The Sabers did not tinker a lot with their forward group this offseason. Kevyn Adams needed to ensure prospects like Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka had a sensible path to the lineup, and they now have that.
Buffalo was as soon as once more comfortably within the backside half of the Eastern Conference in scoring a yr in the past. But a number of gamers confirmed promising indicators and extra younger expertise is on the best way to the NHL lineup.
With training camp a number of weeks away, here is a have a look at what we’re watching from every of the Sabres’ prime forwards. We’ve excluded just lately drafted prospects from this run down since we’ll have an opportunity to zero in on these gamers on the prospects problem beginning Sept. 15.
Can he dwell as much as the contract?
Tage Thompson is now not a promising prospect with engaging instruments. He’s a participant recent off a 38-goal season carrying the expectations that include a freshly signed $50 million contract. Detractors will level to Thompson’s gaudy taking pictures proportion in 2021-22 and wonder if he’ll regress. Last season was an outlier for Thompson, however the change to heart appeared to unlock his offensive potential. The Sabers are betting that he can construct on that after seeing what he did taking part in alongside Alex Tuch. Thompson’s contract makes him an unquestioned member of Buffalo’s long-term core. This season he wants to point out that he can dwell as much as that.
How a lot does he have left within the tank?
Kyle Okposo’s resurgence was an enormous increase to the Sabers a season in the past. Not solely is he a valued chief within the locker room, however below Granato, Okposo produced level totals the Sabers hadn’t seen since 2017-18. Now 34 and coming into the ultimate yr of his contract, Okposo may very well be in line to turn into the Sabres’ captain. If Okposo can produce between 40 and 50 factors once more this season, the Sabers may take into consideration conserving him round past this season. Last season appeared to energise Okposo. He’s an enormous believer in Granato and feels excited concerning the Sabres’ younger core.
Will the scoring translate?
Jack Quinn was a dynamo in Rochester final season, scoring 61 factors in 45 video games. He cooled off within the playoffs, although, with simply two factors within the Americans’ 10 postseason video games. Quinn has earned the correct to compete for top-nine minutes within the NHL lineup. Quinn mentioned this offseason he is tried not to concentrate to how the numbers recreation will shake out with the Sabers’ forwards. He simply desires to fret about creating his personal recreation so he is prepared to return to training camp. If his scoring interprets shortly, Quinn will not have to fret about who’s round him. The Sabers could have no alternative however to discover a function for him.
Can he discover a scoring contact?
The Sabers are enamored with what Dylan Cozens brings to their staff. He’s already developed right into a mature chief. He’s not afraid to throw his physique round in every space of the ice. He’s a playmaker resulting from his sturdy transition recreation. Now he simply wants the scoring to meet up with the remainder of his recreation. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman just lately ranked Cozens No. 2 amongst Buffalo’s gamers 22 or youthful. The perception is that he can construct on the 13 factors and 25 assists he had a yr in the past and turn into extra productive within the factors division in his age 21 season. What a lift that will give Buffalo’s lineup if Cozens can ship on his offensive potential.
Can he have back-to-back 50-point seasons?
Jeff Skinner had back-to-back 50-point seasons in his profession as soon as in Carolina, however in any other case his profession has been up and down in relation to scoring. Skinner’s contract appeared like an albatross on the Sabres’ wage cap when Ralph Krueger was burying him within the lineup. But in his first season with Granato on the helm, Skinner scored 33 objectives and had 63 factors. That’s what the Sabers are paying for. Can he keep away from the slumps which have adopted these sturdy seasons previously? The Sabers want him to. He will possible be taking part in a task on the highest line. With questions on how shortly youthful gamers will develop, Skinner matching or coming near matching his level complete from a yr in the past is essential.
Where does he match?
JJ Peterka, the Sabres’ 2020 second-rounder, has turn into one of many group’s most tantalizing prospects. Michael Peca known as him a “unicorn” and mentioned of the German-born winger, “he has no thought how good he could be, which is frightening.” Those are sturdy phrases for Peterka, who had 68 factors and developed right into a penalty killer within the AHL final season. He’s assured and aggressive with the puck on his stick and that ought to make him a contender for a spot within the NHL lineup. It’s simply powerful to know precisely the place he’ll match. Will he discover a spot within the prime 9? Will he begin because the thirteenth forward and rotate via? His taking part in type ought to mesh with quite a lot of teammates, and that provides Granato and the teaching workers choices.
Who will get to play with him?
