Saturday night, Chris Johnston broke news that Victor Olofsson and Henri Jokiharju were advised by GM Jason Botterill to find a place to live in Buffalo.
It’s important to note Head Coach Ralph Krueger, “pointed out the competition here won’t stop” per Lance Lysowski of the Buffalo News.
To most fans, a start like this was expected from Victor Olofsson. He’s been in the system for a while and everyone saw what he accomplished in Rochester (also his brief stint at the end of last season with Buffalo). He was familiar and expectations were set. It’s great to see him take steps towards reaching high arching expectations.
We’re finding out he might not be the best 5v5 player, but he’s a powerplay specialist with a blistering shot. My favorite part about his abilities on the powerplay are not only his shot, but once teams start gravitating towards him, it’s open season for Jack Eichel on the top of the left circle. And with Dahlin as a pivot at the top? The Sabres first unit should be lethal all season long.
Despite all the good we’re seeing out of Olofsson, the emergence of Henri Jokiharju has been the surprise of the season so far.
While we knew he performed well as a 19 year old rookie defenseman for Chicago and Rockford (AHL), his numbers were good and the clips of what we could find online looked impressive, this is the first of seeing #10 in full game action. Now that we have, let me say: Hello beautiful stretch passes. He’s easily one of the best passers on the team already and he’s only 20 years old.
I’ve noticed some on #SabresTwitter are attributing Jokiharju’s poise beyond his years and puck moving abilities for the resurgence of Marco Scandella. I absolutely believe this as part of it, but the system Krueger has set forth, along with his partner’s play in this system, has revitalized Scandella’s confidence in his game.
Confidence has more of an effect on players than we sometimes realize and Marco Scandella looks confident this year. It’s early and there have been mistakes (everyone from Jack Eichel to Linus Ullmark have made them), but it’s refreshing to see Marco play the way he has. Especially when he was getting dumped on all summer, including by yours truly, being able to deliver some comeuppance to us has to feel good. I’m not saying he’s seeing our mean tweets, but he knows how bad it was last year and had to know fans were not pleased.
This brings me to my next point. Yes, Marco Scandella is playing better, but in my view, he’s still the Sabres sixth defenseman. So, with Jokiharju staying in Buffalo for the long haul, what does that mean when Lawrence Pilut and Brandon Montour are back and ready for action?
This might sound like nails on a chalkboard to Sabres fans, but since Pilut is already practicing with the Amerks and is waivers exempt….it’s happening. He’s starting his season in Rochester. I’m fine with this as long as it doesn’t drag on. When he’s back in game shape and ready to go, bring him up. Let the best players play. Even if his play doesn’t knock you out of your seat in Rochester, to me, he belongs on the Sabres.
Now, when Montour returns, that’s when things get interesting. We need to remember John Gilmour is occupying a healthy scratch position. Will Krueger and Botterill scratch two defensemen a night? Who will it be? You’d be right in assuming Gilmour would be sent down, but what if they don’t?
This is where my points on Marco Scandella come full circle. While it’s nice to see him play better to start the season, I still think he’s the odd man out. That does leave you with four right shot defensemen (Miller, Montour, Ristolainen and Jokiharju) and only two lefties (Dahlin and McCabe), but I feel Jokiharju or Montour could play on their off hand. It’s not ideal, but it’s not worth sitting one of the four righties mentioned for the sake of handedness, is it?
Or, will one of those righties not be in the equation anymore? There has been word about that 30 scouts attended the Sabres-Habs game this past week. Undoubtedly Ristolainen was being watched and evaluated, but I also think those scouts were looking at other Sabres players as possible pieces to a deal.
This deal that I’m referring to is speculation on my part, but could it be Botterill is taking some time to pull the trigger or make a new, enticing offer when Montour returns? It would make sense to me is all I’m saying.
Most GMs aren’t making moves until 15-20 games in anyways. When Montour went down, GMJB might have sat back and said, “let’s revisit this once Brandon is back and other teams have a better understanding of how they stack up this season”.
Again, this is speculation on my part, but it’s a plausible scenario that would benefit the Sabres trying to and so far succeeding to start strong in their 50th season. Keep Ristolainen around as a place holder for Montour while other teams see more and more that they need help, upping the ante on Risto.
Regardless of the ripple effect that takes place because of this, the Sabres are 4-0-1 with two young players making key contributions getting told they’re staying in Buffalo. They must be ecstatic as they’ve worked their whole lives for this moment.
Even though it’s been a long time coming (for Victor, very long) and they should be proud, the work has just begun. They might make mistakes, especially as the season wears on taking a toll mentally and physically, it’s important to note they don’t need to play prominent roles to make an impact.
Yes, Olofsson is on the first line with Eichel and Reinhart, but even if he gets bumped down to play with Johansson or Mittelstadt as his center, he’ll always find himself on the powerplay making his mark.
As for Jokiharju, he’ll need to keep his calm and cool composure throughout the season. With guys like Miller, Montour, Dahlin and McCabe, Jokiharju can sit nicely in the 3rd pairing bringing a another wave of offense. His passing is an asset and always will be, so making sure things are as clean as possible while defending in his end will mark just how impactful he is on both ends of the ice.