3 Sabres Who Could Be X-Factors in 2022-23

The 2022-23 season will be a massive year for the development path of the Buffalo Sabres. Young players will be given chances to step up and show they belong in the NHL, battle-tested veterans will be pushed to their limits, and new players will look to prove they can contribute. Many players will be looking to build on the success of the previous year, and it is this aforementioned improvement that will make them an X-factor for the team.

Head coach Don Granato has managed to maximize the play and potential of so many young players in his short Sabres tenure. From the great season end for Casey Mittelstadt in 2020-21 to the full resurrection of Rasmus Dahlin to All-Star status, he has proven that he can take a young player and turn them into something special. There are a number of young guns that are filled with potential and waiting to break out, and should these players grow to reach that potential this year, the Sabres are in for an amazing season.

Dylan Cozens

Dylan Cozens has had a tough time acclimating himself to the NHL, and in the process of learning the game, he has struggled to find his scoring touch. There have been many times where he has shown flashes of brilliance in puck handling, or shooting ability, but his consistency with it has been his greatest enemy to date. Luckily, his positive attitude and leadership mentality have allowed him to grow despite his personal shortcomings.

Dylan Cozens Buffalo Sabres
Dylan Cozens, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Cozens spent a great deal of time during the 2021-22 season playing alongside Kyle Okposo, and he clearly adopted some of his best qualities and tendencies. He is relentless on the puck and plays with a fantastic combination of grit and skill. He is also not afraid to get down to the dirty areas, but he also possesses the finesse to set up plays with soft hands and score beautiful goals. He is a complete package of a player, and a fresh season is all he needs to break the snakebitten scoring curse that plagued him all of last year.

Cozens not only has the potential to break out offensively, but he also has the opportunity to show that he is the next true leader of the Sabres. Okposo is poised to become the next captain based on his role last year, but Cozens has the same qualities in a more youthful body. Long term, he will end up being the heart and soul of this franchise, and his production, combined with his on-ice mentality will define him by the end of this season.

Owen Power

Sabres fans were quick to judge and start turning on Dahlin when things went south for his production, but Owen Power is a different type of player. Where Dahlin excels at making good passes and slick moves to create chances, Power uses his passing ability combined with steadiness and positioning to make big plays. Comparisons to superstar defenseman Victor Hedman come from Power’s size (standing at 6-foot-6) for sure, but it also comes from his poise and composure in both ends of the ice.

In his short stint with Buffalo at the tail end of last season, Power showed that he was ready to make the step into the NHL. With opposing teams now aware that he will be in the lineup on a regular basis, they will have more of an ability to counter him based on his limited NHL time so far, but that will not stop him. He is one of the most headstrong and determined players in the Sabres locker room. There will definitely be times this season where he struggles, but where he will be an X-factor for this team is in his sound overall play. He will learn the hard lessons fast and adjust on the fly to become the best version of himself as soon as possible.

Owen Power Buffalo Sabres
Owen Power, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Sure, it is unrealistic to expect amazing offensive numbers from a first year defender, but it is not outrageous to expect him to put up good defensive numbers. Power excels in the two-way game and has the ability to transition between both ends of the ice better than almost anyone on the Sabres, making him an immeasurably valuable asset to their defensive core. Having a stay-at-home defender like Mattias Samuelsson in the mix will definitely help, but having Power running around in the top-4 will make a world of difference for the team this season.

Eric Comrie

Goaltending has been one of the Sabres’ biggest problems since they traded Ryan Miller away. His years of steady play and reliable winning habits have not been able to be duplicated, and management has been looking for a solution ever since. Developing players within the system produced Linus Ullmark as a potential option, but years of losing caused him to jump ship to Boston and have success there instead.

This season, Kevyn Adams will turn to a tandem of veteran Craig Anderson and newcomer Eric Comrie from the Winnipeg Jets. Comrie has spent the last six seasons trying to make an NHL impression, but did not have any real success until the 2021-22 season when he proved to be a very reliable backup option. He comes to Buffalo with the opportunity to at least be in tandem with Anderson, but he will have every chance to overtake him for the starting job. Anderson was solid last year, but his age will always be a factor as the season progresses, so Comrie’s youth will benefit him and the team long-term.

Eric Comrie Winnipeg Jets
Eric Comrie, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Comrie has shown that he can be sound positionally, and that he has the skills to be an NHL regular. He might be competing with Anderson for the starting job short term, but long term he will need to prove he is a better option than Ukko Pekka Luukkonen if he wants to remain as the primary option in the crease. Where he has the potential to be an X-factor for Buffalo is in his breakout potential. It isn’t often that a starting goaltending job is basically vacant and open for the taking. If Comrie is as much of a competitor as he was last year with the Jets, he can run away with this opportunity and establish himself as a fully-realized starting goaltender.

2022-23 Season Is Filled With Opportunity

Beyond these three players, there will be a number of young players looking to make a lasting impression and be an X-factor right out of the gate. Players like Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka will be chomping at the bit to show they can be NHL regulars and produce like they did in the minors, but they will likely struggle a bit compared to the others. Returning players like Tage Thompson and Jeff Skinner will be looking to repeat their success, so their X-factor potential is high as well, but if they continue their success, it will just be a continuation of last season and thus will not stand out comparatively.

The leadership group is stronger than it has ever been in Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons, and with the way this team is built, there will only be more players added to this class. Cozens was mentioned before as being one of the future leaders, but players like Alex Tuch, Dahlin, and even Skinner cannot be overlooked as some of the best “team first” guys in the locker room. As more players buy into that mentality, the rest of the roster will continue to feed off of it and the opportunity to produce more in every statistical department will be an inevitability. Every player on this team will have a chance to prove they can be an X-factor, but it will be up to them to use this year to establish themselves as one.

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