What a jolt Alex Tuch gave the Sabers final season. The Syracuse native was ecstatic to finish up together with his childhood favourite staff. And that was a breath of recent air for the group. What was much more promising was how a lot Tuch elevated these round him. Tage Thompson scored 28 of his 38 objectives within the video games Tuch performed. Tuch’s pace, passing and defensive skill make him the kind of participant who can be a boon to his linemates. The Sabers need to be enthusiastic about getting a full season of Tuch. The solely question I’ve is, who will profit from taking part in on a line with Tuch? Will Granato hold him with Thompson or attempt to get extra from Dylan Cozens by pairing him with Tuch? He’s most likely essentially the most invaluable on the highest line, however we’ll see if the Sabers discover different potentialities.
Should he play heart or wing?
Granato is not shy about his need for forwards to have positional flexibility. He desires gamers who’re snug at heart and on the wing to offer the staff choices within the lineup. Casey Mittelstadt is a troublesome participant to determine. Injuries slowed him down final yr, however the Sabers have performed round with the concept of him taking part in wing, and the outcomes have been promising. This can be a contest to look at through the training camp. Who earns a spot at heart and who has to discover a residence at wing? Granato has been savvy with these selections. His subsequent take a look at is determining how one can get essentially the most out of Middelstadt.
Can he make the leap?
Peyton Krebs had an odd begin to his profession. He was rehabbing from an Achilles damage when the Golden Knights drafted him within the first spherical. He later broke his jaw. Then he ended up as a chunk within the Knights’ commerce for Jack Eichel. So it is comprehensible the 21-year-old hasn’t had a full breakout simply but. He scored 22 factors in 48 video games with the Sabers final season and then had 15 factors in 18 AHL video games plus one other 11 factors in 10 playoff video games. He was excellent as a middle for the Americans throughout their playoff run. We’ll see whether or not there is a spot for him to play heart within the NHL lineup. But whether or not he is on the wing or within the center, the Sabers want him to take the following step in his growth this season.
Can he keep wholesome?
Buffalo prolonged Victor Oloffson this offseason with a two-year contract price $4.75 million yearly. That’s the proper bridge deal for a participant like Olofsson, who has proven he can put up factors at a excessive stage when he is one hundred pc. Unfortunately, final season Oloffson was suffering from a wrist damage. He missed 10 video games in complete and wasn’t absolutely wholesome in others. But when he was proper, Oloffson confirmed he may nonetheless rating at a robust clip. He completed with 20 objectives and 29 assists, however 16 of these 49 factors got here in April. The Sabers noticed sufficient to offer an honest contract. If he can keep wholesome, there’s loads of cause to suppose he can again it up.
Will he simply be an additional forward?
The indisputable fact that Vinnie Hinostroza agreed to re-sign with the Sabers would recommend that he expects to have a daily function within the lineup. Hinostroza was strong final season with 25 factors in 62 video games. He was a helpful bottom-six participant. Injuries will in the end assist the Sabers type out their forward scenario, however with everybody wholesome, will Hinostroza take ice time from Quinn or Peterka? I’m curious to see how the Sabers work Hinostroza into the lineup.
Can the scoring catch as much as the protection?
Rasmus Asplund is already a invaluable a part of the Sabers’ lineup due to what he is in a position to do defensively. He bought Selke votes final season for a cause. The question is whether or not his scoring can catch up in any respect. At the IIHF world championships, Asplund scored six objectives in eight video games for Sweden. Defense will at all times be his sturdy swimsuit, however Asplund might have some offensive upside that’s nonetheless untapped. The Sabers do not want a lot from him in that division, however it will be a bonus.
Will he play heart or wing?
Like Asplund, Zemgus Girgensons is a constructive affect on the Sabres’ lineup due to his sturdy protection. He’s additionally a part of the veteran management group within the locker room. The solely unknown with Girgensons is whether or not he’ll see extra time at heart or wing. The actuality is he may transfer again and forth relying on what the Sabers want. Kevyn Adams mentioned the teaching workers feels snug with him at each spots, so his function may rely upon what occurs round him throughout training camp.
Others competing for spots: Anders Bjork, Riley Sheahan
Anders Bjork did not have a robust season a yr in the past, and he may very well be on the skin wanting in on the lineup as soon as training camp is over. Bjork is within the closing yr of his contract and now has to take care of the Sabres’ fast-rising group of sturdy forward prospects. We’ll quickly see if he is as much as the duty. Meanwhile, Riley Sheahan is again on a two-way deal to offer some depth. He may find yourself in Rochester however has NHL expertise if wanted.
(Photo by Jeff Bottari / NHLI by way of Getty Images)