Buffalo Sabres Season Preview 2011-12: The Forwards

The Buffalo Sabres season will be upon us in two weeks and for that we will have a week long series previewing the team that starts the season in Europe. We start our season preview series this year with a look at the Buffalo Sabres offense. 

The Veterans

Any view of the Sabres offense has to start with a look at the players that have been apart of this team already. Derek Roy is coming back from a quadriceps injury that kept him out for half of the season last year. Before Roy went down with the injury, he was one of the leading scorers on the team with 35 points in 35 games. Questions have always surrounded Roy if he could be a number one center for the Sabres much like Sidney Crosby or Brad Richards have been for their respective teams. At 28, Roy's career should be molding into a leading scorer on this team and he could turn into that number one center that fans are looking for. 

Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford are the two players that stepped up and took control of the team once Roy went down with his injury. Vanek has been the team's leading goal scorer since 2006 and the team is looking for him to continue that streak. Vanek has always had the potential to score 50 goals, but has a career high of 43 goals in 2007. With the new players that the Sabres have brought in on both offense and defense, it gives Vanek the ability to not have to take the team and put it on his back which could relieve some pressure when Vanek gets into a slump.

Drew Stafford scored a career high of 31 goals last season and for that he received a brand new four year contract. In his last contract season, Stafford scored a career high at the time of 20 goals and then regressed the next season to 14. Stafford has been apparently working harder in the offseason and could be a leading scorer for the Sabres but history suggests otherwise.   

Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe were two players last season that seemed to have found their games in the second half of the season. Gerbe was oft benched and could have been considered to be sent back to the AHL before he found his scoring touch and scored 16 goals in the second half of the season. Gerbe made some impressive goals during that stretch, including his spin-o-rama empty net goal against the Canadiens last season. Whether Gerbe can continue that scoring pace is yet to be seen and where he will be put in the lineup will have a factor in his goal production as well. 

Ennis played in his first full season with the team last year and scored 20 goals and 49 points. Ennis' game is looking to improve and it will have to help that he is heading into a contract year this season which can only improve his game to help him get a better contract. Many around the league believe that Ennis has the potential to score 30 goals this season and if everything lines up correctly, that could very well be the case. 

After the jump we take a look at the new players and the rookies that could make the roster at some point. 

The New Guys

The Sabres have been able to spend as much money as the league would allow with the salary cap and their major upgrade on offense has been Ville Leino. Leino is coming to the Sabres with the expectation to play center, a role that he hasn't played in the NHL before. With the Red Wings and Flyers, Leino played as a left wing due to a lack of center positions on both teams. Leino has played center before as that during his time in Europe. 

Leino scored a career high in goals and points last season with 19 goals and 53 points in 81 games last season. In the previous two seasons with the Red Wings and Flyers, Leino never scored more than six goals and 11 points. In those two seasons, Leino also never played more than 53 games as he was part of a numbers game in Detroit. For Leino's career season last year, he was rewarded with a six year $27 million contract. Whether Leino can live up to his contract is a story that is going to play out over the next six years. 

The Rookies

The Sabres seem pretty set with their opening day lineup at this point and that doesn't include any new players to make the Sabres roster. Luke Adam, Marcus Foligno, and Zack Kassian have played together during most of this preseason and none of the three have truly stood out and forced the coaches hands to try and get them in the starting lineup. That line was an impressive line in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament but they were playing against players their own age, most of those players would be returned to their junior teams. 

Luke Adam has played the best out of those three and the 19 games that he played last season helps his game as he has been exposed to that level of competition before. While the Sabres call up the player that best suits their needs at the time and also factor in who is playing the best at the time, Adam has to be one of the higher names on the call up list once players start going down with injuries. 

The Sabres offense finished the season last year in the top 10 of goals scored per game with 2.93 goals/game. With some injured players returning and new players brought into the lineup, the team is looking to improve on that total. 

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