While The Charging Buffalo has been feeding a hockey crazed community insight on the Sabres, I wanted to take a step back and let our readers get to know The Charging Buffalo team.
From now until the start of the season, I’ll be sitting down with different contributors for TCB to ask them a variety of questions about themselves, the Sabres, the Amerks, Sabres prospects. Not all interviews will be the same due to what will be going on with the Sabres starting with the Prospects Challenge. Be sure to stay tuned to all interviews coming out as each will have some different questions.
Let’s get right into the conversation I had with TCB contributor D.J. Mitchell.
Bill: Where did you grow up? Where do you live now? When did you join TCB? What do you do outside of writing for TCB?
DJ: I grew up in Brockport, NY, you might know it for the college and I’m still living there for now. I’m working in both Rochester and Buffalo, but I’m mainly working at M&T Bank in Buffalo.
I joined TCB back in June because I wanted to write about the Sabres. My friend and I started a Sabres blog back in high school, but didn’t have much of a following, but we did get the clip of Jack Eichel shooting the puck through the net at development camp. People realized our writing was that of high schoolers so we ended up abandoning it, but I always wanted to get back to writing about the Sabres because that’s my passion.
In the meantime, that same friend and I started a daily fantasy hockey podcast called “The Morning Skate” that has gotten a decent following.
Bill: What kind of writing style will readers see from you?
DJ: I’m hoping to combine analytics and some comedy in my articles. I won’t overwhelm readers with insane numbers or graphics, but its clear people are getting more into the numbers. I want to explain the numbers and why I think they matter, but at the end of the day I want the articles I put out to be enjoyable to read.
Bill: Moving right into the Sabres, when did you become a Sabres fan?
DJ: I guess I was born a Sabres fan. My dad took me to games when I was little, we would always get the 5 pack, 1 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze games. I love watching and playing hockey so I’ve been going to games my entire life.
Bill: What is your fondest memory of watching the Sabres?
DJ: Watching live, I’d say back in 2010 when Buffalo beat Atlanta 10-1, Stafford and Roy both had hat tricks . Being at that game was one of the best moments in my life. It was a kids game too.
In general, the whole “Now Do You Believe” Stanley Cup playoffs. I was maybe 12 and I wore my Drury jersey to school every day. My mom said we needed to wash it but I said nope not washing it.
Bill: What is one thing in Sabres history you wish you could erase?
DJ: That Stanley Cup run also led to my worst Sabres memory of losing to the Hurricanes. At the time, I didn’t really grasp how injuries could effect a team so at the time it didn’t make much sense to lose to them, but looking back it’s just such a travesty.
Bill: Looking forward to this upcoming season, what are you most excited about for the 2018-19 season?
DJ: Well I got season tickets so I’m just going to get to every single possible game I can go to. I’m really not going to go into this season with expectations too high or too low, I’m just excited to watch this young team hit the ice every night and hopefully they produce more goals.
It’s been agonizing to watch. They don’t score and give up too many high percentage scoring chances. I’m excited to see an entire culture change both on and off the ice.
As for the in game experience, I know Kim Pegula has been travelling to different arenas to see what other teams are successful at doing. Also, my buddy told me he’s cousins with Lauren Hall and she’ll still be around, but having a another in-game host will be interesting to see how that plays out with two in games hosts.
Bill: Who do you expect to not be on the Sabres at the end of the season?
DJ: I think it has to be one of the defensemen. Someone isnt going to make the lineup early on that is deserving of a chance in the NHL and I think Nathan Beaulieu is one of those guys. I don’t think he has any value at all right now, so I’m not sure what he’d be moved for, so maybe if a team comes up with a Jake McCabe offer.
I don’t want to lose McCabe and I think he can be good in certain aspects, but if we can add some sort of scoring and move McCabe, I think that would be an option. Logically it would be Beaulieu, but I think there is more of a market for Jake McCabe. I don’t want it to happen, but if we can add a young 3rd line scorer for McCabe and a prospect, I’m ok with that.
Bill: Who do you think will be the Sabres MVP? Unsung hero?
DJ: Obviously Jack Eichel will be the best on the team and I don’t think it will be close. As for an unsung hero, I really expect a bounce back year from Kyle Okposo. Last year, he went into the season with very little offseason work, he was slow out of the gate and he was not getting a lot of minutes. I’m excited for him to bounce back and I think he will because he will have better linemates in general this year.
