Buffalo Sabres Camp Preview

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ICYMI, Jack Eichel is a hockey player who plays in Buffalo.



With the turn of the calendar to Thursday, September 22, Buffalo Sabres hockey will be back in session at the KeyBank Center.

On Thursday morning, members of the Buffalo Sabres organization will trickle into the KeyBank Center one-by-one and complete their pre-training camp testing and physicals, as preparation for training camp begins.

The wait for actual hockey won’t be much further away.

Friday morning brings along the first set of on-ice work, and increased levels of excitement for fans and players alike, as we head towards the first game of the preseason on Monday, September 26 at Penn State and the more important season-opener on Thursday, October 13 versus Montreal.

As with any season, the Buffalo Sabres roll into another 82-game schedule with questions across the board. Will Kyle Okposo help push the top line to the next level offensively? Will the Sabres have enough depth to consistently challenge the upper-echelon NHL teams? Will the Sabres defense shake out to be an improved unit?

We’ve got those questions and more percolating as camp approaches. Good thing for inquiring minds, we’ve got the next 7 months to figure all the answers out.

For now, let’s take a look ahead at training camp, as we find out who will play for the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres. Below is the official training camp roster, courtesy of the Buffalo Sabres.

 

2016 Buffalo Sabres Training Camp Roster

Forward Defense Goaltender
56 – Justin Bailey 67 – Brady Austin 40 – Robin Lehner
73 – Nicholas Baptiste 81 – Mac Bennett 33 – Jason Kasdorf
48 – William Carrier 47 – Zach Bogosian 60 – John Muse
43 – Daniel Catenacci 79 – Vojtech Budik 31 – Anders Nilsson
86 – Eric Cornel 46 – Erik Burgdoerfer 35 – Linus Ullmark
44 – Nicholas Deslauriers 41 – Justin Falk
72 – Jean Dupuy 38 – Justin Fedun
15 – Jack Eichel 6 – Cody Franson
63 – Tyler Ennis 64 – Paul Geiger
58 – Georgio Estephan 4 – Josh Gorges
52 – Hudson Fasching 45 – Brendan Guhle
82 – Marcus Foligno 77 – Dmitry Kulikov
12 – Brian Gionta 54 – Brycen Martin
28 – Zemgus Girgensons 29 – Jake McCabe
83 – Vasily Glotov 34 – Casey Nelson
27 – Derek Grant 51 – Austin Osmanski
62 – Brandon Hagel 55 – Rasmus Ristolainen
9 – Evander Kane 53 – Devante Stephens
74 – Vaclav Karabacek
42 – Justin Kea
75 – Matthew Lane
22 – Johan Larsson
26 – Matt Moulson
85 – Daniel Muzito-Bagenda
70 – Alexander Nylander
21 – Kyle Okposo
19 – Cal O’Reilly
90 – Ryan O’Reilly
59 – Cliff Pu
23 – Sam Reinhart
71 – Evan Rodrigues
10 – Cole Schneider

Training camp will be a very exciting time for Buffalo Sabres players and fans alike.

We will finally get an extended look at 2016 first-round pick Alexander Nylander, which will certainly create a lot of buzz. Nylander will spend the entire season in North America because last season, he was technically a European player on loan with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL. Nylander is not expected to break camp with the Sabres, but will definitely play a large role down in Rochester when their season begins.

Nylander isn’t the only prospect getting some time in the spotlight this September.

Fans will be able to see highly-touted prospects like Georgio Estephan, Eric Cornel, Vaclav Karabacek and Brendan Guhle take a round with National Hockey League-level talent. Training camp is always a very interesting time, when it comes to finding out how far along prospects truly are in their development, in comparison to NHL talent.

We saw Guhle take training camp by storm last season, before a Dion Phaneuf hit consussed Guhle, taking him out for the remainder of camp. Who will be the next prospect to take camp by storm? We will soon find out.

Projected Opening Night Lines

Before you send the hate mail to the Twitter dot com, give a writer a chance to explain themselves here.

Line 1 

This decision was fairly cut and dry. Last season, Dan Bylsma committed to a pairing on the top line of Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly. As we look for consistency heading into the 2016-17 season, there seems to be no reason to break these two up. On the right side, it goes without saying but big free agent signing Kyle Okposo will sit there until further notice. No explanation necessary.

Line 2

Echoing what was said above, this is another pair that stuck together last year. Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart had enough success to warrant sticking together. The play of Eichel seems to compliment Reinhart, while the play of Reinhart seems to compliment Eichel. Crazy how that works out.

On the left side, we have Tyler Ennis, who last played in a NHL game on December 30, 2015, when he was re-concussed by Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin after suffering a concussion earlier in the month at the hands of Blues defender Rob Bortuzzo. A three-time 20 goal scorer should fit right in, if healthy. But Ennis may have to adjust his game to be in more of a supporting role and less of a playmaking role. There is a lot of faith that this line can work out but it might take a little tinkering from the start.

Line 3

This is another last season Dan Bylsma special. Bylsma seemed to strike a miniature gold mine with this combination.

Johan Larsson excelled with an expanded role as a shutdown center. Foligno/Gionta also seemed to excel with Larsson. No reason to break this line up, at least until it starts to struggle. This line grabs the third slot just because of the effectiveness they had last season. It seems safe to think Bylsma might try to expand their responsibilities to see if they can handle it. When it comes down to it though, this line could just as easily be interchangeable with the fourth line.

Line 4

The fourth line is kind of a rag-tag collection of extra players. Certainly no indictment on any of the players here, but they start the season off together trying to gather some positive chemistry to see if they can create something in a more limited role. Matt Moulson, with good health, will likely see regular playing time until further notice. Does he deserve it? That is a different question for a different time, but for now Moulson is here. That kind of feels like the same with Zemgus Girgensons.

