Another Buffalo Sabres season is upon us. Over the last few years, I’ve put together a list of bold predictions on the upcoming season. Last year I went 0 for 4 in my predictions, which you can take a look at here if you so desire.
Even though I struck out hard last season, I’m up to the plate again to take a few more hacks. We’ll find out at the end of the year if I managed to get any correct or at least close to being right.
Let’s get the fun started.
Bold Prediction #1: Sam Reinhart will score at least 75 points
This is a big season for Reinhart. He’s going to be a restricted free agent next summer and will be in line for a nice pay day. It appears to start the season he’ll be on a line with Jack Eichel and Victor Olofsson. Oddly, the Sabres continue to not allow him to drive his own line, but I digress.
Throughout his career, Reinhart has seen linear growth in his point production. Over the last four years, he has recorded 42, 47, 50, and 65 points consecutively. Reinhart improved his 5 on 5 scoring last season with a career high of 50 points at even strength. His power play production was the lowest total since his rookie season with 15 points. If the plan for Ralph Krueger is to return him to the net-front player on the top unit, his power play production should increase. Combine that with the potential to increase his 5 on 5 production, the point total starts to add up.
In six games last season, the combo of Eichel, Reinhart, and Olofsson was dangerous. According to Natural Stat Trick, they had an xGF/60 of 3.23 and 66% xGF percentage as a line. The stars are aligning for a big season for Reinhart.
Bold Prediction #2: Marco Scandella will play more games than Lawrence Pilut and Henri Jokiharju
This one isn’t the most optimistic prediction, so we’ll get it out of the way now. I wouldn’t advocate for this to be the case if the Sabres want to climb up the standings. The new coaching staff appears to be a fan of the veteran defender, but his performance in the preseason didn’t leave a lot of room for belief that he’ll have a bounce back season. One could even argue he was outplayed by John Gilmour in the preseason.
Pilut was sent down to the Rochester Amerks yesterday to complete his rehab. It’ll be interesting to see when he gets a call back up to the Sabres. He should return to the NHL lineup as soon as he’s ready but barring an injury that may not be likely.
Jokiharju, on the other hand, will start the season with the Sabres. We’ll see what happens when Brandon Montour returns from injury in mid to late October. If the entire right side of the blue line is healthy and Rasmus Ristolainen is on the team still, the Sabres may elect to send him down to Rochester.
Bold Prediction #3: Casey Mittelstadt will score at least 50 points
There’s been a lot of focus on Mittelstadt in the preseason. He didn’t play his best hockey, but at the same time, I don’t believe he was as bad as some thought. It was a disappointing 2018-19 campaign for the 20-year-old center with all of the hype surrounding him before the season. He scored 12 goals and 25 points in 77 games. Well below the expectations, but not uncommon for a rookie center adjusting from college to the NHL.
This season the 2017 first-round pick will get an opportunity to play with better linemates at 5 on 5. As of now, he was practicing with Jimmy Vesey and Conor Sheary. He’ll also likely get more of an opportunity on the power play this season. That was an area where he did have success last season and would help boost his point total this year.
The season could go a lot of different ways for the Sabres this season. They’ll need big seasons from a few players on their roster to have a realistic chance to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference this season. The fun starts on Thursday evening.