Let me start this off with a disclaimer: in my humble opinion, Jeff Skinner should absolutely be the top priority for the Buffalo Sabres to lock up in the next few months. But he’s far from the only impending free agent on the Sabres, and the team certainly has others they should think about extending for the future.
Here’s a look at all the players the Sabres have locked up for next season:
Forwards: Jack Eichel, Kyle Okposo, Sam Reinhart, Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Scott Wilson, Tage Thompson, Casey Mittelstadt, Alexander Nylander, Andrew Oglevie, Rasmus Asplund, Matej Pekar, Victor Olofsson
Defense: Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Marco Scandella, Brandon Montour, Matt Hunwick, Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Nelson, Lawrence Pilut, Brandon Hickey, Will Borgen, Devante Stephens
Goalie: Carter Hutton, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Jonas Johansson
With that said, here are my picks for a few additional players the Sabres should think about locking up for the future - in addition to Skinner, of course.
1. C.J. Smith (RFA) - Smith is an at-times underrated forward in the Sabres organization. He’s with a cap hit of $874,125 this season while playing mostly with Rochester in the AHL. Depending on what other moves the Sabres make this summer - perhaps including letting go of either one or both of Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson - I wouldn’t be surprised to see Smith up in the NHL next season.
The 24-year-old has 13 NHL games under his belt, including 11 this season, with a pair of goals. At the NHL level, Smith has appeared in 51 games this season and has averaged a point-per-game, with 22 goals and 29 assists. Eight of his goals have come on special teams, and four have been game-winners.
Smith's hustle creates a coupe of opportunities. pic.twitter.com/Sk01uf7jVJ— Ben Mathewson (@Ben_Mathewson) February 16, 2019
2. Evan Rodrigues (RFA) - Evan Rodrigues is more than just that guy who played college hockey with Jack Eichel. Slowly, but surely, he’s developing his game and is turning out to be a decent third-liner this season alongside guys like Conor Sheary and Alex Nylander. Rodrigues is registering a cap hit of $650,000 this season, the lowest of any of the Sabres’ full-time NHL forwards.
The 25-year-old is in his first full NHL season after spending parts of the last three seasons up in Rochester, and he’s fitting in nicely. In 146 career NHL games to date, Rodrigues has registered 60 points, including 27 (9-18) in 66 games this season. He’s also averaging 15:49 of ice time per game and is 47% successful in the face-off circle.
Rodrigues scoring chance. Keep getting pucks to high danger area. The goals will come. pic.twitter.com/hXVScJcWsN— Ben Mathewson (@Ben_Mathewson) October 8, 2018
3. Taylor Leier (UFA G6) - Leier is one of the newest players in the Sabres organization after being acquired in the trade that shipped out Justin Bailey to the Flyers in mid-January. He’s been a pleasant surprise for many, and the 25-year-old is contributing fairly well in Rochester.
He’s put up 35 points (19-16) in 57 games overall this season, including 16 points (9-7) in 23 games since joining the Amerks. Leier is sixth on the Amerks in points scoring and tied for fourth in goals. He's not a bad depth forward by any means and it’d be nice to see him get extended by the Sabres.
Leier has 55 career NHL games under his belt, all with Philadelphia.
Taylor Leier with his second shootout-winning goal that regathers the #Amerks lead atop of the @TheAHL North Division‼️ pic.twitter.com/JePDMfanEQ— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) February 17, 2019