Over the past two season, the Buffalo Sabres have fielded some of the worst forwards ever to receive an NHL number - and fittingly, most of them wore terrible numbers. This season, however, the Sabres have some serious firepower to put out on the ice for the first time in ages, and it's going to be fun to watch this team learn how to play, score, and win together.
Let's take a look at the potential starters, guys fighting for a job in camp, and those to look forward to down the road.
Ryan O'Reilly - Not much can be said about O`Reilly's game that hasn't already been said in Colorado - he's a great two-way center who wins faceoffs, racks up points thanks to his Hockey IQ and excellent passing ability, is a super hard worker on and off the ice, and is still just 24 years old. Dumb offseason decisions aside, this guy will be one of the most exciting players to wear a Sabres jersey since 2007.
Evander Kane - The guy who might be the most exciting player to wear a Sabres jersey since the 1990's? That could be Evander Kane. He possesses the rare combination of speed, size, strength, and shot - the four S's which will help him dominate in the offensive zone and rack up goals playing alongside O`Reilly. Kane said this week he wants to score 40 goals, and I honestly don't think it's out of the question for him this season.
Tyler Ennis - Remember the guy who led the Sabres in points last year? The fact that he's relegated to third (or fourth, or fifth) wheel when talking forwards bodes well for the success of the team this year. Ennis will have equally if not more talented teammates playing alongside him for the first time maybe ever (our apologies to Ville Leino) and Ennis should increase his team-leading point totals from last season playing alongside them.
Jack Eichel - It's Jack Freaking Eichel. What else do we need to say?
Matt Moulson - Most fans are hoping that Moulson, the elder statesman of the top-six at age 31, can have a bounce back year playing with Eichel, similar to the years he enjoyed success playing next to another future star, John Tavares. 30-goal talent was there, the question is, how much of that can Moulson still tap into this season?
Zemgus Girgensons - Coming in sixth on our list is the Sabres only All-Star from last season, Latvian pop sensation Zemgus Girgensons. It looks as though Girgs is moving to the wing this year, where his hard-nosed style should give him the ability to terrorize opponents while still allowing him to approach 20 goals, and hopefully star in another European hip-hop video or two.
Sam Reinhart - Sometimes playing the role of the forgotten man behind the force of nature that is the Jack Eichel Hype Machine, Reinhart is no slouch in the prospect department himself, and has all the tools needed to evolve into a great two-way forward. Has he improved his strength and skating enough to hang with the rest of the NHL? If so, look out.
Jamie McGinn - Another player lost behind a bigger shadow - this one the trade that involved Ryan O`Reilly - McGinn projects to be a perfect third line player. Strong on the boards, gritty, and smart in his own end, he also put in 19 goals last time he played a full season.
Brian Gionta - The Sabres captain performed well off the ice last season, guiding his team through a tumultuous season. But on the ice, he was forced into a top-six role that, frankly, he can't handle anymore. This season, Gionta is slated to play on the third line, where he'll be a much better fit and can use his skill and smarts to help lead a strong two-way unit.
Marcus Foligno - Marcus has never quite reached the lofty expectations most Sabres fans have always had for him, especially considering the success of his dad and brother. On the other hand, since he's been in Buffalo, he hasn't had anywhere near the talent those two have had alongside him. This season, there's no more excuses for the younger Foligno, and it's time to show whether he can be anything more than an inconsistent bottom-six player.
Nicolas Deslauriers - Deslauriers is the perfect prototype fourth line player. He skates hard, hits big, fights with aplomb, and can put in a few goals here and there. Look for the 24-year old to continue to evolve into this generation's Rob Ray.
David Legwand - At this point in his career, the aging Legwand shouldn't be anything more than a fourth liner, and it seems that's exactly what he'll be. The 35-year old will bring some much needed experience and perspective to a very young locker room.
Johan Larsson - Judging from the line combinations that opened training camp, it seems Johan Larsson is on the outside looking in right now. That's too bad, considering the potential he showed at the end of last season, scoring 13 points in his final 16 games, but it seems the 23-year old will need to prove to new coach Dan Bylsma that he's more valuable on the big club than players like McCormick, Legwand, and Kaleta.
Cody McCormick? - McCormick is still out indefinitely thanks to the blood clot issues that cut his previous campaign short. There's no timetable on his return, but he would likely be a fourth liner or the extra forward if he ever does get healthy.
Patrick Kaleta - The Buffalo favorite signed an AHL contract just recently, but a strong showing at his PTO could find him a spot on the big club. He scored twice in the team's first intrasquad scrimmage, but whether he lands in Buffalo or Rochester, Kaleta is just happy to be back in the Sabres organization.
Evan Rodrigues - The former Boston University standout has impressed over the summer, and while he's a long shot to make the team, his speed, scoring ability, and pre-made chemistry with Eichel gives him an outside chance to start in Buffalo rather than the more likely Rochester.
Phil Varone - Varone played 28 games in Buffalo last season, and while he only put up five points, he's been one of the Amerks best players over the past two years. Is that enough to earn the 24-year old forward a true shot in the NHL? Perhaps with last year's roster, but it's hard to see him cracking a far more talented and deep Sabres lineup.
AHL Players and Prospects
William Carrier, Nicholas Baptiste, Jerry D'Amigo, Tim Schaller, Justin Bailey, Cal O'Reilly, Jason Akeson, Dan Catenacci, Matt Ellis, Justine Kea, Jean Dupuy, Eric Cornel, Jack Nevins, Giorgio Estephan, Colin Jacobs
Most of these players will be heading to the Amerks this season, who should be an exciting team to watch come together. Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste are the obvious ones to keep a close eye on, but the additions of veterans like Cal O`Reilly and Jason Akeson should help the Amerks field a deeper lineup this year.