Buffalo Sabres: Remarkable Rebuilding
Darcy does it!! Take a look…
Having two first round picks in this year’s draft was a gift in itself, thanks to the Minnesota trade for Pominville. With the 8th and 16th overall picks, the Sabres selected Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov (both slated to be top 10 picks overall). Therefore, both being big D men at 6’4″ and 6’5″ respectively, Buffalo made out like bandits with their first round picks. That being said, I was getting quite excited to see if they could keep up the impressive performance (as we all know GM Darcy Regier does not have the best reputation).
As the first round progressed, a trade was announced between Buffalo and Carolina that involved sending defenseman Andre Sekera to Carolina in exchange for a pick in the second round (35th overall), and defenseman Jamie McBain (who should prove to be a significant improvement over Sekera). To add even more excitement, J.T. Compher (a much needed center) was selected with the acquired pick. Not long after with the 38th overall pick, Buffalo has also chosen center Connor Hurley, not knowing that they would be able to select both elite second round centers they seemed quite thrilled. To finish off the second round of picks for the Sabres, Buffalo native Justin Bailey was selected 52nd.
In addition to the first two rounds, Buffalo selected 5 more players: G Calvin Petersen (129th), RW Gustav Possler (130th), D Anthony Florentino (143rd), Buffalo native C Sean Malone (159th but predicted for 3rd round), and C Eric Locke (189th). All of these young players have been selected for the long-term future of the franchise and are not all eligible to be roster players at the moment. However, they all have great potential and are exactly what Buffalo is looking for; size, skill, and grittiness are among the most common qualities between these players collectively. Gaining two top ranked defensemen in the first round and adding great depth from there, the Sabres have made great choices in hindsight. Only time will truly tell, but many of us (fans/analysts) are quite happy to see the team making educated choices and moving in the right direction.
Ristolainen and Zadorov can possibly provide the team with the more immediate results that the fair weather fans are looking for(although they are few and far between here in Buffalo). It would be nice to see some change on the ice next year as a loyal fan as well. I say with confidence that it very well may happen! Ristolainen can without a doubt begin playing at the NHL level immediately following training camp. I have faith that he can do so because of his size, determination, and sheer brutality. He is not afraid to get physical and he can produce a good deal of offense with his knowledge of positioning on the ice. He can sneak in to prefect positioning and shoot the puck not only to the front of the net, but beat the goaltender as well. His stick handling abilities allow him out maneuver others very well in all zones; this is possibly his greatest asset. He has stated that he will do whatever it takes to make an NHL roster (as that is his dream). Expect to see him on the blue line at the start of next season.
Zadorov on the other hand, being that he was also ranked as a possible top ten pick, he could very well be playing in the NHL before you know it! Based on interviews by Sabres.com, he seems very excited to start skating in Buffalo and it seems as though the city(and its people, of course!) had good first impressions on him. Like Ristolainen, I believe he will do whatever it takes to make the roster, but Ristolainen may have a slight edge, as Zadorov has great offensive awareness being able to slip in between defenders in the low slot, but he lacks the physical abilities of Ristolainen despite being an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier. It will take Zadorov time to develop himself into a more physical presence on the ice as well as fill out a bit more in order to do so.
On another great note, Mikhail Grigorenko will remain permanently on the Sabres roster, says Darcy Regier. He must do so because he can no longer play for Quebec and be a part of the Sabres, as he is 19. This is great news for his development and for the lack of skill up top on the current roster. With that said, forward Nathan Gerbe was placed on waivers yesterday, and Buffalo’s cap space increased from $13 million to $15 million. This provides more opportunity for the signing of free agents such as Daniel Briere, who has been having talks with the Sabres about a return. The motive of Buffalo’s is that they are seeking a qualified veteran to help develop their youngsters. Who better to take that job than a former captain? No one else on free agency seems to fit the bill as well as the 35 year old who has decided that he would like to stay close to home (Philadelphia) and continue to play hockey because he does not want to uproot his family. This possibility is something that loyal fans, and fair weather fans from 2006 have been chatting on about over the last few days now. It is something I think many of us would like to see. Briere wearing the blue and gold once again!
The draft outcome, trades, and free agency have shined a whole new light on Buffalo! Everything has started to renew itself and the process of rebuilding has only begun! Stay tuned for the outcome of free agency, and not to mention what may happen to Miller, Vanek, and Stafford this off-season.
My final grade on the Sabres draft additions: A+ (they really outdid themselves, and not to mention they shocked many fans)