In my last post I projected which players I thought might make up the Sabres roster next year. You can find that post here: http://www.diebytheblade.com/2014/5/18/5729146/in-depth-view-of-sabres-roster-next-year-part-1
This time I am breaking down the players by line combinations. It’s always fun in the offseason, even with this team, to play coach. Here is what I came up with:
Sam Bennett ($925,000)-Tyler Ennis ($4.25M)- Drew Stafford ($4.00M)
Pat Kaleta ($1.25M)- Brian Flynn ($637,500)- Nic Deslauriers ($605,000)
Jhonas Enroth ($1.25M)
Michal Neuvierth ($2.50M)
Captain: Steve Ott
Line 1: Bennett –Ennis - Stafford
Reasoning: This is the most offensively gifted line we have which is saying something. Stafford has shown chemistry with Ennis in the past and in this version there is a more talented Foligno playing the left side in Bennett. Ennis and Stafford have shown they can produce at a high level together and allowing them to work with Bennett will help the rookie adjust to the NHL and give him the opportunity with out skill players. Ennis is one our most gifted puck handlers, Stafford and Bennett can both finish and play with jam.
Stafford, has scored 30 goals once in the league which happened the last time he had a contract year. He has played hard under Nolan, putting up more points in the process. Even if he doesn’t regain his former scoring touch he can still produce enough to justify a sport next to Ennis in this team. Playing the body helps Stafford contribute when in offensive slumps so he doesn’t go invisible. When not slumping however he has a quick shot and great move to drive the net. I think Stafford gets back over 20 goals and ends up with 26 goals and 24 assists for 46 points, bouncing back from 16 goals 18 assists this past year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNSx_63rIG4
Ennis, when on his game is an offensively gifted playmaker and can dazzle with the puck. Not a top line center on a Stanley Cup team but on this edition of the Sabres he fills the role well. He picked up his game under Nolan and has praised the coach often this year. Ennis can gain the zone and play keep away with the puck while also showing ability to finish. Undersized but has talent and is at his best when mixing his offensive talent with his pesky side and getting under the opposition’s skin. I think he can better his 21 goals 22 assists last year and end up in the 25 goal 30 assist range. 55 points for your top center isn’t great but I’m remembering back to the Derek Plante and Brian Holzinger says when our point leaders were in the 50s.
Bennett, the second overall pick get a chance to play his game under Nolan. He is billed as a Doug Gilmour type player which fits perfectly for this team. He’ll be a rookie but will bust ass and has offensive talent to justify playing him with two veterans who can score. Bennett gives the first line more of a tough to play against mentality while being able to finish (hopefully) in the offensive zone. While Nolan would probably play a veteran like Ott or whoever they manage to sign in this role and play the kid they draft protected minutes, in the interest of the best combinations I think Bennett best fits here. 36 goals, 55 assists in 57 games in junior last year and I think with top line minutes he can be a young player that comes in and succeeds with 17 goals and 25 assists, 42 points. I wouldn’t mind if they sent him back to junior for development either but it would make next season more interesting to watch if he is in the lineup.
Line 2: Hodgson -Girgensons - Stewart
Reasoning: Girgensons is a two way center so this line can be out there and not get hemmed in their own zone. He can help keep the pressure off in their zone while having enough offensive ability to score at the other end. Stewart has shown the hands to pop in more than the odd goal and plays a hard game to compliment Girgensons and his style. Hodgson gives this line some finishing ability so if they can get him the puck in space then this is our second best scoring line.
