The first day of Sabres training camp saw many of our summer questions answered. What would the new lines look like? Which centerman would move to wing? Is everyone healthy entering the season? Did Buffalo really draft Jack Eichel or am I just waking up from the best dream ever?
The answers are really good but not final, Girgensons and then maybe Reinhart someday, everyone but Ristolainen and Cody McCormick, and no, Andy, it wasn't a dream. Jack Eichel was in your heart all along. Here's our roundup of everything that happened on the opening day of training camp, including our first look at some tentative lines.
The one thing nearly every player mentioned after practice was just how different this year felt from the last, and how they were ready to start a new chapter. Whether you heard it from Zemgus Girgensons, Matt Moulson, Mike Weber, or Brian Gionta, the message was the same: last year is over, now let's get out there and prove it.
Evander Kane wants to score 40 or 50 goals. Jack Eichel is still wearing #41 until he earns a spot on the team. Ryan O`Reilly's Hockey IQ is "off the charts" according to his teammates. The chatter on the ice is noticeable for the first time in a long time. It's a new day for the Sabres, and the players are feeling it too.
New forward lines, Girgensons moves to wing
Kane - O`Reilly - Ennis
Moulson - Eichel - Girgensons
McGinn - Reinhart - Gionta
Deslauriers - Legwand - Foligno
Carrier - Larsson - Baptiste
D'Amigo - Schaller - Bailey
Rodrigues - O'Reilly, C. - Akeson
Catenacci - Varone - Ellis
Kea - Dupuy - Cornel
Nevins - Estephan, Jacobs
Extra forwards: Kaleta, Karabacek
Note: The forwards and defensemen were split into three groups, this is our best amalgamation of lines and pairings ranked by order of NHL ability.
My first thought viewing those lines: "Wow, those are actual NHL lines that a real-life hockey team might have," which is a weird thought until you remember the tire fire lines of the last two seasons. My second thought when viewing those lines: just how well balanced they seem to be. The top-nine all have solid scoring potential, and while the first line looks like they could put in 70+ goals on their own, the second and third have a nice blend of offensive and defensive capabilities. Both Reinhart and Eichel are very capable defenders in their own zone, but Bylsma revealed that he constructed the lines this way partly to give the young centermen protection on defensive draws.
As for Girgensons, he should be a pain in the you-know-where for opponents to deal with on the right side, and said today that he's fine playing on the wing. Reinhart will also see time on the wing, according to Bylsma, though I think Girgensons is a more natural fit to play along the boards.
Sadly, it wasn't all good news as Cody McCormick did not pass his physical due to complications with blood clots, which is what caused him to miss time last season. No timetable was given for his return.
New defensive pairings, Ristolainen injured
Gorges - Bogosian
Colaiacovo - Franson
Weber - Pysyk
McCabe - Ruhwedel
Austin - Leduc
Donovan - Sanguinetti
Guhle - Prapavessis
Goulakos - Martin
Stephens - Chapman
Of course, the big absence is Rasmus Ristolainen, who was held out of practice with an upper body injury which will take 10-14 days to heal, according to Bylsma. Once he returns, the easy pairing would be to put him with Mark Pysyk and swap Pysyk to the left side, where he played in Rochester, and leave Weber as the team's seventh defenseman, but who knows how Bylsma will want to pair his blueliners up when all are available. Perhaps Josh Gorges is keeping Ristolainen's spot warm on the top pairing? We'll find out more when he returns next week.
As expected, Robin Lehner entered camp as the team's de facto #1, but he seems to have mentality that he still has to earn that position. Chad Johnson is expected to back Lehner up, and he was the starter for Group B today.
Nathan Lieuwen is listed ahead of Andrey Makarov on the Group C depth chart, possibly indicating he has the inside track to start in Rochester.
Group A faced Group B in a scrimmage today, and two Sabres players each scored twice in Group A's 4-3 shootout win. You wouldn't be surprised to hear that Ryan O`Reilly scored two beautiful goals, but the other player to pot two was...Patrick Kaleta. According to scrimmage reports, the line of Kane-O`Reilly-Ennis worked well together, with speed on the wing and size in the center and left wing. I know I'm not alone among Sabres fans when I say I'm a little bit excited to watch that line this year.
Day One is in the books, and the Sabres will be back on the FNC ice tomorrow at 9am, with another scrimmage starting at 10am, and all sessions open to the public.