Right out of the gate, here is a reminder – this is not a prediction of lines. This is merely a depth chart of where players currently stand within the organization.
Despite the disclaimer above, it is safe to say that the forward depth chart will create the most chatter among fans.
At the top, it is no surprise. Down the left side, things start with the recently acquired Conor Sheary. Jason Botterill needed to fill that role following the trade of Evander Kane at last season’s deadline. The acquisition of Sheary helped patch up that hole.
Evan Rodrigues continues to climb up the depth chart, as he continues to develop. It seemed as if Rodrigues would be a bottom six contributer but with how his game has continued to develop, he deserves to get a larger role.
Recent acquisition Vladimir Sobotka slots in third on the left wing and the returning Scott Wilson slots back into the fourth left wing slot.
Johan Larsson finds himself on the outside looking in, after falling to the fifth left wing on the depth chart.
CJ Smith and Victor Olofsson wrap up the bottom of the left wing depth chart. While both these players are talented in their own right, it is hard to predict where they will land.
With the recent acquisition of Vladimir Sobotka, a spot appears to have been filled where that might have been a good position for CJ Smith.
As for Olofsson, he scored at an impressive clip in the Swedish Hockey League last season, with 27 goals in 50 games. Can he translate that to the AHL? If so, we will see Olofsson sooner rather than later.
Turning attention to the center position, things are very cut-and-dry.
Jack Eichel is the number one, no arguments there. Casey Mittlestadt is the two center, a slight argument there.
While Mittlestadt is listed as the second center on the depth chart, most people will agree that he will likely begin the season as the third line center. A very strong training camp can prove otherwise but expectations should be tempered for a 19 year old who has played six career NHL games.
Newly-acquired Patrik Berglund comes in as the third center here with little argument. Berglund can slot over on the left wing but this was either Berglund or Sobotka. With how Botterill has been talking about Berglund, safe bets are on him starting off at center.
The next four slots are extremely fluid.
Zemgus Girgensons has not impressed the last few seasons, to say the least. His roster spot appears very much up in the air.
Sean Malone’s development impressed many throughout the ranks this past season, which has firmly put him on the map. If he does not break camp as the fourth-line center, it appears to be a safe bet that he will make his return to the NHL sometime next season.
As for bottom two centers, Rasmus Asplund and Andrew Oglevie. These two prospects are new to the system, which should immediately ticket them for Rochester. A strong camp could bump both players up a little higher, despite a small, developing log jam at center.
When it comes to rankings, money does usually talk. The higher paid players are the better players, usually. In this case, we know that to be false.
Sam Reinhart, currently awaiting a contract as a restricted free agent, is hands down the best right winger on the Buffalo Sabres. Reinhart, most certainly not a center, has developed into a very nice scoring threat with an average of 21.6 goals scored over the first three full seasons of his young NHL career. He spent most of his time last season centered by Ryan O’Reilly but Reinhart should have no issue stepping aside Jack Eichel to begin the season.
Kyle Okposo comfortably has a handle on the second right wing slot, no real reason to believe otherwise at this point.
Jason Pominville is listed at the third right wing but the footing there for Pominville is very uneasy. A bad camp or early season struggles could drop Pominville down the depth chart quick. His veteran presence might become an attraction for other teams as well due to his impending UFA status following the season.
This is where things get very muddled on the right side because there are so many different variables in play.
Nicholas Baptiste was given a role late last season and thrived in this role. If this continues, Baptiste should begin the season in the bottom six.
Justin Bailey is a player looking for a role but has continued to struggle while looking. There is no doubting Bailey’s ability to skate but his ability to score at a respectable clip is in question. To throw another wrench into things, we have to keep waivers in mind here.
Both Baptiste and Bailey are now waiver eligible. If either player underwhelms in camp, the Buffalo Sabres will need to expose both players to the other 30 NHL teams before being able to send them to Rochester.
It is hard to believe that either of these players would pass through unclaimed.
As for the final two right wingers, we have two newcomers to the depth chart.