Stewart, a big bodied power winger gets second line minutes and a chance to have a big season in a contract year. His career high is 28 goals so he has shown that he knows how to score but has not shown he is always motivated. The aforementioned contracts year, plus the trade to a bottom team, plus playing under Ted Nolan I’m betting Stewart has a big year getting his share of points while banging bodies. 15 goals, 11 assists last year in a reduced role so I’m looking at 18 goals, 22 assists, 40 points this time around. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQrsJwzhqRA
Girgensons, on a great team is the perfect third line center. On this team he gets second line minutes. He has already shown he can handle playing in the NHL and not be intimidated. I think with a year under his belt he can focus on improving his offensive game and playing with guys like Hodgson and Stewart can only help. He is a pain to play against and is always going which can help a guy like Stewart play hard as well. He can pass, play the cycle game, and has shown some glimpses of finish. I see definite improvement offensively this year from Girgensons besting last years total of 8 goals, 14 assists with a line of 15 goals, 20 assists for 35 points. http://www.sbnation.com/nhl/2014/4/8/5595884/zemgus-girgensons-goal-detroit
Hodgson, moved to wing late last has shown he can finish which is a skill that is rare on this team. Hodgson needs someone to get him the puck and playing with guys like Girgensons should leave him plenty of room out there. He has a great shot and playing the wing can hide his defensive shortcomings. Last year he didn’t elevate his game as some thought could be coming after his production of 34 points in 48 games in the lockout shorted season and ended up with 20 goals, 24 assists. A full season on the wing and playing more to his strengths Hodgson can feel good about the switch with a 23 goal 29 assist, 52 point season. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pyGSyfkO6I
Line 3: Foligno -Larsson - Ott
Reasoning: Three players who all hit and kill penalties this is our checking line. Larsson can work on improving his offensive game at the NHL level without the pressure of being counted on to produce. He can focus on shutting the other team down and the offense will come when he gets comfortable in his role. Ott and Foligno on the wing protect this line when the opposing team does get pissed and I can see flashes where they are cycling in the offensive zone getting their chances.
Ott, re-signed and over paid but finally filling a role that he is made for. I chose Ott here for personal reason as I like the way he plays. Ott fills the role of veteran leader and grinder, a player who will block shots, kill penalties, can score, and will lead the team in hits. If we aren’t going to win many games it’s important for the players to keep up an effort which will make the season more watchable and not put our young players in a losing, give up culture. A paltry 9 goals, 14 assists gives evidence to those that say another veteran player can slot in here for the money we are paying, a take a fully understand and don’t mind. But I like Ott and playing the role of captain, third line player who can produce enough offense to wear the C while laying it out there every night. He is what I want Foligno to eventually become and I love having them on the same line. Happy with having his place in a hockey town and as captain of the team Ott has a 16 goal 20 assist season for 36 points.
Larsson, another pain in the ass forward who plays a 200 foot game. I look at him as similar player to Girgensons but with a lower ceiling. When this team competes in a couple of years I want those two to slide down a line with Girgensons anchoring the third line and Larsson playing a perfect forth line role. If he shows offensive ability at the NHL level he can slide to third line winger too so I love this role for his this year. He is solid in his own end so having a third line with two bangers like Ott and Foligno and a two way center in Larsson gives this team a line to shut down the oppositions top players with defensive and frustration. They can cycle and play some in the offensive zone too so they’re not just defending in their zone the whole time. Last year Larsson had 15 goals 26 assists, 41 points in 51 games with Rochester and 0 goals, 4 assists, 4 points in 28 games in Buffalo. With a full year and defined role Larsson can throw in 10 goals 20 assists for 30 point this season. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAxQEiJ6ElI
Foligno, is given a role where he can finally find out who he is as a hockey player. I remember listening to Jay Mckee and he said that players who stick in the NHL find out who they are as players and play to their strengths. For Jay it was blocking shots and being a defensive defenseman and for Marcus it can be perfect third line power forward. He has enough ability to produce 14 goals, 22 assists, 36 points big jumps from his 7 goals, 12 assists. He is a big body who can and will hit when playing his complete game and pairing his with Ott and Larsson, two guys who are a pain to play against will give Foligno to become who he is as an NHL player. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAxQEiJ6ElI
Line 4: Kaleta -Flynn –Deslauriers
Reasoning: Good teams in the NHL has forth lines that can chip in and play solid in the zone while allowing the coach to spread minutes throughout a long regular season. Flynn is an undersized player but he is a smart player who kills penalties and doesn’t get bet often. Kaleta adds toughness to the team with enough skating ability to play a 200 foot game. Deslauriers is a big body who needs time to adjust to forward. He will hit and can finish as well giving this line the ability to play defense and chip in offensively. Gets back to form competing with Ott for team lead in hits but hopefully plays a smarter game.
