With their six preseason games in the books and opening night just five days away, the last thing left for the Buffalo Sabres this preseason is to make their final roster cuts. But why should we wait around for them to make decisions on who stays in Buffalo and who heads back to juniors? Today, let's put on our Tim Murray glasses, play GM and predict not only the Sabres final roster, but their opening night lineup.
Moulson - Ennis - Stafford
Hodgson - Grigorenko - Gionta
Foligno - Girgensons - Stewart
Deslauriers - McCormick - Flynn
Extra: Kaleta, Mitchell
Yes, I'm keeping Mikhail Grigorenko in Buffalo to start the season for two reasons. First, he's put in the work, he's done all the right things, and anybody who watched him this preseason saw a completely different player than what we saw last year. Ted Nolan seems like the kind of guy who would reward that hard work, and I think Grigorenko made a big enough impression on him to stay. The second reason for keeping him up, however, is because the Sabres really don't have anyone else to play center after Ennis and Girgensons, unless they want to move Hodgson back to the pivot (which they don't) or move up a guy like Dalpe or McCormick to the third line (which they shouldn't). So Grigs stays, and hopefully never plays in another league again.
Grigorenko's roster spot means that Sam Reinhart heads back to juniors, where he can spend the rest of the year continuing to learn to dominate his opponents, and can take the proper amount of time to fill out his frame enough to handle NHL competition. I wouldn't be shocked to see him get the nine-game tryout (with Grigorenko, Kaleta, or McCormick spending that time in Rochester) but either way Reinhart should be back in juniors this year.
At first glance, the top three lines seem pretty solid. There's still a distinct lack of elite talent, as Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis aren't exactly All-Stars, but everyone in the top nine can contribute a bit. I still don't think the Sabres will score too much more than they did last year, but a 50-goal increase seems about right, and won't cause too much harm to the Tank. The fourth line has your hard workers/bruisers, while Kaleta and Mitchell provide some insurance on the bench.
Gorges - Myers
Ristolainen - Weber
Benoit - Meszaros
The kid's table grows a bit bigger on defense, as I think both Pysyk and Ristolainen stay in Buffalo, mostly because both are already better players than Tyson Strachan, who will do well down in Rochester. Gorges and Myers have been the top pair all preseason, while Ristolainen gets tied to the railroad tracks with Mike Weber. Benoit and Meszaros provide a stable, if unspectacular third pair. Once Pysyk gets healthy again, look for him to replace Weber, Benoit, or Meszaros.
The easiest decision to make comes in net - Jhonas Enroth has played his way in to the starting goaltender's job as much as Michal Neuvirth played his way out of it. This will be Enroth's first chance to shed the label of inconsistency he's earned after streaky performances, both good and bad, in years past.
You've seen my prediction for the final roster and opening night lineup, so let us know what you think and leave your own prediction in the comments.