A few years back the defense was the Sabres pride. Now Tyler Myers and Nikita Zadorov are gone, and the team is still looking to replenish the blueline depth. Can the Sabres defense be good enough to make the playoffs this season?
Let's look at the six players most likely to start, the players dueling for a sixth/seventh defensive spot and the scarcity of professional prospects.
Rasmus Ristolainen - Ristolainen has become one of the Sabres most valuable players and has showed the potential to be the Sabres top defenseman of the future. There will be a lot of pressure on Ristolainen at a young age, because it is beginning to look like he needs to be the top defenseman as soon as this year.
Zach Bogosian - A sound defenseman, Bogosian is likely the favorite to end up alongside Ristolainen on the top pairing. He plays a gritty defensive style, a rather different look than when he first came into the league with Atlanta. Needing Bogosian to play those first pair minutes could raise a red flag when it comes to those expecting the playoffs this season.
Cody Franson - Franson gives the Sabres an offensive weapon on the blueline that they haven't had in a few seasons. He struggles some in the defensive end, but the Sabres have already stated that they'll be careful about what situations they use him in. The late signing does serve as a bit of an added insurance on the blueline, allowing the Sabres to keep either Weber, Colaicovo or Donovan from playing.
Josh Gorges - Gorges is likely the biggest wildcard of the bunch, as he's returning from a microfracture injury. The 31-year-old could be on either the second or third pairing depending on his play. An assistant captain with the team, the Sabres hope he can still be the defenseman they landed in a trade last off-season.
Mark Pysyk - Pysyk is clearly ready to be an NHL defenseman. He was last year too, but fell victim to Jack Eichel-induced roster manipulation. This season Sabres fans will get to see a full season of Pysyk for the first time, creating a big enough sample size to see if he's worth the hype.
Mike Weber - The tank commander himself now has to find a new role on a team that is actually trying to win. Jokes aside, Weber is a vet who seems to be very well liked in the locker room. He'll recieve sheltered minutes on the third pairing.
Carlo Colaiacovo - A free-agent signing this season, Colaiacovo is an interesting player. He's been injury ridden much of his career, but when he has been healthy he's played somewhat well. There's a chance that "Vowels" could knock off a player like Weber for a spot on the bottom pairing.
Matt Donovan - A free-agent signing this year, Donovan spent most of last season watching the Islanders play from the Nassau press box. The year prior he did score two goals and 14 assists, but he seems like a longshot to start the year on the roster.
Jake McCabe - If McCabe does end up in Rochester, which certainly doesn't seem out of the question, he'll be the first call-up when the Sabres face injury. The former American WJC captain has looked good in short appearances in Buffalo. This seems like the season that he breaks through the AHL barrier once and for all. At 21-years-old, he's getting to the age that you worry if he's still in Rochester at the end of the year.
Brendan Guhle - The Sabres second-round pick this year, Guhle has impressed many during the preseason. He's a CHL player, so he'd need to stay with the Sabres if we wasn't going back to juniors. His best case scenario is likely getting a nine-game stint before a return to Prince Albert.
AHL Players and Prospects
Brady Austin, Jerome Leduc, Chad Ruhwedel, Bobby Sanguinetti, Nick Petrecki
The Sabres have little depth when it comes to serious defensive prospects in Rochester. Past McCabe, Ruhwedel is the only player with any sort of potential, and at 25-years-old even he is starting to look like a career AHL player. This section looks worse than it actually is, as two of the players above will be with the Americans.
The Sabres will need to wait a few years for the defensemen they've taken in the past two drafts to be AHL eligible.