It's official! September 12th is the day training camp begins for the Sabres! Now there are 15 days until training camp, 18 days until the first preseason game in Montreal, and 35 days until Buffalo opens the season in Detroit.
The Sabres defense is stock-piled again like last year. Last year there were many questions on who will play and who will be in Rochester to start the year. This year is much of the same with 10 NHL ready defenseman available. Here is what I believe the Sabres defense will look like this season:
Unit 1: Myers-Tallinder
Unit 2: Ehrhoff-Pysyk
Unit 3: Weber-McBain
Tyler Myers has been very inconsistent with his play since his Calder Trophy year in 2009-10 season. He has battled injuries, but when healthy he has had slow starts and stretches with little to no production at all. His play has been declining on both sides of the puck, with his stats and playing time all down as well. Last season, he played in 39 games and only accounted for 8 points (3+5). We know Myers can do so much more for the Sabres, but how much more? In the past two seasons, Myers has broken his foot, leg, and his wrist. Last season, he came to Buffalo out of shape and was terrible to start the lockout shortened year. He gained some steam and played better under the direction of Ron Rolston, but his season was cut short again by injury. Remember when Myers produced 48 points in his rookie year? Seems not that long ago, but Myers needs to get back to form. He has vowed to be better this year and to be the Tyler Myers of old. I think if he stays healthy, and under Ron Rolston's system, Myers will get back to form and be the Tyler Myers we all want.
The Sabres reacquired Henrik Tallinder this summer from the Devils in exchange for ECHLer, Riley Boychuk. Why? Honestly, I have no answers. Maybe Darcy wants to spark something in Tyler Myers to get him back on track. The 34-year old Tallinder is in the last year of his deal he signed with New Jersey, and has been riddled with injuries over the last two seasons. When in Buffalo, one of Tallinder's best seasons was when he was paired with Tyler Myers registering 20 points (4+16) in all 82 games. They both fed off each other on both sides of the puck, and Tallinder's veteranship help Myers grow as a rookie. If Hank can stay healthy, maybe the same magic between him and Myers can come back to form.
Christian Ehrhoff has probably been Buffalo's best defenseman over the past two seasons. He lead the team in total ice time by nearly 4 four minutes over Tyler Myers (25: 11). He was the offensive leader on defense (22 points), and he was a key leader on the power play and penalty kill. He was able to set up players like Thomas Vanek and his fellow point men, block shots, and be a veteran leader on defense. Ehrhoff missed only one game last season, and is one of the best players on the ice when healthy. I loved the signing of Christian Ehrhoff when Buffalo signed him in June of 2011. His consistency and smart hockey knowledge can help the Sabres for many years to come. He has eight more years in Buffalo, and if he continues his style of play, I expect him to do some great things in Buffalo.
The one defenseman that will have a tough time making the roster is Mark Pysyk. Pysyk plays a simple game, and is very smart with his skating. The 21-year old defenseman had a goal and four assists in 19 games with the club in his first season with Buffalo. He his still young, but he definitely showed a lot of improvement from when he first started with the Sabres. When he started in Rochester last season under Ron Rolston, Mark had 18 points (4+14) in 57 games, and was a top four defenseman. With Ehrhoff, I believe Pysyk can become a better defenseman on both sides of the puck. Like Myers and Tallinder, I think Pysyk and Ehrhoff can feed off each other's play and make a good defensive pairing.
Mike Weber was re-signed to a 3-year contract this summer to stay with the Buffalo Sabres. I liked the re-signing of Weber because I thought he was the best defensive defender for the past couple of years. A year or two ago, the question was whether or not Weber had a spot on the roster with the team. Now, I believe he has a spot locked in with the Sabres. He has an increased leadership role with the team, and his buddy Steve Ott is here too. Mike Weber may have a role in persuading Steve Ott to re-sign with the Sabres. Weber's stats are nothing to be impressed with, however his defensive role on the team has continued to grow. Weber is gonna have a big role on the penalty kill, and he could help guys like Pysyk, Ruhwedel, Ristolainen, and Zadorov grow on defense.
The Buffalo Sabres at the draft were looking to try and move up in the draft to acquire a top 5 pick. One team that was targeted was Carolina who held that 5th pick. Carolina decided to keep the 5th pick and use it on Swedish center, Elias Lindholm. However in the 2nd round, Buffalo and Carolina made a deal where Buffalo dealt Andrej Sekera and their 2nd round pick to the Hurricanes for their 2nd round pick and defenseman, Jamie McBain. I had the sense that Carolina and Buffalo were talking trades, and I thought that McBain would fit pretty well in a Sabres uniform. McBain, 6'2" and 200 pounds, is known as an offensive defender who can be very skilled with the puck. McBain has never been the "flashy" type of player, but when he makes a play with the puck, you know it. McBain spent the past 3-4 years in Carolina racking up 19 goals and 56 assists and a +/- of 48. I see him playing with Mike Weber because McBain could use Weber when he is up on an offensive rush. When McBain gets caught or is in trouble, Weber can be there to help. And when Mike Weber needs a partner to give the puck to to start a rush, Jamie McBain is there. I think McBain will be in and out of the lineup this season. He will be a Restricted Free Agent at the end of the year, and if he plays well, maybe he will have a spot on the roster next season. If not, maybe Buffalo unloads him at the deadline to make a spot open for one of the young guys in Rochester.
Scratches / Extras:
I like Alexander Sulzer, but his re-signing confused me a bit. The 29-year old German has not proven he is a top 6 forward on any team, and he has battled injuries in the past. I believe he will have a chance to start this season on the unit with fellow German, Christian Ehrhoff, but he has to battle with young guys like McBain and Pysyk. Both Ehrhoff and Sulzer have the chemistry, and can both rely on each other when needed. But Sulzer has a problem staying healthy long-term. In two seasons with Buffalo, Sulzer has played 32 times in which the one season he was acquired from Vancouver with Cody Hodgson. Sulzer is smart with the puck in the defensive end of the ice, and is very good with the puck along the end boards. I see Sulzer sitting to start the season, but he'll be in the lineup when someone is not performing or someone is hurt.
Rasmus Ristolainen is going to start the season in Rochester, but I wouldn't rule out an appearance or two from the Finnish rookie this year. I believe he can make the jump when needed, and he can be a nice fill in for an injured player.
Chad Ruhwedel was a nice fill-in last season when the Sabres signed him out of U-Mass Lowell. He did not record any points in seven games last year, but Chad showed some nice defensive skills in his own zone. Ruhwedel will be sent back to Rochester to improve his professional game more, and I bet he could be paired with a guy like Ristolainen or Bryaden McNabb on the farm. I can see Chad making an impact with the Sabres, but not quite yet.
Brayden McNabb is going to have to prove to everyone in the organization this year he is an NHL player. He was impressive when he was called up two years ago, but he is going to have to rebound strong from a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup in the last part of the season in Rochester. If he can prove that he is NHL ready, maybe he'll make the trip to Buffalo and stay with the squad in the later part of the season.
Nikita Zadorov is going to play in London of the OHL this season. There is going to be no chance of him making an appearance in blue and gold just yet. Next year? Maybe, if he's ready.
This young defensive group is going to make a name for themselves in the next few years. I would not be surprised if the Sabres become one of the best defensive teams in the NHL in the next three to five years. They will grow together, feed off of each other, and be leaders on this team. If they are impressive this season, maybe Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth can have some weights lifted off their shoulders and perform at their highest level. We'll see.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter @BraytonJWilson and leave comments and question down below. Last, but not least, I will evaluate the goaltending situation in the days to come. The season is upon us, and it will be here soon.
As always, thanks for reading!