We’re less than a week away from the Sabres home opener against the Montreal Canadiens and we’re finally getting a good look at what the Sabres lineup may look like come next week.
The Sabres made some roster cuts today. They sent Justin Bailey to Rochester, released defenseman Cody Goloubef from his professional tryout, and they placed both Nic Deslauriers and Taylor Fedun on waivers.
I would be shocked if any of the 30 other teams put a claim in for either Fedun or Deslauriers. Fedun passed through waivers last season so it’s highly unlikely that a team would change their mind on him. When a team is going to put a claim in for a player, they’d be looking at that player as someone who they can insert into their lineup right out of the gate. And Fedun and Deslauriers are not those kinds of players. Yes, Fedun looked good last year in Buffalo but I wouldn’t get all worked up about losing him on waivers. With the waiver claim of Jordan Nolan, I think we all expected that Nic Deslauriers’ time in Buffalo was up. Both of them will end up in Rochester and I believe that they will help out the Amerks this season.
One huge surprise that emerged at the conclusion of the preseason games is that none of the “older” Sabres prospects were able to crack the opening night roster. One of the biggest discussions amongst Sabres fans in the offseason was which of Nylander, Baptiste, Bailey, Fasching, or Smith will make the team out of camp. But in the end, none were able to make the team. Now, who knows how Alex Nylander would’ve done had he been healthy in training camp but I believe he still would’ve been assigned to the Amerks. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with all of these players starting the season in Rochester. Jason Botterill has stressed the word development since the day he got the job as Sabres General Manager. Both Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel started the 16-17 season in Wilkes-Barre Scranton of the AHL because they just weren’t NHL ready. By seasons end, these two players were impact players for Pittsburgh and were heavy contributors to capturing the Stanley Cup. Now, I’m not saying that Bailey, Baptiste, Smith ETC will be top 6 calibre players for Buffalo by the end of the season but, if some of these players can just completely dominate the AHL, you just never know. I’ve said this countless times, this is the year for these players to step it up and actually contribute when they hit the ice for the Sabres. If not, you’re probably going to start to be hearing their names in the rumor mill as far as it comes to trades. Bailey, Baptiste, and Fasching have been around for awhile and now it’s time to make an impact. Tear it up in Rochester, earn your call-up, produce. The clock is ticking, that’s for sure.
One name that I didn’t really expect to make the team out of camp is Seth Griffith. After the cuts of Bailey, Baptiste, Deslauriers, Fasching and Smith, it certainly looks like Griffith has indeed made it onto the Sabres roster out of camp. He’s looked really well throughout the preseason and was arguably Buffalo’s best player in a disappointing showing against the New York Islanders last night. I was really intrigued by the Griffith signing in the offseason. He was a great junior player for the London Knights of the OHL, continued his progression and was great with the Providence Bruin by being a point per game player in the AHL, but he just never was able to show that he could be a productive NHL player. He bounced around a lot last season. He played for Boston, Toronto, and Florida and was waived quite a few times as well. I’m excited to see Seth get a real opportunity in Buffalo. Now, just because he was really good in preseason, doesn’t mean that it’ll translate to the regular season. Exhibit A, Derek Grant. If it doesn’t work out in Buffalo, no problem at all, the Amerks would just improve even more by adding a point per game player into their lineup.
Injuries are already an early concern leading into the season. Especially the injuries on the blueline. In last night’s game, Zach Bogosian didn’t come out for the 3rd period and there was no further update on his injury status. We’ll most likely find out about his status at tomorrow’s practice. Jake McCabe may be ready for the home opener but he’s still sidelined with an upper-body injury. Also, Marco Scandella is still recovering from his offseason hip surgery. He should be ready for game one but, he didn’t play in any preseason games despite participating in many of the practices. Evan Rodrigues, Alex Nylander, and Sean Malone are also banged up. When Nylander and Malone are healthy, I expect that both will be sent to Rochester. Evan Rodrigues was a standout in the preseason games that he played. So, when he recovers from his hand injury, I think he’ll be in the Sabres lineup.
Zemgus Girgensons has impressed this preseason. He’s played mostly on the left wing alongside Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo and I believe that he fits in very well on that line. Girgensons may, in fact, be the player who’ll benefit the most from the coaching change from Dan Bylsma to Phil Housley. There’s no doubt that Zemgus was struggling in Bylsma’s system. It was well documented that Girgensons was one of the players that were confused by Dan’s system. Now Girgensons doesn’t have to overthink his play on the ice. He can just go out there and play his game. Can he get back to the point where he was under Ted Nolan during the tank seasons? Possibly, I’m not going to count Zemgus out, especially if he continues to play in a top 6 role.
Sam Reinhart looks as if he’ll start the season as the Sabres “3rd line center.” Frankly, I’m sick and tired of seeing people on Twitter complain about a 2nd overall pick playing on the “3rd line.” At this point, I’ve probably said it at least 100 times but I’ll say it again. Great center depth KILLS. If you want to have a cup contending team year after year, you need at least three very good centers. If you look at the Penguins three cup teams from the last ten years, they had Crosby, Malkin, and Staal for the first cup and Crosby, Malkin, and Bonino for the second and third cups. I have zero problems with Reinhart playing center. I think this is just being blown completely out of proportion by the fans because they see a number two overall pick playing on the “3rd line.” He’s going to get time on the wing as well as center. It’s nothing to worry about at all. The main thing that I’ll be watching from Reinhart when he’s at center has to be if he can make the players around him better. Can he make guys like Seth Griffith or Benoit Pouliot look better and help them produce more?
Get ready to watch a good Rochester Amerks team this season. They’ve got one of the best goaltenders in the AHL in Linus Ullmark. Ullmark will finally have some help in front of him because of the added depth to Buffalo’s defense. You could be looking at a defense corps of Brendan Guhle, Justin Falk, Taylor Fedun, Casey Nelson, Nathan Paetsch, Matt Tennyson, and maybe even Cody Goloubef. Having depth in Rochester on defense will also allow prospects like Brycen Martin and Devante Stephens get a lot of ice time in Cincinnati of the ECHL. Their wing depth is also fantastic. They have Alex Nylander, C.J. Smith, Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, Hudson Fasching, and possibly even Seth Griffith if he doesn’t work out in Buffalo. The real question mark is the center position for this team. Kevin Porter and Sean Malone will compete for the top center role in all likelihood. There’s also the potential that Brian Gionta may sign an AHL only deal in Rochester so he can play for Team USA at the Olympics. Rochester may indeed have a playoff team this season.
Yes, the Sabres didn’t have a good preseason record. It doesn’t mean anything…
Thanks for reading. Go follow Sabres Fanatics on both Twitter and Instagram @sabresfanatics and like our Facebook page @sabresfanaticssf. You can also follow me on Twitter @JoeSFNHL.