After two years of being in the basement of the NHL, the Buffalo Sabres made a large improvement in 2015-16. They finished one game below the NHL’s version of .500, finishing with 81 points. This coming season, the Sabres should be ready to make a push for a playoff spot, especially considering that they are in arguably the weakest division in the NHL at the moment. At least that’s what I’m hoping for being a Sabres fan! Let’s take an in-depth look at the Sabres current roster and a few of their top prospects for those of you in dynasty leagues:
On the day of the 2015 NHL draft, the Sabres traded a first round pick to acquire Robin Lehner from the Senators. Things couldn’t have started worse for Lehner as he left his first game as a Sabre injured and missed an extended period of time. He only ended up starting 21 games but Lehner was terrific in those games with a .924 save percentage. Amazingly with that save percentage he only had 5 wins in those 21 games but that’s nothing to worry about for 2016-17. The biggest worry with Lehner is his injury history. He had an awful concussion when he was with Ottawa that set him back for some time. If he can stay healthy, I think Lehner could be a top end #2 this season. The Sabres backup goalie is now Anders Nilsson who I’m not sure is NHL caliber; Lehner could start 65 games if he stays healthy. If I took Lehner, I’d be sure to get a quality 3rd goalie because the alternative is taking a massive risk.
For the first time in a while, the Sabres have some interesting depth guys on their blue line who could have some fantasy relevance in deep leagues this year. That said, Rasmus Ristolainen is clearly at the forefront and the one certainty on this team. The 21 year old Finn progressed as expected last year (at least how I expected, I was 100 spots higher on him than ADP) scoring 41 points (9+32) playing all 82 games. His shots on goal total increased by 81 which was huge for his fantasy value. There’s no doubt in my mind that Risto is going to be a #1 defensemen in the NHL. What’s his ceiling in fantasy? I don’t think he’ll quite get to that level but I think Ristolainen ends up a solid #2 for years. As for redrafts this season, Ristolainen has the chance to be a top 20 defensemen and should be a #3 at the least. I expect his value to be lower than that because he was only the 47th defensemen last year due to being -21. To be blunt, that’s not going to repeat himself. I’ll be looking to get him on all of my teams.
Besides what he showed last year, the other reason to expect Ristolainen to take another step is that he won’t be stuck playing with Josh Gorges this season who belongs nowhere near a first pair or any fantasy team at this point in his career. The Sabres made a trade for Dmitry Kulikov who now becomes the odds on favorite to play with Ristolainen. His fantasy impact will be shown in Ristolainen instead of his own value. Kulikov has a horrible shot rate and has never topped 28 points in a season. While I wouldn’t be surprised if he topped that in Buffalo, he should only be drafted in super deep leagues, mostly for his penalty minutes.
The other guy who could be Risto’s partner is Jake McCabe. The 22 year old just completed his first full season in the NHL and looked like he belonged. That didn’t translate into fantasy value with only 14 points and less than a shot per game. The question mark here is whether or not he starts to get power play time this year. McCabe looked great for team USA in the World Championships this summer and showed plenty of offensive prowess in the past during his time for the US World Juniors and at Wisconsin. He’s certainly undraftable in even 16 teamers but I’d monitor the Sabres early in the year to see what his role is.
While Zach Bogosian‘s season totals from last year look pedestrian, he actually provided a lot of value down the stretch. The problem is that he has failed to stay healthy every season since 2009-10 in Atlanta. They don’t even have a team anymore! Sorry, ATL. Anyways, I’d only look to draft Bogosian in deep leagues for his penalty minutes and hits. That said, he’ll be on my radar early in the year as a potential pickup for the bottom of my rosters.
I was high on Cody Franson going into last season because I thought the Sabres power play was going to do well with him as the quarterback. I was right on the power play but wrong on him being the quarterback. At this point, I expect him to be on the 3rd pair and get the occasional power play time but it wouldn’t even shock me if he’s a regular scratch. After a big year in Toronto and Nashville, he’s drifted into fantasy irrelevance.
While his rookie season wasn’t extraordinary, there’s no doubting the talent that Jack Eichel has. The wunderkind had 56 points (24+32) and almost 3 shots per game in his rookie seasons showing flashes of his potential on a regular basis. I expect him to take a major jump in year 2 as I indicate by having him 16th overall in my super early top 20 here. While I have him ranked that high, you won’t need to take him anywhere near that. I’d guess that his ADP will be closer to 50 making him a staple of my teams. 70+ points is definitely in the cards and it wouldn’t shock me if he reaches 80+.
While the left winger on Eichel’s line remains in question, Sam Reinhart looks to be a lock on his right. The other former 2nd overall pick for the Sabres took a nice step forward in his second season scoring 23 goals and 19 assists. Reinhart is one of my favorite sleepers for this season. He has incredible vision with the puck yet can be extremely effective without the puck letting him play off Eichel. While he won’t contribute in penalty minutes, Reinhart is a good bet to reach 60 points this season and put up a stat line similar to his teammate Ryan O’Reilly‘s. I’d look to take him in the middle to back end of standard drafts and expect him to be a steal.
Speaking of O’Reilly, his first season in Buffalo has a major success tallying 60 points in 71 games, including 23 on special teams. Repeating last season is within reason (RoR played a whopping 21:44 on average last year) which is a 69 point pace over 82 games. He’s never had more than 18 PIM in a season which drags his value down but his solid contributions everywhere else will slot him not too far out of the top 100.
The big acquisition of the offseason was signing Kyle Okposo from the Islanders. Okposo had a strong season last year scoring 64 points in 79 games along with 51 PIM. I talked about Okposo’s move here so check that out.
Evander Kane has been in the news throughout the offseason due to potential legal trouble. It’s hard to say what will come of it, if anything, but trouble seems to following Kane around. He missed extended time for the third straight season playing 65 games. Kane totaled 20 goals and 15 assists which looks lackluster. On the other hand, he had 91 PIM and 271 SOG which is outstanding. A 30 goal, 100 PIM, 300 shot season is possible for Kane which would easily make him a top 50 player. While he certainly could do worse, his shot rate and PIM will keep him relevant all year. He’s the perfect fit for teams when you draft a lot of assists early since he can make up a lot of ground in the other categories. I suspect that I’ll be higher on Kane than most because he’s a difference maker in 3 categories that are tough to come by from one player.
Tyler Ennis only played 23 games last season due to lingering concussion issues. I expected the Sabres to move him this offseason at this point a year ago but Tim Murray didn’t sell low. At this point, he’s a favorite to be in the top 6 with some talented players. With the question marks surrounding him, he’ll be a fringe draft pick for me in 12’ers; I could see taking him in the later rounds. At the least, he’ll be one of my favorite streamers.
Since he’s not a guarantee to sign with Buffalo, I won’t go in depth on Jimmy Vesey until he signs. The Hobey Baker winner from Harvard will be a free agent on August 15th and free to sign with whoever he wants. Vesey should have an impact right away, especially in Buffalo since he’d have a spot in the top 6, but he’s been overhyped the last few months. Vesey isn’t going to be a superstar; he’s more of a dependable guy for your second line. His landing spot will alter his value but he’s more than likely a late round flier for me.
Johan Larsson is someone who I’d take a chance on in deep leagues. His overall numbers for last season look horrible but Larsson finished the season strong with 10 points in the last 17 games. It’s nothing flashy but if he gets a reasonable role, Larsson could get 30-40 points.
That’s all for now guys. For those of you in dynasty leagues, let me know if you want me to include some prospect talk in these posts. Feel free to ask anything else or post any comments below. I decided to go division by division so Montreal is the next team up; look for that preview on Wednesday. Take care everyone!