The left side of the Buffalo Sabres’ defense has grown from a position of weakness to arguably the strongest part of their roster. Boasting two former first overall selections in Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power, and former second-round selection Mattias Samuelsson, the Sabres have invested heavily into that side of their defense. One player who ultimately may get lost in the shuffle is Jacob Bryson. While he played in nearly every game for Buffalo this season, and had the second highest ice time of all Sabres defensemen, how he fits with the team moving forward is an interesting question to ponder.
Bryson Created Momentum for Himself Heading Into This Season
The Sabres drafted Bryson in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL draft. He is somewhat of an undersized defensemen at 5-foot-9, but the smaller frame gives him a speed advantage to jump into the play to create offense off the rush. Bryson made his NHL debut during the 2020-2021 season, playing in 38 games after joining the team in late February. During his rookie year he ranked fifth on the team in ice time for defensemen, and he pitched in nine points during those 38 games.
Bryson had a relatively strong showing during his rookie year sample size. The team was abysmal under former head coach Ralph Krueger but showed signs of improvement when Don Granato took over in the middle of March, and Bryson certainly performer better after the coaching change. He was a solid match for Granato’s system, as the coach favors defensemen who can push the play up the ice while also displaying responsibility defensively. Because of the Sabres lack of depth on defense and his strong showing to end the 2020-2021 season, Bryson was in line for a full time position heading into this season.
Bryson’s First Full Season as a Sabre Was a Mixed Bag
The 2021-2022 season was certainly an up and down one for Bryson. He played in 73 games this season and was used on the power play more, with seven of his 10 points this season coming with the man advantage. His ice time drastically increased compared to last season, going from fifth place in 2020-2021 to second place this season.
However, there were inconsistencies in his play in both the offensive and defensive zones. Offensively he was able to push the play and help get the puck into the offensive zone, but he was not able sustain consistent pressure when in the zone. Defensively, Bryson is far from a liability, but his smaller stature and relative inexperience showed when matching up against the stronger competition he did this season.
Bryson’s contributions on the scoresheet were also limited. Even with the increased playing time, his point total only increased by one from the previous season. He scored one goal, which matched what he had in 2020-2021, so his only increase was adding one assist. This was somewhat disappointing because of his reputation as an offensive defenseman.
One of the reasons for the inconsistencies in his play could be the increased ice time. Bryson is a solid depth defensemen, but he was played on the top two pairs for a majority of the season. His play would likely improve if he was playing limited minutes on the bottom pair or even as the seventh defenseman for the Sabres. Because of the depth they have built for themselves on the back end, this could be a reality should they choose to re-sign him.
Future Look and Final Grade
Bryson is coming off his entry level contract and is now a restricted free agent. Finding a spot for him on the roster is somewhat difficult because of the log jam the Sabres have at left defense, but Bryson should be re-signed as a depth defenseman. They tried him on the right side a couple times this season, but he is better suited and looks more natural playing on the left. He paired well with both Samuelsson and Casey Fitzgerald, and with both of those players set to return to the Sabres next season, having Bryson as a depth option gives them pairs they can return to if need be.
Despite the inconsistencies, Bryson was put in a tough position this season. He was asked to play a lot of minutes in just his first full season as a pro, and while the results weren’t always there he was reliable for most of the year. He earns a B- for his performance this season.
Zach Rohde is a Buffalo Sabres Contributor for THW. Growing up in the Buffalo area during the late 2000s, the Sabres success fueled his passion for hockey. He has written about the Sabres for another site in Buffalo previously, and covered Buffalo Sports for a brief time as a freelance sports assistant for Spectrum News Buffalo before moving to a full time position in general news. Twitter: @ZachRohde