Everyone loves to think about the big flashy star players on each team; the goal scorers, the high-profile names, and the fresh-faced rookies with big potential, but some players can fly under the radar for their team. These are the players that quietly contribute to the scoresheet or make subtle plays to break up opposing scoring chances, and they tend to go unnoticed for a majority of the season. They have moments here and there when they flash some brilliance, but for the most part, they do their best work when they are being underrated or going generally unnoticed.
The Buffalo Sabres still have yet to earn the respect of the rest of the NHL, so a lot of players have the potential to fit this description, but there are a few in particular that can provide some key assets to the team every night. These are not players like Jeff Skinner or Rasmus Dahlin who have a high pedigree and some respect from the opposition, but instead are the ones that casually get under the skin of opposing teams with the little things that they do. Their talent is overlooked on a regular basis, and that will be what is weaponized throughout the course of the 2022-23 season.
During the 2021-22 season, the Sabres needed all the help that they could get for producing points, so they took to using young players and relying on free agents like Vinnie Hinostroza. At the start of the year, he found himself in the top-six and in a key scoring role, but he quickly succumbed to injuries through the course of the season. Due to this, he found himself relegated to more of a utility role as he filled in the gaps left by other injured or underperforming players in the lineup. Turns out, this was the perfect role for him, and general manager Kevyn Adams rewarded him with a new one-year contract for 2022-23.
Hinostroza has a great blend of speed and grit, combined with a scoring ability that can be slotted anywhere on the roster. He may not be a staple on any one line, but he can provide the boost that a struggling line needs. He can score a goal with a skill move, or dig down in the corners for some gritty play and complement almost anyone. Last season, he showed great chemistry with Dylan Cozens, so it would not be shocking to see them together again on a semi-regular basis. His skill set is something that has not been regularly found on the Sabres for years, so he will be a very underrated and valuable asset for Don Granato’s forward group in 2022-23.
Sabres fans are well aware of the value that Mattias Samuelsson brings to the team, but where he is underrated comes at a more national level. His name and habits are not that well-known around the league as he still has yet to record a full NHL season, but that does not change his impact on the team itself. This year, however, that will change as he will be relied upon to solidify the Sabres’ top-four on the back end.
What Samuelsson brings to the table defensively is something that hasn’t been found on the Sabres’ defense core for a very long time. His combination of size and defensive prowess is what fans were expecting out of former defender Rasmus Ristolainen for years, but the difference in Samuelsson is in the execution. He is positionally aware in his own end and has the ability to read plays before they happen in the offensive zone and when to transition back defensively. He plays physical and can shut down almost any player in the league, and he is only going to improve. Where he has lacked is in his offensive production, but that too will see a jump this season as he becomes more acclimated to his role in the NHL full time.
Since he was drafted 8th overall by the Sabres in 2017, Casey Mittelstadt has struggled to make an impact in the NHL. There have been times when he has slumped, and times when he has looked unstoppable, but not all of the issues can be placed solely on him. Injuries have riddled his career to this point, and he had to suffer through arguably the worst coach in Sabres history in Ralph Krueger. When Granato took over in early 2021, he was unleashed and his true potential started to show. As he comes into this season healthy and fresh, his determination alone will drive his scoring numbers up.
While Mittelstadt’s spot is not cemented in the top-six of the Sabres’ forward group, his skill level, combined with the trust level that Granato seems to have in him will see his ice time increase. He possesses all of the talent and potential to score goals and make some amazing plays for his teammates, but he has not yet been given a true opportunity to do so because of the injury bug. He easily has some of the slickest hands on the team besides maybe Skinner and Dahlin and he has the ability to turn any defender inside out. His speed will need to have been improved over the course of this summer to make him more dominant, but his previous track record of low production from injuries will keep him off of opposing teams’ radars.
Spreading Out The Talent Will Make a Difference in 2022-23
The Sabres possess a number of other players that will fly under the radar; players like Rasmus Asplund and his stellar two-way play, and their most recent signing, Riley Sheahan, who has a great track record in the faceoff circle and on the penalty kill. While Asplund will be the one who gets more playing time between the two, having these smaller talents spread throughout the lineup will be instrumental in their quest for a playoff spot.
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Should any of these players suddenly break out and have a massive level of attention come to them, that only means that they have improved as a team and that there are more pieces to worry about each night for the opposition. Every Sabres player is currently out to prove something, and this season will provide ample opportunity for them to do so. Bigger names like Tage Thompson and Rasmus Dahlin will have the spotlight on them, so it will be much easier for players like Hinostroza, Samuelsson, and Mittelstadt to perform each night without the pressure of being the target of the opposing team.