Excitement is abundant in Buffalo as the Sabres start training camp. The idea that the Sabres are looking to finish low in the standings for a high draft pick is now a thing of the past. Last season’s maxim is being replaced by a revamped roster, a new coaching staff led by head coach Dan Bylsma, and a new sense of enthusiasm.
While the NHL’s basement seems like a far less likely conclusion to the Sabres’ 2015-16 season, the big question heading into camp is just how much has Buffalo improved? The playoffs are a tall order given Buffalo’s back-to-back last place finishes. It isn’t completely out of the question but the Sabres will need to work incredibly hard, find chemistry early, and prove many skeptics wrong to make this a reality.
Whether or not Buffalo returns to the playoffs, the Sabres are a very different team now than they were just a season ago. On paper, the Sabres have far more talent than they had last season. The changes to the roster have put the squad in a position to be competitive on a nightly basis. While personnel decisions have yet to be made on the final roster, here is an early look at some key members of the blue and gold and how they became members of the Buffalo Sabres.
[See Also: Offseason Leads to Excitement in Buffalo by Michael Straw]
Buffalo Sabres’ Draft Picks
Jack Eichel: The Buffalo Sabres drafted Jack Eichel with the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Excitement is reaching new heights in Buffalo as Eichel competes for a spot with the Sabres. The 18-year-old is super talented and he is determined to develop into one of the NHL’s elite players.
Jack's in there somewhere.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) September 15, 2015
Tyler Ennis: Ennis was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres with the 26th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Despite the Sabres’ struggles the past two seasons, Ennis has performed rather well. He finished last season with 20 goals and 46 points and he is poised for a huge season with an improved team around him.
Zemgus Girgensons: Entering his third season with the Sabres, Girgensons uses his size and speed to be a difficult player to play against. Drafted with the 14th overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the youngster plays with a ton of heart. He was voted to the NHL All Star game last season and his leadership skills will be an important piece of the puzzle for Buffalo going forward.
Marcus Foligno: The Buffalo Sabres selected Marcus Foligno in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Foligno needs more offensive production in 2015-16. Despite battling some injuries and working through his team’s struggles the past two seasons, Foligno has managed just 15 goals in his last 131 games. The improved supporting cast should help Foligno be more productive on offense this coming season.
Mark Pysyk: Drafted by the Sabres 23rd overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Pysyk has played in 70 NHL games with Buffalo over the course of three seasons. Pysyk has spent most of his time over the past three seasons with the Rochester Americans. He has developed into a strong defenseman and he will likely earn a more permanent role with the Sabres this season.
Sam Reinhart: Reinhart was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres with the second overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The youngster got his first taste of NHL action with the Sabres early last season. He furthered his development in the WHL with the Kootenay Ice where he scored 19 goals and 65 points in 47 games last season. Reinhart also played a big role in Team Canada’s gold medal in the world junior championships.
Rasmus Ristolainen: Ristolainen was drafted by the Sabres with the eighth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Amid Buffalo’s struggles, Ristolainen showed some promising signs including averaging over 20 minutes per game while playing in key situations. Ristolainen’s development will continue under new head coach Dan Bylsma and he looks to take his game to the next level.
Mike Weber: Weber wears his heart on his sleeve and voiced his frustrations at times last season. Drafted in the second round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Sabres, Weber plays a physical game and does not hesitate to defend his teammates. Weber earned his role in the NHL by working hard and the new talent on Buffalo’s roster will certainly re-energize his game this season.
Players Traded to the Buffalo Sabres
Zach Bogosian: The Sabres acquired Bogosian in the deal that sent Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford among others to the Winnipeg Jets. Bogosian earned his stripes last season logging big minutes for the Sabres. He is a physical defenseman who is very difficult to play against and he will play an important role in Buffalo this season.
Nicholas Deslauriers: Deslauriers joined the Sabres along with prospect Hudson Fasching in a deal that sent Brayden McNabb, Jonathan Parker and two second round picks to the Los Angeles Kings. Deslauriers was a physical force for the Sabres last season finishing near the top of the NHL with 261 hits.
