It has been well chronicled that the Sabres suffered numerous injuries to the defense within the past week. Some people speculated that it would be impossible to overcome those injuries while others suggested that talking about it was making excuses. The Sabres had other ideas and have done their best to prove everyone wrong and for two games that strategy has worked. The Sabres beat two red hot teams in the Carolina Hurricanes (7-1 on Friday night) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (6-2 on Saturday night). I'm not willing to say that the three young defensemen have been the reason for the victories but they have certainly played their part.
On Friday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, both Sekera and Weber were a plus four and Sekera had an assist, two hits and two blocked shots while playing over 21 minutes. Sekera played 21 minutes again on Saturday against Toronto and he was a plus two with a hit and five blocked shots. Mike Weber appeared to be much more comfortable on Saturday and was rewarded with 19 minutes of ice time. Weber recorded four hits and two blocked shots on Saturday night.
The three young defensemen have played extremely well but they have benefited from an aggressive offensive strategy that has produced early leads. The Sabres offense has been great at taking the pressure off early by scoring quick goals. On Friday they jumped out to a 4-0 first period lead and Saturday they scaled that back leading only 3-1 after one period of play. The first period success has certainly helped the defensemen feel more comfortable. I expect the strategy to remain the same but eventually there will be some pressure situations for these guys to play in and who knows how they'll react.
Let's take a closer look at the three young defensemen that are currently in the lineup...
Andrej Sekera: Sekera is the highly touted of the three despite being the lowest draft pick. He was drafted in the third round, 71st overall in 2004 by the Sabres. He is the Sabres second rated prospect according to Hockey's Future.com. Sekera won the Max Kaminsky award, given to the OHL's top defenseman, in 2005-2006. He is in some good company who have won that award such as Dennis Potvin, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, Bryan Berard, John Erskine, Brendan Bell and ex-Sabre defenseman Brian Campbell. It has been unclear when Sekera would be able to make the jump to the NHL but it may be right now.
Mike Weber: Mike Weber plays a game suited for his hometown of Pittsburgh, a tough guy type role. At the ripe young age of 20 years old Weber has compiled 162 penalty minutes in his his first professional season. It is the second stint with Buffalo this season and although he needs more time at the farm he will be a really good NHL defenseman someday. A career highlight for Weber has to be winning the hardest shot competition for the Top Prospects game before being drafted. He was a second round draft pick for the Sabres in 2006, number 57 overall.
Mike Funk: Like Sekera he was drafted in 2004 but ironically enough he was drafted 43rd overall in the second round. Sekera has progressed at a much faster rate than Funk since they were drafted. Funk has always been known for being a big guy that can skate but he has developed a bit of an edge. Funk has eight assists and 85 penalty minutes in 50 games with Rochester.