The Buffalo Sabres completed their preseason with a 7-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins this past Friday evening, but it gave no cause for concern. The overall results for the team in the preseason have been very good, and the young players that have been fighting for roster spots have shown a great deal of development and promise. The forward group looked sharp and put on some great scoring displays, the defense still has work to do, and the goaltending has been solid, so Buffalo has a good base to start the year.
This season’s success will ride heavily on the backs of the youth. Rookie players like Jack Quinn and Owen Power will be relied on for primary scoring and defensive plays respectively, and veteran youngsters like Dylan Cozens will be relied on for leadership and scoring prowess as well. For any team looking to make their way out of the basement of the standings, there needs to be overall improvement, and the Sabres’ young players all showed signs of that throughout the preseason.
Young Forwards To Lead Scoring Charge
Tage Thompson broke out last season scoring 38 goals, and he is still young by every standard, so he too will be a key part of the Sabres’ coming success. During the preseason and the games that he played, he was easily the best player they had on the ice beyond Alex Tuch. In the Sabres’ last preseason home game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 4, he stood up for one of his teammates who got hit by fighting Jalen Chatfield. This type of support is something that has been missing from the Sabres for years, and seeing it come from their top goal scorer was a massive statement. He will be at the forefront of the offense, and he has now made it clear that he is a force to be reckoned with in both the scoring and physical aspects of the game.
Cozens has looked unstoppable; plain and simple. Throughout the preseason, he has been everywhere on the ice to break up scoring plays, create scoring plays, and put in 110 percent hustle in everything he does. He has been paired up with other young forwards like Peyton Krebs and rookie JJ Peterka; two other forwards with high motors and “never say die” attitudes, and as the presumed “third line” they will have ample opportunities to score. Cozens is the most underrated and interesting player on the Sabres this season, and the quality of his play will determine the outcome of most games for Buffalo this season.
Young Defense Needs Chemistry
This season, young players like Mattias Samuelsson and Owen Power will be inserted into the lineup full-time and put in high-pressure situations right away, so developing chemistry with their defensive partners is paramount. Throughout the preseason, Samuelsson has played with Dahlin and looked very comfortable. This would put him on the top pairing, and give him all the pressures of shutting down the league’s top players each night. As Dahlin is the more offensively inclined player, Samuelsson will need to play more defensively, and finding that balance between the two of them will be the key to both players having great seasons.
Power has been playing with Henri Jokiharju, and is the opposite of Samuelsson. He is the more offensively inclined player, and his key to success will be in finding the balance of staying back to support his partner and not abandoning him for a rush on every play. Jokiharju was paired with Dahlin for the majority of last season, so he has grown accustomed to having a partner with a more offensive style. Power has a lot of high expectations for him going into this year, and crumbling under pressure is not something he looks prepared to do based on his preseason performances. This top-4 grouping of defenders may be inexperienced, but with time they will grow to be perfectly in sync and shutting down some of the best scorers in the league on a regular basis.
Sabres’ Goaltending Is Weak, but Not Terrible
Craig Anderson is not getting any younger, and a full season is likely not in the cards for him, but the Sabres have other youthful options to replace him when the time comes. Eric Comrie was signed as a free agent this past summer, and prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (UPL) is chomping at the bit to have a real NHL shot. If the preseason was any indicator, all three are ready to go and can serve as solid starting options in goal.
Comrie has been given the short end of the stick in the preseason, as he started against two high-powered teams with a minor-league quality defense in front of him. His overall numbers look terrible, but having watched the games he played in, he had good positioning, quick reflexes, good puck reads and never looked discouraged. His defenders left him out to dry too many times and he was torn apart in both games he started. UPL had muDych better defense and scoring in front of him for his games and he put up some solid numbers. Whether he starts this season in Buffalo or in Rochester is going to be a tough choice for Kevyn Adams, but he definitely has the skill to play full-time in the NHL this season.
Sabres’ Playoff Hopes Rest on Young Shoulders
Veteran players like Kyle Okposo and Jeff Skinner will be very important this season, but the fate of this team rests on the young players. Thompson and Cozens up front will take charge in the scoring department, while Power and Samuelsson will lock down the back end. There is a lot that needs to go right for the Sabres to make the playoffs, but the grit and determination that this team has shown in games that are supposed to mean nothing has been nothing short of incredible.
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Development has been the name of the game for the past year or so, and now it is time to turn the corner to winning games above anything else. No more tanking, no more “next year”, and no more waiting for some young savior to come in and fix this franchise with their skills. Winning games should be the new focus of the Sabres, and these young players are hungry for it. From the looks in their eyes to the fire clearly brewing within them, this is a year that matters to them, and disappointment will not be an option.