Josh Gorges: The Montreal Canadiens sent Josh Gorges to the Sabres in exchange for a second round pick in 2016. Gorges plays with a ton of heart and is an excellent veteran voice in the locker room. He was sidelined due to injury last season but he is looking to bounce back in 2015-16.
Chad Johnson: Buffalo acquired Johnson and a conditional third round pick in 2016 in exchange for Michal Neuvirth last season. An injury sidelined Johnson and he has yet to play a game for the Sabres. The 29-year-0ld has spent time with the New York Rangers, Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, and New York Islanders.
Evander Kane: Kane also arrived in Buffalo from the Winnipeg Jets. He was acquired by the Sabres along with Zach Bogosian and goaltender Jason Kasdorf in exchange for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and a first round pick in 2015. Kane will have an expanded role in Buffalo and he is expected to be fully recovered from an injury that put an early end to his 2014-15 season.
Ryan O'Reilly, Brian Gionta both praised Evander Kane's game-breaking speed. Thing that sticks out today is how big Kane is. Nice combo.
— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) September 18, 2015
David Legwand: Legwand was acquired by Buffalo in June 2015 from the Ottawa Senators. The forward has a ton of NHL experience but his offensive production has fallen off in recent years. His veteran leadership will be valuable in helping Buffalo’s youngsters, particularly Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, develop their game at the NHL level.
Robin Lehner: Lehner was the key piece in the trade with the Ottawa Senators. Many criticized GM Tim Murray for overpaying when he sent a first round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft to Ottawa for Lehner and Legwand. At age 24, Lehner has five years of NHL experience and he will compete with Chad Johnson for the Sabres’ starting goaltending job.
Jamie McGinn: McGinn was acquired along with Ryan O’Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche in June 2015. The Sabres sent Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher, and a second round pick in 2015 to Colorado to complete the trade. Injury limited McGinn in Colorado where he played in just 19 games last season scoring four goals and two assists.
Ryan O’Reilly: O’Reilly played an important leadership role as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. In 427 career NHL games, O’Reilly has scored 90 goals and 246 points. He is a strong voice in the locker room and a smart player on the ice. O’Reilly will build upon his past leadership experience and help the Sabres as work for a return to playoff contention.
Buffalo Sabres’ Free Agent Signings
Carlo Colaiacovo: The Sabres signed Colaiacovo July 2015. Colaiacovo is a 12-year veteran who has spent time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings, and most recently the Philadelphia Flyers.
Matt Donovan: Donovan joined the Sabres this past offseason. The native of Oklahoma has 19 points in 67 career NHL games – all with the New York Islanders. Donovan will have an opportunity to earn a spot with the Sabres this season.
Cody Franson: Franson recently signed a two-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres power play was abysmal last season and Franson will be charged with helping with the man advantage. Franson has size and is skilled when it comes to moving the puck. He notched seven goals and 36 points last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators.
Brian Gionta: After serving as captain of the Montreal Canadiens, the native of Rochester, NY signed with the Sabres in July 2014. Gionta was brought to the Sabres to aid in the development of Buffalo’s youngsters. He finished the 2014-15 season with 13 goals and 35 points in 69 games.
Cody McCormick: The Sabres signed McCormick in free agency in July 2014 after trading him to the Minnesota Wild. McCormick is a strong defender of his teammates and has some limited offensive upside but he missed time last season due to a blood clot.
Per #Sabres coach Dan Bylsma, Matt Moulson texted GM Tim Murray on draft day to say he'd be willing to have Jack Eichel live with him.
— Kevin Oklobzija (@kevinoROC1) September 18, 2015
Matt Moulson: Moulson is another player who decided to sign with the Sabres after being traded by the club to Minnesota. His production has diminished during the Sabres’ last two seasons of struggles. However, with a stronger supporting cast Moulson should also see an upswing in offensive output. Jack Eichel will be living with Moulson and his family this season so the veteran will also play a strong role in mentoring the Sabres’ youth.
Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW