Yesterday, the Sabres added one of the top young centers in the league, a player who has already had three 50+ point seasons at the age of 24 and could be almost every team in the league's top center immediately. And that player, Ryan O'Reilly, may not even be the best center who became a Sabre on June 26th.
It's safe to say the Sabres sped up their timeline for ending the rebuild yesterday, adding two players with top-line center potential and a starting goalie. Tim Murray has now amassed an enormous amount of talent using all the ammo he stockpiled. The team that was in last place now has Jack Eichel, O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Ristolainen, Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson. GMTM, it's starting to look like you've successfully dug yourself out of the basement.
Buffalo now has one of the best one-two punches in the NHL at center. In fact, they may have a one-two-three punch in O'Reilly, Eichel and Girgensons. They have so much talent at the center position that it could allow them to move one to the wing, possibly eliminating their need for another winger.
It's tough to start to really construct lines, because it's still so early in the off-season, but it is fun to look at. The Sabres have gone from a team that had Johan Larsson as their top center to this so incredibly fast.
It could look something like this on opening night:
However, there is still work to be done for Tim Murray. That's probably expected when we haven't even hit July yet.
By moving Nikita Zadorov, the Sabres ship off yet another defenseman. What was once a position of surplus is starting to run a bit thin. Ristolainen has shown the potential to be a very good, if not great, top pair defenseman in the NHL. That's still a lot of pressure to put on him at 20-years-old. He's joined by a group of sound defensemen, as jokers like Andre Benoit and Andrej Meszaros are off the books. Mark Pysyk, Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges are all talented, but their top pair potential is questionable. Bogosian may be the most likely, and his stats weren't wonderful when he took on enormous chunks of icetime last season (but to be fair, no one's stats were good).
In the pipeline the Sabres are pretty thin. Jake McCabe and Chad Ruhwedel are the closest to the NHL, but with the latter already to old to even be featured in our Top 25 Under 25 series anymore, it's tough to think he'll suddenly grow leaps and bounds.
Right now the Sabres have Ristolainen, Bogosian, Gorges, Pysyk, Weber, McCabe and Ruhwedel. They'd probably do well to add one more to that group. They could through free agency, but the crop is mediocre and likely to be very overpaid. They might be better off to acquire that player through a trade, possibly for their other second round pick this morning or for a forward like Larsson, who has shown potential but is now in a logjam.
They'd also probably like to add one more winger to their team. Right Wing is a position of need, as Brian Gionta and Patrick Kaleta are the only two players who are listed there currently. Michael Frolik is incredibly interesting to me, as his 19 goals and 23 assists would be a nice add to the middle-six and allow more insulation for some of the younger players.
None-the-less, it's tough not to wake up this morning with a big smile on your face. The Sabres are relevant again, the games will matter and most of all the team has players fans can love again. They've had to give up a lot to get these top players, but in the end they've always ended up with the best of the bunch. Murray knew he'd cash in on his savings eventually.