We're now only 39 days away from the start of the Buffalo Sabres season! Training camp is days away and the preseason begins in another 22 days. As I drove past the First Niagara Center on the I-190 yesterday, seeing the construction of the Harbor Center as well, I started to feel the anticipation of the season coming. I'm really eager to see how this young group of guys can compete with teams like Detroit, Boston, Montreal, and Toronto this year.
Last time, I evaluated the top two lines for the Sabres. Today, I am going to evaluate the last two lines and also some players that could have an impact in the Sabres organization. Here's what I got for the rest of the offensive roster:
Line 3: Leino-Porter-Flynn
Line 4: Foligno-Girgensons-Kaleta
Scratches: John Scott, Johan Larsson
A lot of people, like me, wanted Ville Leino to be bought-out during the compliance buyout period in June and July. Well he could not get bought-out due to his health, and he will have to be on the team this year once again. I do believe Ville Leino has the ability to help the Sabres and put his skills to good use. He has been battling injuries since he signed in Buffalo, but that should not excuse him from producing when he is healthy. He has put up only 31 points in 79 games with the Sabres, and has been no where to be seen on many occasions. Leino is very strong with the puck along the boards, and has proven that he can be a goal scorer. This is going to be a make or break year for Leino. If he underachieves or cannot shake the injury bug, I bet Darcy Regier (or whoever the GM will be next summer) will have to consider a compliance buyout for Leino. If Leino can be worthy of a player being paid $4.5 million per season and put up some decent numbers this year, then maybe it will be best to keep him. All we can hope for is that Leino can stay healthy.
Kevin Porter is a great two-way player for the Sabres. He is very strong on the defensive side of the puck, and can be a good set up player on offense. He captained the Rochester Amerks last season during the lockout, and played in Buffalo shortly after the season had begun. He plays well on the penalty kill, and has been a leader for players like Brian Flynn and Marcus Foligno. in 31 games last year, Porter had 4 goals and 5 assists. However, the 27 year old was primarily a 3rd or 4th line centerman. Porter was a toss up for me because he may start the season as a scratch, but if he can perform well in training camp I see him starting.
I was happy to see the Sabres re-sign Brian Flynn this offseason. Flynn is starting to flower into a talented hockey player, and Kevin Porter has helped him a lot. Flynn and Porter played on the same line together in Rochester during the lockout and with Buffalo when they came up. Flynn, the former University of Maine stud, has played with Porter on the penalty kill, and even got a couple cracks on the power play last season. He put up 11 points (6+5) in just 26 games last year with Buffalo, but was beginning to be a bigger part of the young roster. Can the 25-year old kid have an even bigger role on the team this year?
Marcus Foligno is still considered one of Buffalo's top prospects in the organization. At only 22 years old, his spunk, heart, and his determination has got many people sold on him in Buffalo. Remember when Marcus first came to the Sabres in 2012-13? He put up 13 points in 14 games, and almost helped the Sabres into the postseason. Last year, he was not as productive (18 points in 41 games) and his role was reduced. In one game against Tampa Bay, he was scratched by Ron Rolston and realized that his game was terrible. He knew he had to work harder on his game to get back into the lineup and be the player he is supposed to be. He rebounded quite nicely, but there were no late season heroics from Marcus to help Buffalo last year. However, Rolston had Foligno try the center position last season and Marcus did fairly well. His size helped him win 60 percent of his faceoffs last year, which he only took 75 last year. I think Marcus Foligno will be placed back at left wing for the start of the season, and he will be part of a 4th line that will twist some heads this season. Can Foligno get back to the way he was two seasons ago, and be a bigger part of this young Sabres team?
This kid I could not be more anticipated to watch this season. If he makes the roster, he may be one of the toughest rookies to play against this season, maybe even a candidate for Rookie of the Year. Zemgus Girgensons has everything you could look for in a 19 year old rookie: sick hands, great skating ability, a physical edge, and heart and soul in every stride he skates. Girgensons has the soft hands and skilled footwork of a goal scorer, but is good at throwing the body around too. Girgensons is not afraid to drop the gloves if he has to as well. It took a while for Girgensons to show his skills, but his coming out party happened late last season and in the playoffs with the Rochester Americans. In 61 games with Rochester, he scored 6 goals and added 11 assists, plus 3 goals in the playoffs versus the Toronto Marlies. There is question to whether Girgensons should play wing or center. To me, without a doubt, he excels way more in the center position. With Foligno on one side and Kaleta on the other, the phrase you will hear a lot of this season is "look out!"
Patrick Kaleta is going to be the 4th line right winger again in Buffalo. The Angola native has been a staple of this roster since his debut on February 22, 2007. Remember that date? I do, vividly. That's when the Buffalo Sabres 4th line (Peters-Mair-Kaleta) took on the entire Ottawa Senators top line AND Ray Emery. I was there, and from that moment on I was in love with Patrick Kaleta on the Sabres. Kaleta, along with Steve Ott, is one of the most hated players in the NHL. He continues to be hard-nosed, in your face, smash mouth kind of player. He will chirp away with another player, and stick up for his teammates when the time is called on him. His offensive side of the puck comes out occasionally, but his defense has been a help, especially blocking shots on the penalty kill. Kaleta has been bitten by the injury bug quite often, but he will continue to help this team at all costs. If this is how the 4th line will look at the start of the season, teams be warned.
John Scott will not play as much as he did this past season, but will play when he needs to be the enforcer in the lineup. He will play against teams like Boston, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. He'll play when another enforcer is in the lineup, but other than that he will be in the press box. I like how they tried to improve his offense play last season, however he will have less of an impact on this lineup than last year.
Johan Larsson played one game in the NHL last season with the Minnesota Wild. Larsson was acquired from the Wild last season, along with Matt Hackett, in the Jason Pominville trade. In 7 games with Rochester, Larsson scored a goal and added three assists. He also added three assists in the playoffs against the Marlies. Can Larsson out play anyone to earn a starting position on the roster? Probably not. I believe he will make the 23-man roster, and he will alternate with some guys when needed. The only way he plays as a starter is if someone is hurt, or maybe if Cody Hodgson decides to hold-out on the Sabres.
I would love to see Joel Armia start with the Sabres this season, but he still needs time to adjust to the North American game. Armia helped his Finnish team, Assät Pori, win the SM-liiga championship as a 20 year old. He racked up 33 points (19+14) in the regular season and 8 points (3+5) in the playoffs in Finland. Armia is going to grow as a player under the leadership of Matt Ellis and Chad Cassidy in Rochester. I would not be surprised at all if we saw Armia in a Buffalo Sabres uniform as a recall later in the year.
Corey Tropp is an interesting case. He had a devastating ACL tear in his knee in game one last season in Rochester. He tried to come back for the American s in the playoffs, but he came back too soon. Tropp seems ready to go, and I would love to see him in the Sabres lineup to start 2013. But he has to outwork guys like Brian Flynn, Johan Larsson, and Zemgus Girgensons. I think Tropp starts the year in Rochester, but he could be one of the first call ups if the Sabres need a forward. I also would not be surprised if he was included in any trade that Buffalo may pull off. Tropp is still young, 24, and would be a great addition to a team looking for young, tough talent.
This upcoming group of forwards is a promising group of young men. Some will make an immediate impact with the Sabres, some will have some time to develop and continue to get better. How will they impact the team this year? I do not think that they will help Buffalo to a playoff birth, but they could prove to the NHL that they are ready to be a great team in the next few years.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter @BraytonJWilson and leave me comments or questions below. I will be evaluating the defense coming up very soon.
Thanks for reading!