We’re less than a week from the start of another NHL regular season. The prevailing thought is that it’ll be an entertaining season for the Buffalo Sabres. How that translates into their position in the standings remains to be seen.
In past years, when I put together this annual “bold predictions” piece, I’ve had to really dig on a team with a poor roster. This year is a little different. There are so many new storylines to follow that I had a hard time narrowing it down to four predictions.
For the record, my predictions rarely come to fruition. I went 0 for 4 last season with my bold predictions.
Bold Prediction 1: Tage Thompson will score at least 20 goals this season in the NHL.
I’ll start things off by predicting a big season for one of the new acquisitions, Tage Thompson. The big winger has had a good training camp and looks to be on track to make the opening night roster. If he’s given the opportunity to play with offensively gifted players and some time on the power play, I believe he’s in for a big season.
The 20-year-old has spent time on a line with Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Patrik Berglund, and Alex Nylander to name a few, throughout the preseason. The Sabres appear to recognize his upside but if they’re willing to deal with the growing pains all season will be the thing to watch for.
He has the shot, skill, and size to be a dangerous offensive player in the right circumstances. Expecting him to score 20 goals this season may be a stretch, but these are bold predictions after all.
In 41 games with the St. Louis Blues last season, Thompson, scored three goals. Which is a six-goal pace over 82 games. He’ll need to vastly improve on that for this prediction to come true or be close for that matter.
Bold Prediction 2: Lawrence Pilut will play at least 40 games with the Sabres and score at least 20 points.
I used this same exact prediction last season, but with Brendan Guhle. I’m going to double down on it this year but use Swedish-import Lawrence Pilut as the player in reference.
The 22-year-old puck-moving defender remains in camp and is vying for one of the final spots on the Sabres blue line. He looks to be further ahead than most expected with this being his first season in North America.
Head coach Phil Housley has used him a lot over the preseason in all situations. His puck distribution and ability to create in the offensive zone, allow him to have the opportunity to rack up the assists. Especially if he’s used as a point-man on the second power-play unit.
If Pilut doesn’t make the team to start the season, I don’t think it’ll be long until he gets an opportunity to get back into the NHL by the mid-point of the season.
Bold Prediction 3: Jeff Skinner will sign a seven-year, $52.5 million ($7.5M AAV) contract extension during the season.
One of the storylines going into this season will be how Jeff Skinner looks playing on the top line with Eichel. Along with Sam Reinhart, the trio has the potential to be one of the more dangerous lines in the league.
If Skinner has success on the ice and enjoys Buffalo, it would seem logical that he’ll want to sign a long-term extension. As it was mentioned when the Sabres acquired him, the Toronto native waived his no-movement clause to come to Buffalo. At the very least it appears he’s open to the possibility of remaining with the Sabres for the future, not just this season.
Of course, the lure of unrestricted-free-agency for a 27-year-old (when he hits free agency) elite goal scorer could be enough to convince Skinner to play it out and see where it goes from there.
If the team shows signs of improvement and Skinner produces on the ice, I feel like a deal will be done before the season ends.
Bold Prediction 4: The Rochester Americans will win the Calder Cup.
For my last prediction, I went down to the AHL. The Amerks appear like they’ll have a loaded roster that will consist of up and coming prospects. Such players as Rasmus Asplund, Victor Olofsson, C.J. Smith, Sean Malone, and possibly Brendan Guhle, as well as, Lawrence Pilut. Combine that with veterans like Zach Redmond, Taylor Fedun, Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste and Kevin Porter you see the makings of a deep club.
If for some reason Alex Nylander and Tage Thompson spend most of the season in the AHL, it only amplifies my stance.
The Toronto Marlies have been the club that has been the AHL powerhouse for a few years and are the defending Calder Cup Champions. The Syracuse Crunch is another team that usually puts a good team on the ice that plays in the North Division. So, it won’t be easy, but I believe it’s possible.
There you have it. My four Sabres bold predictions for the 2018-19 season. Feel free to share your bold predictions in the comments below or you can just tell me how crazy I am.
Time to get ready for some hockey that actually counts in the standings.