Continuing our series interviewing contributors for The Charging Buffalo, I talked to Paul Zuk (@paulzuk_81). Get to know Paul better with his thoughts on the Sabres, Amerks, prospects and more!
Bill: First, let the TCB readers know who you are. Where did you grow up? When did you join TCB? What do you do outside of writing for TCB?
Paul: Well for starters, my name’s Paul Zuk, and I grew up in Hamilton, Ontario. I joined The Charging Buffalo in June of this year, but have been a fan of the blog/social media for a little while. Outside of writing to TCB, I work in the music industry!
What do you do for TCB? What style of writing can the readers expect from you?
Essentially, I’m going to try and tackle the day to day articles. Game previews/reviews, tracking all the interesting and popular stories, cover any type of transaction for the Sabres, that kind of content. I’ll try to add a few interviews as well, as readers saw the beginning of that with my Jay McKee piece.
I’d say that the readers can expect me to do my best to produce quality content for them, and keep them coming back for more. I mean, keeping our followers happy and interested in all things Sabres is one of the main reasons we’re here, right?
When did you become a Sabres fan?
Growing up as close to Toronto as I have, every one of my friends seems to be a Maple Leafs fan. I was never fond of being cliché like that, so I chose the next closest squad/big rival. It also didn’t hurt that Buffalo was rocking the unreal goat head jerseys at the time, and were also making a Stanley Cup run at the time.
What is your fondest memory of the Sabres?
Oh jeez, there’s so many to choose from. I’d say the most memorable would have to be the playoff run in 2005/06. That year, the team showed so much promise, youth, and skill. It seemed that any night, they could put up 5 or 6 goals at will. They showed a ton of resilience in the playoff run, especially from the younger guys like Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, and Jason Pominville. If it wasn’t for that injury bug that knocked ¾ of the defense out, there’s no doubt in my mind that Buffalo would have a Stanley Cup.
What is one thing in Sabres History You wish you could erase?
Just to touch on something different, I’d probably go with the brutal missed call in Game 6 of the 1999 Cup Finals. Hull’s foot was in the crease and the goal shouldn’t have happened. If you reverse that, there’s a chance the Sabres take Game 6, and who knows after that. Couple that with the injury bug in 05/06, and there was a good shot the Sabres could have been two-time Cup champs. Oh, hindsight. *chuckles*
What are you most excited about in the 2018/19 season?
I’m looking forward to a few things, to be honest. Mainly, I’m intrigued to see how Phil Housley adapts as he enters year two as a head coach. His development, coupled with the talent the Sabres have added this offseason could prove to be quite dangerous. Only time will tell of course, but I’m expecting a fair amount of improvement this season.
Can you name a player that won’t be on the team by the end of the year?
Frankly, not really. Mind you, it all hinges on the mindset of the front office when the Trade Deadline rolls around. If this team gels early on, I believe they can make a run for a wildcard position, in which case the Sabres may be looking to add a couple pieces.
However, if they are no better off than last year, I can see them moving a defenseman such as McCabe, Bogosian barring health, or Hunwick to a playoff bound team looking for playoff depth.
Can you offer a prediction for Team MVP? Unsung Hero? Biggest disappointment?
The way Jack Eichel has carried himself this offseason has shown not only myself, but most Sabres fans that he is ready to lead this team. Hearing about the offseason he’s had training with the likes of Adam Oates, and showing up to Buffalo much earlier than previous seasons shows me that he’s willing to go the extra mile to succeed. He’d be my bet for Team MVP.
As far as Unsung Heroes go, I’m going to give the nod to Linus Ullmark. This isn’t me saying I don’t have faith in Carter Hutton, but I believe Ullmark is ready to compete at this level. With a much improved team in front of him, I believe he will flourish if Hutton starts to slump or gets injured.
It’s hard to name a biggest disappointment because I have a lot of faith in the squad this season. If I had to choose, I might say Zach Bogosian, solely because of prior health issues. Bogo is a solid defensive deference when healthy, but he has to keep healthy. It isn’t fun to watch a $5m+ investment be so oft injured for either the player of team. Here’s hoping he lights it up this season!
Who is your surprise to make the Sabres out of Camp?
With the offseason additions made by Botterill, there aren’t many holes available to be filled, especially if Tage Thompson stays up the whole season. That being said, I’d love to see Alex Nylander make it. He hasn’t really shown the promise one would expect out of an eighth overall pick. Nylander played well at the end of the season last year, and has had a great offseason so far, so I’d like to see him make the team, but I’m not so sure the Sabres want to give him bottom 6 minutes. It’ll be an interesting camp for sure.
Thoughts on Phil Housley last season and this upcoming season?
I thought Phil was a good choice as Head Coach. He had a rough season last year, granted he didn’t have much luck with injuries or overall skill. It will be nice to see how things go this season with a few upgrades at every position, and with pretty much everyone at 100% health.
I’m super excited to see how he can help Dahlin develop, as I see a few similarities in the way they approach the game.
Any games you have circled on the Calendar?
This answer might be pretty obvious, but I’m looking forward to the match ups against the Oilers and Maple Leafs. Something about the McDavid vs. Eichel conversation always seems to motivate Eichel to take it to the next level, which is always fun to watch. The Maple Leafs always look to be a good match up, of course.
For the Sabres vs. Leafs games, regardless of where each team sits in the standings, every game is a dogfight and usually makes for some high tempo, high scoring hockey.
Who will be some of the last sent down before the season begins? On that note, who will be the first call ups during the season?
This seems to be a recurring theme with the Sabres, but I believe it’ll be Justin Bailey and Nic Baptiste. I love those guys, but I just don’t see how either cracks the lineup full time.
As far as call ups go, I can see players like C.J. Smith, Sean Malone, or maybe even Victor Olofsson, in addition to Bailey and Baptiste.
