As we look forward to a new year, there is a lot to reflect on from what has happened over the past year. One of the things that we will always remember about the 2011-12 season is the injury plague that decimated the Sabres ranks starting in November. A forced result of that was we had big-league tryouts for a lot of young Sabres in regular season games, a big step up from the pre-season tilts that they have previously featured in.
An encouraging sign for the team was its depth in the ranks - from early appearances, the future core of this team is definitely going to change the mindset the rest of the NHL has regarding the Sabres. The young 'uns play hard, and play hungry. They chase the puck furiously, follow through (and sometimes beyond) with their checks and leave it all on the ice.. or so it appeared initially, but once they have been here for some time it seems the regular Sabres malaise affects them too and their play starts tailing off.
After the break we look at the impact all the players who first put on a Sabres jersey this year have had (not counting the free agent signings and trades). Excluded are goalie Jhonas Enroth, d-man Marc-Andre Gragnani and center Luke Adam who are all still considered rookies but were on the Sabres last year, but included in the reckoning are 'veterans' Paul Szczechura, Colin Stuart & Derek Whitmore.
Zack Kassian (#54) - A prime example of the fading away syndrome, Kassian started off hot but has only 3G 3A (-1) in 16 games, with only 22 hits and 23 shots on goal in those sixteen. This culminated in a healthy scratch for the burly winger against the Senators on Saturday.
Brayden McNabb (#81) - Has been solid for the most part in the defense, with 1G 1A (-3) in 15 games. While he has been grabbing some of the spotlight with some massive hits at the blueline and in the corners, he is slowly cementing himself a place in the D-corps getting some shorthanded and powerplay opportunities as well, turning one of those into his first NHL goal as well.
Corey Tropp (#78) - Tropp has 13 games under the belt, but just 1G 1A (-4) in those games. The right winger has had his place on the squad taken by Kassian, but neither of them has taken that spot and run with it since then.
Paul Szczechura (#58) - The center started impressively with the Sabres, earning the pivot position on the top line, but has since slipped as well. He has 1G 3A (+0) in 9 games, and has shown hustle in his play, but has drifted off in recent games.
T.J. Brennan (#33) - Has 4 games with just 1G to show for his efforts. Brennan is another one from the stable of puck-moving d-men the Sabres have specialized in - he has played on both special teams units as well while on the Sabres.
Joe Finley (#4) - The arrival of the hulking d-man was marked with great fanfare but his 3 games showed that he was not NHL-ready as yet. He only got about seven and a half minutes a game in that time.
Colin Stuart (#15) - Had even lesser ice-time than Finley in his 2 games, with the Sabres being behind in both and Ruff shortening the bench.
Derek Whitmore (#71) - The first game on the Sabres for the Rochester-native was a feel-good story, having finally made it to the first team after four years in the AHL. He got over twelve minutes of ice-time in the 2 games he played.
Drew MacIntyre (#31) -Only used for spot duty after Jhonas Enroth was pulled, MacIntyre had a .944 SV% and 1.40 GAA in the 2 games he was on the Sabres while Ryan Miller was out injured.
Marcus Foligno (#82) - Another WNY-born player who got their shot with the Sabres, the left-winger is the son of ex-Sabre and fan-favorite Mike Foligno. He played 13:19 and went -1 in the 1 game he played.
Which 'rookie' has shown the most upside on the Sabres this season?