the next level. Alex Nylander, Justin Bailey or Nick Baptiste must secure the 2nd line spot in order to help the Sabres dress the best possible roster this season.
All three have spent at least one season in the AHL and need to show that they have been putting in the work to develop into a legit NHLer. The battle for the 2nd line winger spot should be the most intriguing thing about the preseason this year, and fans should be really excited to see how this plays out.
How will Victor Antipin adjust to the NHL?
The Sabres signed Victor Antipin from the KHL in hopes that he could be the next Nikita Zaitsev. The truth is no one really knows what to expect from Antipin, but the preseason will be a good gauge for both the fans and the coaching staff. Antipin is a good skater, and a offensive threat from the blueline so there’s a strong sense of hope from Sabres fans that he will be a great addition. There will be an adjustment period, so watching him from the start of the preseason to the end will be of interest. If he looks comfortable by the end of the preseason it will be a big indication that Antipin has what it takes to be a solid NHL defesneman.
Who will play with Ristolainen?
When the Sabres traded for Marco Scandella everyone automatically slotted him as the top pair d-man alongside Ristolainen. While this is a very strong possibility, nothing has been set in stone yet so it’ll be interesting to see if anyone else can grab that spot. The two names I think have a shot at giving Scandella a run are McCabe and Bogosian (don’t freak out too much). McCabe played with Ristolainen for a bit last year and the two enjoyed some success, and if McCabe can return to his true form it’s possible he can earn a top pairing spot. Bogosian is a former 3rd overall selection and has the ability to be an excellent d-man if placed in the right system.
Regardless of who wins the right to play with Risto fans should be excited that he will finally have a legit NHL D-man as his partner rather than Gorges or Kulikov. This could finally be the year Risto shows the league he is the real deal that Sabres fans believe he is.
Who will be the next Captain?
It is clear that former captain Brian Gionta is not coming back and Botterill and Housley need to entrust a new player with the captaincy. The Sabres have a nice leadership cohort in place with O’Reilly, Okposo, Pominville and Gorges. However they need to entrust the younger guys with bigger leadership roles. Ristolainen and Eichel in particular need to become the leaders they know they can be. It’s no surprise that fans want Eichel to be the next captain, and he himself has made it clear he wants a bigger leadership role so it would make sense to name him captain. However until a captain is actually named people will speculate about who it should be, so hopefully by the regular season kicks off the team will have a new leader in place.
What will the Sabres’ system look like?
When Bylsma was fired by the Sabres most fans rejoiced because it meant the end of the awful style of play that the Sabres had during his two years. Bylsma relied on his defense to quickly move the puck through the neutral zone with long stretch passes but he didn’t have the proper players on his team to execute this system.
Housley has already said he will implement a new fast-paced system that activates the defence into the rush and keeps the pressure on the opposition. During the preseason we will get our fist glimpse at the style of play Housley’s Sabres will play.
During this season we should see an increase in offensive production from the blueline and an increase in the Sabres’ possession stats.
Housley’s Predators had three different d-men each score double digit goals, the Sabres last season had 15 goals from all of their defence combined, so fans should look forward to a drastic increase in this category.
Finally, Housely implementing a fast-paced high pressured system has me thinking he wants to trap opposing teams in their own end and the way to do this is puck possession. So if Housley implements his system properly there will be a big increase in the Sabres possession stats.
The preseason kicks off September 18, 2017 against the Carlona Hurricanes.
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