Sabres Surprise Everyone With Samuelsson Extension

The Buffalo Sabres made two major transactions one day before their 2022-23 season opener. On Wednesday, defenseman Mattias Samuelsson signed a seven-year contract extension worth $30 million, and head coach Don Granato signed a multi-year extension.

Granato’s deal makes sense, given the strides he’s taken in such a short time. Samuelsson’s, however, is more shocking, as the 22-year-old has yet to play a full season. A novice player receiving such a big contract is a rarity, and in doing so, the Sabres have shown that they’re done messing around and are locking down their future.

But was it wise for the Sabres to give him such a big deal so soon?

Samuelsson Is Talented but Inexperienced

The answer that might seem obvious is no, so I’ll play devil’s advocate for the moment.

Tage Thompson recently signed a seven-year extension as well; however, Thompson is coming off a breakout 38-goal season, and his big payday was very sensible. Samuelsson’s extension, on the other hand, raises some eyebrows. In his brief time with the club over the past two seasons, the first-generation American has impressed and shown that he has the potential to become a strong NHL blueliner should he be allowed to develop properly. But therein lies the issue; the sample size is far too small, as entering this season, he has just 54 games to his credit.

The Sabres now have $120 million invested between him and Thompson, which isn’t an issue as the team still has over $18 million in available salary cap space at its disposal, according to Sportrac. However, as the team has several worthy young players — such as Dylan Cozens — that will need new contracts in the near future, it’s a bit puzzling to think that Samuelsson received an extension before them.

Perhaps it would have been wiser for general manager Kevyn Adams to wait until he had more to go on. The second-generation NHLer did record 10 assists in 42 games last season while playing solid defensively, but that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. There have been many cases of players falling off after signing a big deal, and the Sabres will have to hope that doesn’t happen to their young defenseman.

Sabres Need More Defensive Defensemen

On the other hand, Samuelsson’s upside is undeniable, and he could be the exact type of defender that Buffalo needs going forward. The Sabres already have Rasmus Dahlin and (eventually) Owen Power to provide offense from the blue line, something that the team has lacked in recent years. But in order for an offensive defenseman to have the room to maneuver, he needs a player to balance him out. That’s where Samuelsson comes in.

Mattias Samuelsson Buffalo Sabres
Samuelsson’s “stay at home” mentality helps make Buffalo more dynamic (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers).

He plays a reserved game, rarely jumping up ice, remaining focused on his positioning. Henri Jokiharju plays this same style and complemented Power very well last season. Samuelsson provided the same dynamic for Dahlin during the preseason when they were paired together, and that could be the team’s top pairing on Thursday against the Ottawa Senators.

Defensive defensemen rarely receive the spotlight as they don’t score often, but that doesn’t make them any less essential, and every team needs one to help serve as an anchor. For years, Jake McCabe was the only player the Sabres had fitting that description. Mark Pysyk’s return last season helped fill the void after McCabe left for the Chicago Blackhawks in free agency, but he himself moved on to the Detroit Red Wings this summer.

Having Samuelsson and Jokiharju around will allow Dahlin and Power to further sharpen their scoring abilities and will make the Sabres’ defensive corps that much more dangerous going forward. The team may be facing a potential logjam since Casey Fitzgerald, Jacob Bryson and the newly acquired Ilya Lyubushkin all factor in as well. Someone will end up being the odd man out, but it’s tough to foresee who that will be at this point. Nevertheless, the Sabres have a deep pool on defense, and it bodes well for their playoff hopes this season.

Related: Sabres 2022-23 Roster Could Be a Playoff Contender

Giving a player with less than a full season of experience a long-term deal is risky, but Samuelsson has all the tools to succeed, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t become the player he’s expected to be. He’ll have his growing pains, but he’ll be a very valuable asset for the team moving forward.

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