The Sabres will kickoff their 48th season tonight at 7pm in Buffalo against the Montreal Canadiens. For the first time in years Sabres fans should be feeling very optimistic about the team. General Manager Jason Botterill has come in and changed the identity of the team right from the start. He and Head Coach, Phil Housley, have put an emphasis on speed and offense. The defense has new blood in Nathan Beaulieu, Marco Scandella, and Viktor Antipin, all who can get up ice and move the puck. A direct opposite of the Tim Murray/Dan Bylsma era.
Here is what to look for as we dive into the season…..
80 million dollar man, Jack Eichel is going to lead the way on offense in what should be his true breakout year. While we all know Jack is among the best young crop of forwards in the NHL, Jack is out to prove he is among the elite in the NHL. Riding shotgun with Jack will be Evander Kane and Jason Pominville. On the second line Ryan O’Reilly will be centering free agent pickup Benoit Pouliot and Kyle Okposo, who looks healthy and ready to go. The second line is a little more of a grind it out type of offensive line, which gives the Sabres some versatility in their top six.
The bottom six looks improved but their is still some uncertainty. Housley decided to try Sam Reinhart at his natural position of center but it still remains to be seen if he will stay there long term. His line mates Zemgus Girgensons and Seth Griffith don’t make the line any more appealing but a bounce back year from Zemgus and Griffith finally putting it all together could make the third line a surprising one for the Sabres. On the fourth line free agent signee Jacob Josefson will center Johan Larsson and waiver wire pick up Jordan Nolan. This line should add some speed and toughness that will get under opponents skin.
The most improved area of the Sabres should help propel them into a serious contender for a playoff spot. Jason Botterill did a wonderful job of buying low on Nathan Beaulieu who has looked smooth and steady on the backend in the preseason. He’ll play on the top pair with Rasmus Ristolainen, who will hopefully have some pressure taken off of him this year. If Housley can manage Ristos minutes then he’ll be an even more effective player than years past. On the second pair, Marco Scandella will be paired with Matt Tennyson to start the season. The hope is Scandella won’t be too effected his hip, which he had surgery on this past summer. Tennyson a signee from this past summer will fill Zach Bogosians role until he is healthy. The third pair will feature Jake McCabe and Viktor Antipin. McCabe plays a more physical and defensive role while Antipin is known for his offensive ability. Hopefully the pair will feed off each others tendencies and continue to grow.
Robin Lehner will be looking to build off of his solid performance in net last season. Sabres fans would like to see him cut down on weak goals but Lehner looks thinner and quicker in the net so there should be some improvement. Chad Johnson is back in a Sabres uniform and should provide some solid relief for Robin. All in all, goaltending should not be a problem for the Sabres this season especially with an improved D core.
The Sabres announced today that Ryan O’Reilly, Zach Bogosian, Kyle Okposo, and Jack Eichel will serve as assistant captains. I have no problem with the decision as these are all grown men. A letter on your jersey does not define the type of leader you are. I don’t think there is a doubt Jack Eichel will become the Sabres next captain whether it be some time later this season or next year. Jack is vocal and leads by example on the ice.
While it might be a little disappointing that our young players like Nick Baptiste, Justin Bailey, Hudson Fasching, and Alex Nylander didn’t make the roster it doesn’t mean they won’t make an impact later this year. While Botterill was in Pittsburgh Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel both weren’t ready in October to start the year but were ready in December. The hope is that one of our young players forces his way onto the roster just like Sheary and Guentzel did in Pittsburgh.
The Sabres should be a fun team to watch this season. Jack Eichel will be the electric superstar we have been waiting for. Sam Reinhart will hopefully take a jump in his production. The Sabres defense adds an offensive element to the team with Zach Bogosian playing the like player he once was when healthy. Robin Lehner will prove the doubters wrong this season and play like the number one goalie we envisioned him to be. In the end I see the Sabres making the playoffs narrowly but nonetheless Sabres fans just want to see their team win.
Sabres fans lets enjoy it, take it all in, because this is what we tanked for.