The Buffalo Sabres will have a number of franchise-changing decisions to make in the coming months about which prospects to play in the NHL, and which to send back to their minor league teams. With young up-and-comers like Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Nikita Zadorov in the mix, the number of prospects the team keeps in the big leagues will partially determine their fate in the all-important 2015 draft.
However, some of those youngsters will undoubtedly stick in the NHL this season, and today, we'd like to know who you think will be the breakout star of the 2014-15 Sabres campaign.
Earlier in today's links, Jack posted an article from Sportsnet writer Mike Johnston asking the same thing for each club, and his choice for Buffalo was Rasmus Ristolainen. We'll have his thoughts on the big Finn below, and our thoughts for some other candidates to be the breakout player of 2015, then we'd like to hear from you in the comments.
- Rasmus Ristolainen Here's what Johnston had to say in his Sportsnet article, and he sums things up nicely:
The 19-year-old is one of the best young blueliners in the game. He is a reliable player that won’t shuck his defensive responsibilities for the sake of personal stats. Still, he managed to put up 20 points in 34 games with the Rochester Americans (AHL) last season and he was a revelation for Finland at the world juniors. The Sabres added veterans Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros who can act as mentors for Ristolainen. He can also heed advice from Tyler Myers, who knows all about being a tall, right-handed defensive prospect with high expectations.
- Sam Reinhart Another obvious choice for breakout player of the year is the second overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. Reinhart comes with playmaking ability out the wazoo, and his mind and vision for the game are far beyond his years. He showed well at the team's recent development camp, and is currently has two goals in two games for Canada's national junior team in their summer scrimmages. There's no guarantee he'll be in the NHL this year, but if he does he'll likely be in he running for the Calder Trophy.
- Zemgus Girgensons Some might think that Girgensons has already "broken out" as a player, but if you ask his coaches and Girgensons himself, they all agree that there's more improvement needed for the Latvian in the offensive end. Should he be able to score more consistently, his work ethic and favorable position with the coaching staff will afford him more ice time with better teammates, leading to more points, which will lead to more ice time with....well, you get it.
- Jhonas Enroth/Michal Neuvirth For the first time since before the lockout, the Buffalo Sabres goaltending situation is up in the air. Enter Enroth and Neuvirth, two players who will try to prove they can be the starting netminder in Buffalo for years to come. Should one of them grab an early lead in the race for ice time, they could ride this opportunity to a new contract and a new lease on life in the NHL.
- Nicolas Deslauriers One of the most intriguing prospects on the Sabres roster, Deslauriers spent his first season at left wing after switching from defense, and made enough of an impression on the Sabres coaching staff that they kept him in Buffalo for the tail end of the season. With a full summer and training camp to adjust to his new position, Deslauriers (who we already know has a mean streak) could use newfound familiarity and comfort to make a big jump next year.
Those are our top candidates for breakout star, and we chose to focus on younger players rather than someone who could still make a jump, such as Tyler Ennis. Let us know who you think the team's next surprise will be, and whether or not we forgot your favorite candidate in the comments.