The Sabres season is finally over, and it was a long and extremely difficult road for anyone involved with it. Fans, season ticket holders, the team and the media all desperately needed the season to end.
For the third time in five seasons the Sabres finished last place and will have the best odds at winning the first overall pick, but more than likely will end up drafting fourth if things go the way they have all year.
With that being said, I’ve examined the Sabres season and I desperately tried to come up with a few positives that can help give the Sabres hope heading into next year, and as impossible as it seems there are a few positives that the Sabres can build off.
Reinhart’s Late Season Surge
The start of the season was a disaster for Sam Reinhart, whether it was because he was pushed to center at the start, or because things weren’t going right for him or any other reason you can think of.
When the Winter Classic came around Reinhart was looking like a complete bust, people were saying he needed a change of scenery to salvage his career going forward. But then the something drastic happened.
After January 1, Reinhart completely flipped the switch, his play improved drastically and subsequently his numbers did as well. In the second half of the season Reinhart looked to have his confidence back, he was skating better, he held onto the puck longer, he was shooting the puck with confidence.
After his terrible start, Reinhart finished with 25 goals and 25 assists for 50 points, with career highs in goals and points. The second half showed Reinhart has what it takes to be an impact player in this league, and I believe he convinced Botterill he is worth keeping around going forward.
It’s no surprise that Jack Eichel is the Sabres most dynamic offensive player, but at times during the season he was criticized for his body language, his effort, and his consistency (all rightfully so).
But after putting up a career high 64 points in 67 games (a 77-point pace) Eichel showed something that we’ve never seen from him before.
At the locker room clean out Eichel spoke with conviction, he acted like a leader, and more importantly showed that he is ready to captain this team into the future. Eichel also said that he needs to be better, and that the change starts with him.
If you remember his exit interview last year, you were blown away by the maturity that Eichel showed this year. And for a team that lacks leadership having Eichel mature into the captain/leader of this team is a big positive going forward.
The Young Guns
When the season began winding down there was almost nothing worth watching for Sabres fans, then BorgenWatch and MittelstadtWatch happened. Botterill brought the two best prospects (outside the organization) into the fold and Sabres fans got excited again.
Add that to the fact the Nylander got called up, Guhle and Nelson had been here for a while and then you have a reason for your fans to watch the last bit of the season.
The last six games of the season were very intriguing for Sabres fans, they saw their first glimpse of the future, and at times it looked very bright.
Guhle is as advertised, a very strong skater who jumps into the play to generate offence and is farther along defensively (with more work to do) than most thought.
Nelson was a pleasant surprise, playing very well at times. He has really improved, he can skate, move the puck well and play solid defensively when needed. He is a player I would consider bringing back next season.
Nylander gets a lot of flack for being soft and scared of physicality, but in his three games this season I didn’t see that. He was engaged, he showed off his shot, and added his first career goal against Tampa. He still has a lot of work to do, but I liked his performance in limited action, and without injuries he may have a good chance at sticking around next year.
Mittelstadt arrived in the NHL with a lot of hype amongst Sabres fans, and he didn’t disappoint. He scored five points in six games, including a great goal against Tampa Bay. At times he looked shaky and nervous but for the most he was exciting to watch. Having him in the fold is a big bright spot going forward. Getting him a full off-season with an NHL training regimen is going to be huge for his game. The eighth overall pick from Botterill’s inaugural draft looks set to be an impact player in his first full season in the NHL.
Those are the positives for the Sabres, the negatives … well everything else.
The team has a lot of work to do but expect big changes. Everyone in the media has been reporting that Botterill won’t sit around this off-season. So sit back and enjoy the first round of the playoffs, because once the lottery is here Botterill will officially be on the clock, and the off-season should be a wild ride for the Buffalo Sabres.