Deslauriers, has played in the AHL for three years so allowing him to play in the NHL and even practice up here gives him his best chance for success. He can skate and hit and was a defenseman in his past. He gets to adjust to the NHL level and slowly get more comfortable with forward. He can fight and without an enforcer on the team we need players that can play a little and fight and Nic fits the bill. He will up his 1 goal in 17 games to 6 goals, 12 assists for 18 points. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zf8853-NhU8
Flynn, 6 goals, 7 assists, 13 points. Not an overwhelming player and one better suited for the AHL but for this year he fills this role nicely. Kills penalties which is what you want from your bottom six players and can move up and down the lineup. Can chip in with some points while being able to not get stuck in his own zone against better players. Playing a less important role this year but will another year being more comfortable in the league he keeps his stat line consistent with 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points next year
Kaleta, 27 goals, 24 assist, 51 points in 306 career games. Another shot blocker and penalty killer playing on the bottom six contributes in many ways which is great for a forth line player. Plays with an energy that this team might need some nights, if he can keep his game under control he is an effective player. Being in control means avoiding situations that cause injury and suspensions. Being a fearless shot blocker and hitter unfortunately make injuries tough to avoid. But playing smarter can help Kaleta avoid as much trouble as he can found the last couple of years. A bounce back season with 7 goals and 10 assists welcome him to Ted Nolan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=db2q5IibUKI
Defensive Pair 1: Ehrhoff – Myers
Reasoning: Simply our top two defensemen. Ehrhoff can’t be thrilled to be on a rebuilding team but he is kind of stuck here for now. He is our best bet against the others teams top lines. Myers bounced back under Nolan and if he can at least play at that level while showing flashes of his rookie year then on this team he’s the number 2.
Ehroff, can play over 20 minutes a night and be effective in all zones against the other teams top players. He’s not the ideal number 1 but if in a few years we are good then he’s a great number 3. For now he can still log those minutes and help our forwards by moving the puck out of the zone. With 6 goals, 27 assists, 33 points in 79 games played he had an average offensive season but good for this team. He plays on the PP and PK and still has talent enough to help this team. He continues to get bigger minutes and stays consistent with 8 goals, 30 assists for 38 points this year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SL7LkwmMAJ8
Myers, showed flashes of his old self last season under Nolan. I didn’t see him flopping around like a beached whale as in years past. If he continues to progress and play that way then, while not the Pronger defenseman we wanted he’s still a 6’8 defenseman who can really fly out there and deliver the occasional big hit. That’s not too bad. Also plays of the PP and PK taking those big minutes and letting the younger players below him play more sheltered minutes. He goes from 9 goals, 13 assists, 22 points in 62 games to 10 goals, 25 assists for 35 points. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfGVuVUwMDg
Defensive Pair 2: Pysyk -Ristolainen
Reasoning: This team is young and will have to reply on those young guys to step up. It’s no secret we won’t be cup contenders next year and defenseman ten to take longer to develop so giving young defenseman the minutes to develop at this level could really pay off for this organization in a couple of years. Players like Pysyk and Ristolainen have shown they can handle that at the pro level so there’s no worry about not developing them properly.
