Hockey World Blog

2015-16 Buffalo Sabres Season Preview

Last year’s preview said that the Sabres would contend for the No. 1 overall draft pick. And they did such a great job at tanking that they ended up missing out on the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. All that tanking work only to end up with the No. 2 pick. But Jack Eichel isn’t that bad of a consolation prize.

The Sabres because the ugly swan that underwent a makeover over the summer. In addition to drafting Eichel, they brought in goalie Robin Lehner and forwards David Legwand, Ryan O’Reilly, Jamie McGinn. They’ll also have Evander Kane for an entire season after not playing the last half of the 2014-15 season after being traded from Winnipeg.

Another new face is behind the bench. Dan Bylsma enters a situation where he has no where to go but up. The Sabres organization has been playing hockey usually seen from expansion teams, winning 44 times over their last 164 games. Bylsma comes to a team that is promising up front but has some holes on the back end.

Go back and read the additions two paragraphs ago. See anything? Buffalo do much on defense besides signing Cody Franson and Carlo Colaiacovo late in free agency. It’s a start, but they are still many pieces away from being a contender. Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges and Mike Weber return and it appears to be the top six on a night in-night out basis. There isn’t NHL-ready depth besides those players. Ristolainen could be asked to take on a bigger role this year and the 20-year-old Finn has the potential to be one of their most productive defensemen.

In addition to the forwards named above, they return last year’s leading scorer Tyler Ennis. Ennis should have much more help around him this season, as Buffalo was at the bottom in just about every major statistical category (goals for, PP%, PK%, shots for, shots against) last season as a team. No where for them to go but up this time around.

Their biggest gamble however is in goal. As much as Buffalo wants someone the likes of Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller in net, they are relying on Lehner. Lehner was the odd-man out in the Craig Anderson/Andrew Hammond triangle in Ottawa. Lehner has never been the No. 1 in his short NHL career and if he falters there isn’t much behind him. What works in his favor is that he’s young (24 years old) and according to hockey-reference Lehner is one of only eight goalies since 2000 to start at least 70 games before his 24th birthday, and his career numbers (2.88 GAA and .914 save percentage in 86 games) has him on par with Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Seymon Varlamov at that age. He’s coming off a concussion last year that held him to 25 games, and backup Chad Johnson is untested in a long-term substitute role should Lehner get injured again.

As for a outlook, they are still a couple years and some quality players away from being a playoff team. But the pieces are there for the future as they can build around Eichel, Ristolainen and Lehner. They won’t be in contention for another No. 1 draft pick, but they will still be in the lottery. It’ll be considered an overachieving success if they wind up with a draft pick outside the top 10.

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