Relegated to lesser duties last season, after struggling in a larger role, Girgensons enters this season with a whole lot to prove. Coming off a 15 goal season, just two years ago, it seems almost crazy to think this is a make-or-break season for Girgensons but his Sabres’ future is definitely up in the air heading into this season. Last but most certainly not least is Justin Bailey.

What a year Bailey had for the Rochester Americans in his first professional season. Bailey played in 70 AHL games, tallying 45 points (20 goals, 25 assists). Bailey’s success in Rochester drew him an extended look last season. While Bailey did not record any points in 8 games, he certainly impressed the coaching staff. Bailey’s success in Rochester, coupled with the impression he made late last season, Bailey seems to have the upper hand at this spot. There are people who want Hudson Fasching to occupy this role heading into the season, which is completely understandable. After watching the final few weeks of the season, and listening to the coaches, it seems like Fasching needs some extra time in Rochester. This is no indication of a step back for Fasching, but just an indication of how high the bar was set by Bailey.

Pairing 1

This is another easy explanation to provide to you. The Buffalo Sabres acquired Dmitry Kulikov to be the top-pairing left-handed defenseman. There is no getting around that. Was it the proper move? That remains to be seen but Tim Murray identified his guy and went out to get him. Can’t blame him for that. On the other side, the incumbent top-pairing right-handed defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen. If you are wondering why he is here, I want you to get a tack hammer and hit yourself in the head because you are a moron.

Pairing 2

We can probably get away with calling this pairing “The Best of the Rest”. It might not start off the season but it would definitely be the best idea for the Buffalo Sabres to put McCabe and Bogosian together. On the left side, Jake McCabe is an up-and-comer. His game has really progressed over the last few years, between the AHL and NHL. It is believed that the development of McCabe actually made former Sabres defenseman Mark Pysyk expendable. At 22 years old, it seems like the sky (and being the future top left-handed defenseman) is the limit.

As for Zach Bogosian, he is no slouch. We’ve seen the best and worst of Bogosian but as the season progressed last year, it appeared we were getting more good than bad from him. Bogosian is definitely not a top-pairing defender but he fits in the top 4 easily at this time. Bogosian will definitely benefit from not playing top pairing minutes, while avoiding facing the opposing team’s top lines on most nights. This pairing should have a good time together, should it happen.

Pairing 3

Woof. This pairing scares the absolute hell out of just about everyone. Cody Franson is not bad, when limited. Franson plays well on the power play, but as we saw last year, when his time-on-ice is expanded, things can get ugly quick. Franson feels like a perfect third pair defender, who can step up in a pinch. As for Josh Gorges, he has definitely seen better days. Gorges no longer is a top four defenseman, but he might find himself more effective in a lesser role. The one thing about this pairing, which points to it not happening is the lack of overall speed. If Franson and Gorges get caught, things could get ugly quick. It makes the most sense for these two to be paired together but proceed with caution.

Those asking why Casey Nelson is not featured on the roster, the answer is simple – seasoning. Give him some top pairing or top four time in Rochester for a few months. Let him work out the kinks in his game. I have to believe that he will be one of the first, if not the first defender called up when injury or ineffectiveness hits. Nelson still projects to be an NHL’er, just let him develop his game and see where he goes from there.

Goaltending

This also seems like a very cut and dry answer. If healthy, the crease belongs to Robin Lehner but as we saw last season, and years before in Ottawa, health is not always a given for Lehner. He heads into this season having started a new workout regimen, which has seen Lehner lose roughly 40 pounds, according to Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times Herald. “I have no problems,” Lehner told Hoppe. “I don’t feel (my) foot practicing off ice, on ice. Right now, I just keep strengthening all the muscles around the ligaments in my foot. So I just keep it strong and try to prevent it from future injury.”

All signs point towards Lehner having a break out season with him arguably being in the best shape of his life. He’ll see as many opportunities as humanly possible, and rightfully so. In limited time last season, Lehner posted a .924 save percentage and showed signs of progress in his game. With Lehner healthy and in shape, just in time for training camp, the Sabres should be very pleased.

As for depth behind Lehner, offseason acquisition Anders Nilsson is ready to step in at a moments notice but that might not be music to every fan’s ears. Acquired on July 2 from the St. Louis Blues, Nilsson brings mediocre career numbers to the table: 52 games played, 19-22-4 record, .900 save percentage and 3.00 GAA. The numbers begin to make sense when you look at Nilsson’s physical attributes. Standing 6’5″ and weighing in at 229 lbs., Nilsson fits the mold of a Tim Murray goaltender.

If Nilsson spits the bit as the backup goaltender, the Buffalo Sabres do have a solid prospect, in Linus Ullmark, waiting down on the farm, despite the rough second half he had last year.

“My first half of the season was good,” Ullmark said to collected media. “Then the (second) half of last season was, I would say, bad, actually. I’m not happy with that. It started off pretty good in Rochester, too, but I didn’t have the preparations during the summer to keep my level during the whole season, which was a bummer. I got in a slump there, lost a lot of games, which takes a toll on your confidence.”

For the first time in what feels like forever, the Buffalo Sabres have a few different options in goal. As long as injury and ineffectiveness do not creep up, we should see an improvement from the franchise’s overall goaltending this season.

Written by Ryan Wolfe

Ryan Wolfe is the founder and editor-in-chief of BLTD Sports. He can be heard on the BLTD Podcast. Ryan's writing is also featured over at TheHockeyWriters.com.

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