Tage Thompson, recently acquired in the Ryan O’Reilly deal, arrives with high expectations. On his introductory conference call with local media, Thompson himself said, “I am primarily a right wing / center but I can play both sides.” Likely to receive a shot at a position in the top six, Thompson’s ability to play all three positions should help him shoot right up the depth chart.
Cliff Pu brings up the tail end of the right wing rankings for one simple reason – inexperience. While there are growing expectations for Pu, his situation is a little more muddled because he just turned pro this offseason. Pu is for sure a name to keep an eye on down in Rochester.
Editor’s Note: Matt Hunwick was left off in error. Hunwick would slot in the extra pairing.
Did you expect it any differently? The apple of Buffalo’s defensive eye leads the way. Rasmus Dahlin is expected to develop rather quickly into a number one, franchise defenseman. It is expected that Dahlin will be eased into a bigger role, much like Casey Mittlestadt. Granted, a solid camp and early season success could expedite that process.
Marco Scandella has been exactly what the doctor ordered for the Sabres defense. Only problem? The rest of the defense has remained bad. As defensive talent improves, Scandella will only stand out further.
Brendan Guhle struggled in the AHL playoffs with Rochester but that is no sign for concern. Guhle should step into the Sabres’ bottom pairing next season with ease and show why the hype is real.
Nathan Beaulieu took a large step back in his first season with the Buffalo Sabres. While his weaknesses were well documented, no one could have expected him to be as bad as he was. Beaulieu has fallen off so much in the last calendar year that him being exposed to waivers would not come as a shock.
As for the final two players on the left side in Lawrence Pilut and Brandon Hickey, they are new to the professional ranks as well as the organization. Both are expected to contribute at some point but right now, they will get their feet wet in Rochester and proceed from there.
As we have come to expect, the right side is led by Rasmus Ristolainen. Would you want to have it any other way?
Ristolainen anchors the Sabres defense as well as the right side. Barring a massive trade, there is no reason to think this will change any time soon.
Zach Bogosian is next on this list, which might have a few people up-in-arms. Bogosian is a very talented defenseman but very injury prone, as we have come to know. A few local media members have actually tossed around the thought that Bogosian may not have played a healthy game with the Sabres. Bogosian has been nursing something since donning the blue and gold.
Casey Nelson took a big leap last season with an end of the season run that impressed many. Nelson went from a talented body with the Rochester Americans to likely fighting for a good chunk of minutes with the big club out of camp. Nelson’s pairing with Brendan Guhle created a reliable third pair, which is something we might see again in camp.
Jake McCabe fell on hard times last season. He pushed through 53 games, before succumbing to injury. McCabe originally injured his thumb and underwent surgery in February. Roughly two weeks after thumb surgery, he decided to have a season-long shoulder injury repaired, which ended his season. One can only hope McCabe comes back healthy because his presence in this defense would help out.
The final two on the right side are players ticketed for Rochester.
Zach Redmond had a career year in the AHL, which most certainly opened up some eyes. While he will not be cracking the Sabres lineup anytime soon, Redmond’s veteran presence in Rochester should help young defensemen like Will Borgen.
Borgen just recently turned pro, which would explain his place on the depth chart. Getting him into Rochester to begin his professional development is a great thing for the organization. It remains to be seen how much development Borgen will need before being NHL-ready but he will be another one to keep eyes on as the season progresses.
Linus Ullmark appears ready to take the leap to the NHL but the Sabres are going to make sure they ease him in and why not.
Buffalo made goaltending a priority this offseason and grabbed the top name in free agency, in Carter Hutton.
Hutton’s noted veteran presence on-and-off the ice should help Ullmark develop into the goaltender the Sabres believe he can be.
Despite Ullmark being atop the depth chart, expect something like a 60/40 or 50/50 split this first season.
As for the depth goaltenders, Scott Wedgewood will be a solid three in the system. Wedgewood will provide stable goaltending for Rochester all while being ready to step in for Buffalo in case of emergency.
Adam Wilcox will occupy the fourth slot for the second straight season, after posting a 2.79 goals allowed per game average along with a .903 save percentage.