I think hes better than people give him credit for because people say he’s a product of John Tavaras much like Matt Moulson, but I think he has a lot of skill and a good shot. Plus he’s willing to shoot from anywhere which was lacking last season after Evander Kane left. He’ll be an unsung hero and leader in the locker room.
Bill: A follow up to that, do you think Okposo is still a top 6 forward?
DJ: I think he is. On our team this year, yes he’s a top 6 forward. I kind of want to throw away last year. Like I said, he didn’t have much of an offseason and went into the year with health concerns which turned into less minutes and less production. Is he worth his contract? Maybe not, but I think he can come back this year and prove he’s worthy of his contract.
Bill: Who will be the surprise/under the radar to make the team out of camp? Dahlin and Mittelstadt do not count.
DJ: I’ll say Alex Nylander. I think a lot of people want him to get more time in Rochester, but I don’t think he needs it. It’s time to pull him up and get him into the lineup. Now the question is where does he fit in the lineup?….
Maybe you want more speed on your third line with players that can cover for him defensively, but you don’t want to feed him to the wolves on the first line. I’d say give him 12 minutes a night plus second unit powerplay time, putting him around 14-15 minutes a night. The first powerplay unit will probably be stacked, but the second powerplay unit needs to pick it up. It was basically if the first unit didn’t score, the powerplay was pretty much done.
You need your best scorers playing every night. I think he got bored in Rochester and that’s not a good quality, I’m not defending him, but he wants to be in the NHL and if he’s sent back down to Rochester, he’ll just go through the motions again and it’s time to give him a chance. I hope he can prove a lot of people wrong this year.
Bill: Are you worried about the Grigorenko effect with Nylander putting him in a bottom 6 role?
DJ: Honestly I just think Grigorenko wasn’t very good. He has a great shot but he couldn’t get by anyone or create space to use that shot. He kind of has a shot like Panarin, but was not nearly as elusive. Grigorenko couldn’t create offensive opportunities and I think Nylander has that ability. People in Rochester have seen his ability to stickhandle and generate speed through the neutral zone to create offensive chances. Also, Nylander is much better on the powerplay that gives him another element to his game.
Bill: Where do you see the Sabres falling in the Atlantic division?
DJ: I think if you ask 100 people, they would probably all say the top two will be Tampa and Toronto, although I do think there is a case to be made for Boston or Florida to take out Toronto because the Leafs’ defense is pretty bad.
In the end, I think Boston will fit in at three, then Florida four and the Sabres five. I would love for the Sabres to have a chance at the playoffs and they could if 5 teams from the Atlantic make it, but that would mean only three teams from the Metro division and that’s tough to imagine.
Bill: What do you think of Phil Housley’s first year behind the bench?
DJ: I wasn’t thrilled with what Housley did last year, but you have to give him clean slate this year because they had such little scoring and puck moving. You can’t hold the season against him because he didn’t have anything to work with. Let’s see how he does this season then we’ll revisit this question.
Bill: Moving onto Rochester, who do you think will be the first called up to the Sabres?
DJ: For the forwards, it’s a little tough with guys like CJ Smith and Sean Malone doing so well last year, but the obvious answer is Baptiste or Bailey. The only thing is right now we don’t know who will make the Sabres or not. I’d say one of them makes it and the other would be the first call up.
For defense, it would be Brendan Guhle which is sad because I really want him to make the team out of camp but I don’t think they will waste a potential waiver unless he’s significantly better than the others. I think he has the most offensive upside for a defenseman besides Dahlin, but defensively I don’t have a strong stance on where he is comparatively to the rest of the defensemen.
This also applies for Casey Nelson, he has an offensive, puck moving upside, but defensively I’m not sold. He was solid defensively towards the end of the season, but again, there is a logjam on defense.
Bill: With 3 of the top 6 scorers on the Amerks last season in Colin Blackwell, Seth Griffith and Sahir Gill, who do you expect to pickup the slack in Rochester?
DJ: I think if Sean Malone and CJ Smith are still down in Rochester, I think those guys can dominate the AHL.
Victor Olofsson is a question mark no matter what he did in the Swedish league. I think he can come over and do the same in the AHL and be one of those leading scorers, but you never know how someones first year in North America will go.
A more off the radar pick is Rasmus Asplund to step in and contribute immediately. He has plenty of skill and will work his way up the depth chart as a two-way, playmaking center.
Bill: Especially if you can get a sniper on the wing of a playmaking center that can play a 200 foot game like Asplund, that will become a lethal duo in the Swedish takeover of the Sabres/Amerks.
