On the first (practicing) day of training camp, the Buffalo Sabres unveiled some new line combinations and defensive pairings, some that many fans didn't expect. Courtesy of TBN's John Vogl and Sabres.com, here are the most important lines/pairs from the first day of camp, with our thoughts following.
Marcus Foligno - Cody Hodgson - Thomas Vanek
Steve Ott - Mikhail Grigorenko - Ville Leino
Tyler Ennis - Johan Larsson - Drew Stafford
Zemgus Girgensons - Kevin Porter - Brian Flynn
Corey Tropp - Cody McCormick - Patrick Kaleta
Luke Adam - Mike Zigomanis - Joel Armia
Christian Ehrhoff - Tyler Myers
Henrik Tallinder - Mark Pysyk
Mike Weber - Rasmus Ristolainen
Brayden McNabb - Jamie McBain
Alexander Sulzer - Chad Ruhwedel
Our first thought is that - while two thirds of the top line is no surprise - pairing Marcus Foligno with Vanek and Hodgson puts a lot of faith/pressure on the young power forward. However, aside from Drew Stafford or maaaaaybe Ville Leino/Steve Ott, the Sabres don't really have anyone to play that other top wing since the departure of Jason Pominville. It's a sign of how much talent they still have to acquire or develop that the blue and gold can't even field a third proven player on their top line, and a sign of just how hard this team will have to work to score goals, barring significant improvement across the board.
Aside from that, the other big surprise is Johan Larsson centering solid second-line players in Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis. Is this a bigger endorsement of the highly-touted Larsson, or an indictment of Stafford and Ennis? We'll know more as camp rolls on.
Ron Rolston seems more dedicated to giving Mikhail Grigorenko a serious chance to win a second or third line centering job with his line that sees the young Russian paired with Ville Leino and Steve Ott, two players who can possess the puck and win battles along the boards to allow Grigorenko to do what he does best - find the soft spots on the ice for quick snap shots and lay beautiful passes to set up his linemates.
The last intriguing forward battle is between Zemgus Girgensons, paired with Sabres mainstays Kevin Porter and Brian Flynn, and Corey Tropp, who's with Patrick Kaleta and Cody McCormick. There will likely be room to keep four or five of those players on the roster, depending how things shake out with Larsson, and with Tropp, Girgensons, Porter, and McCormick likely fighting for the final two spots, this is a battle to keep an eye on.
Defensively, the Myers-Tallinder pairing everyone assumed would happen did in fact not happen, with Tyler teaming up with Christian Ehrhoff, and Tallinder with young Mark Pysyk. Mike Weber and his new contract are a lock to play, so it was interesting to see him paired with rookie d-man Rasmus Ristolainen. McNabb, McBain, Sulzer, and Ruhwedel will compete with Risto for the final three roster spots throughout the preseason, and I could listen to arguments for any one of them at this point.
What was the big surprise of the first day for you Sabres fans? Was it among the forwards, or along the blue line?