This past Saturday, the Buffalo Sabres made a low-key transaction when they claimed defenseman Christian Wolanin from the L.A. Kings. Los Angeles had placed Wolanin on waivers in an attempt to send him down to their AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign, after activating two-time Cup winning D-man Olli Maata from the injured reserve list. It was a numbers game, and Wolanin was the odd man out, much to the delight of Sabres GM Kevyn Adams who keenly snatched him up.
We have claimed defenseman Christian Wolanin off of waivers and placed defenseman Henri Jokiharju on injured reserve.— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 16, 2021
In Wolanin, the Sabres are getting a puck-moving defenseman who comes across from the sunny West coast with 61 games of NHL experience, mostly with the Ottawa Senators. You may recognize his name as he is the son of long time NHL defenseman and Stanley Cup champion Craig Wolanin. The younger Wolanin, like his father, is not short on size, listed at 6’2” and 190 lbs. and is still relatively young at 26. In researching Wolanin’s career thus far, he could be described as a late bloomer across the board. Originally a forward in juniors and college, Wolanin did not make the full-time switch to playing defense until his sophomore year at the University of North Dakota.
Originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2015 draft by the Senators, Wolanin turned pro after his 3rd season in the NCAA, appearing in 10 games with the Senators at the end of the 2018 season. From there, he went on to bounce between the big show and the AHL, playing the majority of his 61 NHL games during the 2018-19 season where he suited up for 30 games and collected a respectable 12 points. Between the pandemic shortened seasons and a shoulder injury, Wolanin’s playing time hit a speed bump and he was eventually dealt to the Kings for a minor league prospect last season.
With L.A., Wolanin only got into 3 games after the trade. This season, he made the Kings starting roster as the 7th defenseman, but did not dress for their first 2 games and thus was on his way to the AHL, for playing time, when he was grabbed by the Sabres.
Wolanin is clearly a very good skater who can move the puck up ice and likes to jump into the play. Catching up on some Wolanin highlight clips, he has buried a few goals by jumping in from his point position and was even used, by the AHL’s Belleville Senators, in some 3v3 overtime games, where he showed off a serious motor and playmaking ability. To boot, his contract status is very appealing. Wolanin is currently on a cheap 1 year deal and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, making this a very low risk, high reward waiver addition.
The most obvious reason for the Sabres to make this move was the recent injury to top pair defenseman Henri Jokiharju which will keep him in the stands for a few weeks. So fair to say, the claim was, in part, for depth purposes. However, there are a few things worth speculating about that indicate that Wolanin was claimed for more than just depth. He is a natural lefty, whereas Jokiharju is a righty, so he was not claimed to add a right-handed shot, as some teams like to balance out their D-men’s natural handedness. As it stands, the Sabres currently have only 2 healthy right-handed defensemen in Colin Miller and Mark Pysyk.
This past Saturday, to replace Jokiharju, Buffalo inserted defenseman Will Butcher into the line-up and he played well alongside Rasmus Dahlin on the first pair. Butcher soaked up nearly 19 minutes of ice time and made some smooth outlet passes, including a laser beam that sprung Arttu Ruotsalainen for a breakaway. Additionally, the Sabres have big Mattias Samuelsson waiting in the wings, who is on the mend from an earlier injury and has 12 games of NHL experience thus far. The Sabres also have a few defensemen on the Rochester menu with NHL experience, namely Brandon Davidson, who has 180 NHL games on his resume.
All this adds up to the fact that the Sabres were not forced to make this claim. They had other options on their roster to patch up the large hole left by Jokiharju’s hiatus.
So, with all that written, I don’t believe this was solely a depth move. While the injury bug would have certainly kept the Sabres ear to the waiver wire, Wolanin has shown enough skill and potential that the Sabres took a well-timed chance on him.