Who is one or two of the veterans on the Amerks you’re looking to lead all the new players joining Rochester?
DJ: I think it will be Kevin Porter and Taylor Fedun. You can throw Nathan Paestch in there, but those are the two guys I’m looking at to lead the lead both on and off the ice. They’ve been around long enough to help out new players to pro hockey in North America.
Bill: Lastly for the Amerks, what are some of your thoughts on head coach Chris Taylor?
DJ: I’m a huge fan of Chris Taylor and what he’s doing. Hopefully he continues on this path and if it doesn’t work out with Housley, maybe he’s the internal guy there that can step into his place. This year will be big in his growth as a head coach and it’s something to keep an eye on.
Bill: Moving onto prospects in the Sabres system, is there a player you’ll be keeping your eye on during the season in juniors, college or overseas?
DJ: As far as a draft pick from this year, I think a lot of fans are on the Matej Pekar train after his showing at development camp. He’ll be playing at the Univeristy of Miami in Ohio so we probably won’t have a lot of opportunities to watch him, but I think he can go in and be a solid contributor as a freshman. His numbers in the USHL were very good for his age group, up there with guys that were picked much higher than he was (4th round). We will be able to see him at the World Juniors because I think he’s a lock for the Czech team.
As for any prospect out there, it would have to be Oskari Laaskenon from Finland. He’s the prototypical Jason Botterill defenseman that has an offensive mindset. He’s a good skater that moves the puck well, but needs to refine his defensive game and get stronger before coming over to North America. He will be playing in Liga, the Finnish pro league, so he will be exposed to older, better competition.
Bill: That being said, are those the two guys you’d expect to have the best chance of dawning the Sabres jersey in the future?
DJ: Obviously it’s tough to call at this point, but those are the two guys that given a few years, they can start making their way up the organization’s depth chart.
Who will win the NHL MVP, Venza and the Stanley Cup?
I’m going with the Winnipeg Jets winning the Cup. I think they’ll be able to come out of the West and beat Tampa in the finals. The league MVP will be Connor McDavid, he should win it every year. For the Vezina, I don’t necessarily like this award, but for the sake of predictions I’ll go with Connor Hellebuyck since I have the Jets winning the Cup.
Who will land 2019 consensus top overall pick Jack Hughes?
The funniest answer would be Colorado getting him from the Senators pick that they are forced to give them and on paper they will likely be the worst team in the NHL. That being said, I think justice is going to be served and the New York Islanders will land Hughes with a lottery win.
What will come first? Bills winning the Superbowl or the Sabres winning the Stanley Cup?
I’m going Sabres winning the Stanley Cup and I’m a Browns fan so I won’t be seeing a Superbowl win anytime soon. I will say this about the Bills: I’m a big Sean McDermott fan and I’m a Josh Allen believer.
Who do you have winning the Superbowl and who will win Player of the Year on both sides?
I think I’ll go with the popular pick, the LA Rams. For DPOY, I have to go with Miles Garrett from the Browns and OPOY, I’ll go with DeShaun Watson coming back and tearing it up.
Flats or Drums?
Drums all day.
Favorite wing sauce flavor?
Buffalo medium is always solid, but if they have Buffalo Garlic Parm, I have to go with that.
What are some of your other hobbies?
I love going to craft breweries, I’ve been to everyone in Buffalo and probably in Rochester too. I go to a ton of concerts, if I’m not at a concert at least once or twice a month, its a down month for me. Music wise I listen to a lot of indie rock, folk rock, alternative rock and I’ll go to country shows but they aren’t necessarily my favorite.
Is there a place you really want to travel to or go on vacation?
I have only been in the United States and Canada, so I really want to go to Europe. Countries like Germany, Ireland and Italy I hope to visit within a few years. I love travelling, I just haven’t been able to as much as I’d like.
What was your first AIM username?
I think, but I’m not sure. I think it was DJIrishBrowns. I’m also a Notre Dame fan so that’s where the name comes from.
Anything else you’d like to share?
The only other thing I haven’t mentioned is I listen to a lot of podcasts both hockey and non hockey realted so if anyone needs suggestions, I’m your guy. If anyone plays daily fantasy hockey, I have a podcast about that as well if anyone is interested in that. We have a GroupMe of people suggesting who they will pick for the night and some people have won a lot of money.
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Stay tuned for more interviews of the TCB team!