Believe it or not, the 2017-18 NHL season is less than a month away. The Buffalo Sabres will open the season on October 5th and will start training camp in about a week on September 15th. The organization went through a lot of change from a roster and management standpoint. New general manager, coach, scouting department and overhaul of the defense core.
All of that adds up to a season of some uncertainty and intrigue. Thus making my annual bold predictions for the season to have the ability to be even a little more out there. A quick recap of last season’s bold predictions shows I went 0 for 4. If you want to see what I went out on a limb to predict last year you can check it out here. Enough of the past. Let’s get to the 2017-18 bold predictions.
Prediction 1: Sam Reinhart Will Score 60 Points
I’ll start off with a prediction that may not be that crazy. Sam Reinhart had a down year last season and even found himself in the dog house of Dan Bylsma at the end of the season for an off ice issue. While your eyes would tell you he wasn’t the same player we saw in his rookie season, Reinhart did have a bump in production. He scored 42 points in 79 games in his first full NHL season and put up 47 in 79 games last season.
So, you may be asking yourself how am I predicting at least a 13 point jump in production? It’s simple, Jack Eichel. Presumably, Reinhart will be riding shotgun with Eichel this season and if the 20-year-old star can stay healthy you’re expecting a big year from him. Hence if Eichel has a big season then his linemates will benefit from it.
We’ve seen the duo combine for some special goals in their brief time together in Buffalo. Under the new system of head coach Phil Housley that puts an emphasis on planning an attacking style, it’ll only benefit the offense.
Also, don’t forget the upgrades made on the blue line. The Sabres brought in three new defenders in Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu and Victor Antipin. The three additions will not only help in the defensive zone, but they all are excellent puck movers. An area the Sabres defense really struggled with last season. A defense that can get the puck out of the zone and up to the forwards means more opportunity for scoring.
Prediction 2: Brendan Guhle Will Play 40 Games and Score 20 Points
Brendan Guhle is one of the if not the top prospect in the Sabres system. The former second round pick will begin his first professional season after playing in the WHL. The 20-year-old has an outside shot to make the team in training camp, but it’s likely he starts the season playing for the Rochester Americans in the AHL.
Throughout a long season, teams deal with injuries and other players get opportunities. While Guhle may start the season in the minors, it’ll only be a matter of time until he gets his chance to play with the big club. When that door opens for the Edmonton native I predict he’ll knock the door down and will not relinquish his spot on the roster.
He’s an exceptional skater and puck mover that has shown in brief stints that NHL isn’t too big for him. Guhle played three games with the Sabres last season on an emergency recall and caught the eye of a lot of people around the organization. He followed that up with an impressive six games with the Amerks to end last season. His playing style fits exactly what Housley is looking for in his defensemen.
Prediction 3: Casey Mittelstadt Will be a Hobey Baker Finalist
This prediction isn’t about the Sabres season but does have an effect on the franchise. Casey Mittelstadt has been impressive since he was selected eighth overall in this past June’s draft. He was arguably the best player on the ice during development camp and was receiving rave reviews playing in a summer pro league against some NHL players.
Mittelstadt has the flashy tools that immediately catch any fans attention. He’s a great skater with good hands and a lethal shot. Like most 18-year-olds he needs to add some bulk to his frame to be ready to step up to the pro game.
Winning the Hobey Baker Award as a freshman is only something that’s been done twice in history. Eichel pulled it off in the 2014-15 season and the other Paul Kariya did so in the 1992-93 season. Mittelstadt will play for one of the best programs in college hockey the University of Minnesota this upcoming season. A lot of eyes will be on the Minnesota native and he has the tools to be one of the top players in college hockey next season.
Prediction 4: Phil Housley Will Win the Jack Adams Award
If the Sabres have a bounce back season that ends with a playoff berth a lot of the credit will go to first-time coach Housley. This club has the potential to be the Toronto Maple Leafs of last season. They’ve made improvements throughout the roster and if they can stay healthy, have the potential to surprise people.
A lot of pundits are predicting the Sabres to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic Division. That scenario is certainly possible as players may take some time to get used to the new system and could put the club in an early hole. On the flip side of the coin, the Atlantic is one of the most open divisions in the league. Besides perhaps Tampa Bay, no team is an “elite” hockey club. Every team in the division has its questions and the door is open for an unexpected team to find their way into the top three.
A motivated Eichel, improved defense, luck with health and a new coaching style are a few reasons the Sabres can get themselves back into the playoff discussion for the first time since 2011.