Pysyk, great first pass is his game. He has to develop more then that to really be a top end NHL defenseman but playing a smooth, simple game gives him time to develop at this level. He can get the puck out of his own zone up to his forwards and keep him team out of trouble. If he does gain some strength and adds just a little more offense he is in your top four for ten years. He goes from 1 goal, 6 assists, in 44 games to 3 goals, 13 assists for 16 points. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VmsHvcwfbw
Ristolainen, showed this year he can handle the game at the pro level. Going to Rochester was great for him but the best thing was the World Junior Championships. Ristolainen stood out there and was one of the best players now only on his team but in the tournament. He came back to Rochester and Buffalo and looked much more comfortable then early in the year. There’s hope he is a future 1 or 2 so he gets this year to get used to the game at this level. He had 2 goals, 2 assists for 4 points in 34 games last year and ups that to 5 goals, 16 assists for 21 points. He scores to OT winner to give Finland gold at the WJC’s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8CpsNDn2s8
Defensive Pair 3: Ruhwedel -Tallinder
Reasoning: Pairing an old veteran with the least NHL ready but still decent player is what’s left for the 5-6 pair. Ruhwedel has shown well in his time up here, enough to warrant a longer look and really see how strong the young d-core is. Tallinder (or insert any veteran here) sis there to help keep the game simple and help the rookie avoid some mistakes.
Ruhwedel, nothing flashy or that stands out but sometimes that’s good for defensemen. An older young player who developed a lot in college and has not shown out of place in Rochester or Buffalo, Ruhwedel is one of those guys who is he does develop into more than a five then you have a steal on you hands and even more depth on the back end. He has this year to show he can handle it. He had 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point in 21 games last year and improves on that with 2 goals, 8 assists for 10 points. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjR7MpDZEyY
Tallinder, the typical old veteran helping young player role here. Tallinder helped Myers out during his rookie year and while Ruhwedel is not on that level, he can still benefit from playing with a smart player like Tallinder. As long as he isn’t playing a lot of minutes he (or again, any veteran you choose) can cover up some of Ruhwedel’s mistakes and give the kid time to develop and not be overwhelmed. He had 2 goals, 6 assists for 8 points in 64 games and maintains that with 1 goal, 7 assists for 8 points. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCZdK-efQzI
Reasoning: I look at this year as Nolan playing the hot hand and Enroth by virtue of being here longer and having to go through the losing with the guys gets the first chance at number one. But it won’t be a long leash and if Neuvierth plays well then he will get more games. Simple as that. Both goalies are UFA’s at the end of the year so whoever plays the best will get the opportunity to be the number 1 on this team. This is, for me a really fun thing to watch this year. They were both drafted in the second round in 2006 and the battle between two young goalies coming into their prime with different styles, builds, and personalities, it should be fun to watch.
Enroth, He ended the year as the number 1 mostly because he was here all year so when Miller got traded it was only right to give Enroth the shot at number 1. Because of that I think he gets first crack at it in training camp. The players want to win but it Enroth was here with them longer during the losing so he gets the chance to get them out of it. He has put up decent numbers so he finally gets out of Miller’s shadow and it’s up to him whether he is the 1 or the 2. Last year he played in 28 games going 4-17-5 with a .911 save %. That is less the Neuvierth but he spent more time with this team in front of him. Given more playing time he should be able to up his stats across the board and battle for the top spot. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Xum5bMA3oE
Neuvierth, is a bigger goalie that was acquired by the current regime whereas they inherited Enroth. He will get every chance to be number 1 and has put up decent numbers so far in his career. He gets the chance here to grab a starting spot and keep it. Similar to Enroth it’s up to him whether he is the 1 or 2 this year. He only played in 15 games and went 4-8-2 but had a .921 save %, and has shown he has talent. If he maintains that level of play or especially improves on it while getting comfortable with his new surroundings then he might have been a steal of a player while finally coming into his potential. There was another Czech goalie buffalo trader for that came into his own as he got older. While in NO WAY am I saying Neuvierth will be the next Hasek, goalies take long to develop. He can be a decent back-up at worst but at best if he hits his ceiling he can be a high end starting goalie in this league. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQlLuZCk24M