Every player I mentioned offers a different style of play to the Sabres, which comes in handy depending on the reasoning for the call up. The Sabres are grateful to be spoiled for choice in that regard.
That’s a good point, having the range of players in the AHL that can fill in for specific players should they get injured would ideal, but is way easier said than done. Who will pick up the scoring slack from last year?
Of course it will all depend on where certain players end up once opening night rosters are set. If Alex Nylander doesn’t make the Sabres out of camp, I’m expecting a breakout season from him.
In addition to Nylander, I believe C.J Smith will be racking up the points this season. He went 17-27-44 in 57 games played last year, however I can see him edging close to a point a game pace with the right luck.
Another candidate to me would be Victor Olofsson. I believe his game will take some adjusting to the AHL, but he’s a natural scorer, and will hopefully find some chemistry with his new teammates early on.
Do the Amerks have enough depth to maintain a playoff team if the Sabres start getting hurt?
In a nutshell, yes, I believe they have enough depth. It all hinges on which player(s) make the Sabres out of camp, and where any injuries happen position wise.
In my opinion, both the Sabres and Amerks are deep at center and defense, however, not so much on the wings. I’m hoping for a mostly injury free season for both teams, so here’s hoping we don’t have to revisit this question ☺
Who is one player in juniors, college or overseas fans should keep an eye on?
Matej Pekar. Love his feistiness and skill. It will be interesting to see how he continues to adjust to the North American game as he develops in the OHL.
Who in the long run has the best chance of making an impact for the Sabres down the road?
I can see Victor Olofsson making a serious impact in the next couple of seasons for the Sabres, maybe even as early as later on this season. Olofsson’s lightning fast release coupled with his wicked shot provides a skill set the Sabres have lacked over the past few years. There’s potential for him slotting in as the #2 RW as early as next season, but a more realistic goal would be the start of the 2020/21 season.
If Olofsson can adapt to the North American style of play early on this season, it could pay dividends for the Sabres in the years to come.
What are your thoughts on the goalies in the Sabres system?
I believe the Sabres have some solid depth between the pipes. I’m a huge fan of Ukko Pekka Luukkonen’s game. When the Sabres were able to get him in the second round in 2017, I was stoked. I think he’s still a couple of seasons at least away from contributing in North America, however, he will be a great addition for Rochester in the near future.
To speak on the other goalies in the prospect pipeline (Jonas Johansson & Adam Wilcox), I can’t see them contributing to the Sabres anytime soon, if at all, but they will be decent puck stoppers at their respective levels.
Wings or Drums? What sauce?
Great question. Gotta be drums. Much much easier to dip in blue cheese! As far as sauce goes, always Hot!
What will happen first? A Bills Super Bowl or a Sabres Stanley Cup?
In all honesty, I’m a die hard Washington Redskins fan, so I’m going to say a Sabres Stanley Cup. Not because I’m biased, but because the Sabres seem to have a solid core built up, and with 3 first round picks coming up in 2019, are going to be able to replenish the roster much easier than the Bills will be able to do. My money is on the Sabres.
Who will win the Stanley Cup this year?
Trying to guess a Cup favorite in September is damn near impossible. I mean who seriously had a Capitals/Golden Knights final last year? *laughs* But to answer the question, I can envision a Tampa Bay/Winnipeg Final. Betting odds give the Bruins, Leafs, Predators, Golden Knights and Lightning the best odds, but I believe this is the year Winnipeg puts it all together and brings a Stanley Cup back to Canada.
Who from the 2019 draft class that you’ll keep your eye on?
The obvious answer would of course be Jack Hughes, the 5’10 center from the USNTDP. He comes as advertised. Great skill , speed, and is no doubt the 1st overall pick come June. However, I expect the Sabres to be a little more talented and end up with a lower pick.
It’s a pipe dream, but I’d love to see Finnish prospect Kaapo Kakko slip to Buffalo. The 6’2 winger from TPS Turku has turned a lot of heads and will more than likely continue to do so.
The most realistic prospect I can see the Sabres landing come the 2019 Draft would be Raphael Lavoie, the 6’4 winger from Halifax in the Q. The Sabres lack size and quality depth at RW, and could use a body like Lavoie. I’d keep my eye on these gentlemen come June.
So, who will land Jack Hughes?
The Colorado Avalanche. With them missing out on first overall a couple seasons ago, I think they’re due for some luck. Also, Ottawa has a real bad streak of luck going on at the moment, with the Hoffman/Karlsson issue, as well as poor ownership, so it would be par for the course at this point for them to obtain first overall in 2019 but have to forfeit the pick as part of the Duchene trade.
What other sports do you follow?
I’m a fan of all sports, but my top 5 would be Hockey, Football, Golf, Soccer and Baseball. As mentioned, my NFL team is the Redskins. In other sports, I’m a fan of Tiger Woods, Arsenal, and the New York Mets. At least no can call me a bandwagon fan, considering all my teams have been lackluster the past little while, *chuckles*.
What your favorite place you visited? Favorite place you want to visit?
I’d have to say Scotland and England, as I love the way of life over there. So much fun, and to me the weather isn’t half bad. Plus the golf is pretty good!
I’d love to get out to the West Coast, specifically Los Angeles at some point. Such nice weather out there, plus I love big cities!
Did you have AIM First AIM username?
Never had AIM.
You might be lucky not having to relive a brutal screen name, lastly, what are some of your hobbies?
I’m a fan of all sorts of media. TV shows, movies, watching YouTube videos, that kind of stuff. I also frequent video games, usually COD, Fortnite, or some form of sports game. I’m pretty basic *laughs*
Thanks to Paul for taking the time to sit down and answer these questions, keep your eyes peeled for more interviews coming up with revamped questions and new contributors!