Buffalo - September 19, 2014 - It’s that time of year again: training camp is right around the corner! That means real, actual hockey is just a hop, skip and a jump away.
For a team like the Buffalo Sabres, with a lot of changes and a strict plan going forward, there are a few important things to consider heading into camp. So what are the most important storylines headed into the camp period? I’m glad you asked.
What about Sam?
Sam Reinhart is the highest draft pick the Sabres have had since they took Pierre Turgeon with the first pick in 1987. Word is that he played well in the Traverse City prospects tournament despite not scoring a goal and the Sabres will likely give him as long a look as possible in camp.
The biggest question is this: will the Sabres put him in the lineup regardless of other factors, letting him take his lumps on the third line as an 18-year-old or will they send him back to junior for the year, allow him to dominate and get big minutes, then return for 2015-16 with the rest of the young crowd?
Camp will likely be a big determining factor in that. If Reinhart shows that he’s not only not out of place, but can thrive in the NHL this early, he’ll be given the green light. If not, the Sabres will likely not hesitate to send him back as everyone and their mother knows that there’s nothing to play for this year except the right to draft first overall.
Not that they’re going to become the best unit in the league overnight or anything, but at least the Sabres now have a plethora of viable options on the back end. The team will likely carry seven at the most, so that leaves a few questions.
The “guarantees” are Tyler Myers, Mike Weber, Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros, leaving just three spots remaining among a group including Jake McCabe, Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen, Chad Ruhwedel and Nikita Zadorov.
Like Reinhart, it depends on how patient the Sabres want to be. Zadorov expects to be in the NHL this year, but will they push him forward, letting him grow on the NHL level, or send him to Rochester to get accustomed to the pro game? And what about Ristolainen? Many feel he’s just about ready to become a permanent NHLer, but will the Sabres have any hesitation to send him down if need be?
It will be a dogfight for those final spots as many feel Ruhwedel, Ristolainen and Pysyk are ready for quality minutes in Buffalo.
With the trade that sent Ryan Miller out of town comes uncertainty in net for the first time since the early 2000s when the team was transitioning out of the Dominik Hasek phase. Jhonas Enroth, backup to Miller, has looked solid in his relatively brief stint as starter and deadline acquisition Michal Neuvirth will likely be the 1b to Enroth’s 1a.
What we can learn from camp might not be who will be the unquestioned starter, but whoever comes out of it as opening night starter certainly has the chance to earn the confidence of the coaching staff and more starts for themselves. If Neuvirth slips in camp, Enroth could come out of this as the unquestioned starter to being the season.
They might not have a superstar in net anymore, but the Sabres still have quality goaltending and have two reasonable options to fall back on as camp starts.
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When not inanely bantering about the Sabres, Ryan Womeldorf can be found here and at TwoPadStack.net talking all things hockey. He's usually got a lot to say, but sadly most of it is wrong. If you have any questions, feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org