Last years record: 35-36-11 7th in the Atlantic Division
Didn’t qualify for the playoffs
Key losses: Mark Pysyk
Key additions: Kyle Okposo, Dmitry Kulikov
Outlook: The Buffalo Sabres are an incredibly young ream riddled with talent. Lead up front by young stars Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart the Sabres will look to build off last year and take another step in the right direction. The Sabres have a tremendous group of forwards that include Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, and Evander Kane. It’s no question that the Sabres have the firepower up front to contend in the east, it’s the other areas of their game that lead to questions.
Buffalo’s blue line isn’t too shabby either. Lead by former first rounder Rasmus Ristolainen, who is currently an RFA still without a contract, the Buffalo defense looks to be even better this season. The Sabres added left-handed defenseman Dmitry Kulikov this off-season in an attempt to shore up their blue line. Last season with the Florida Panthers Kulikov registered just seventeen points(1g 16a), however for the first time in his career he finished his season with a positive plus minus rating. With veterans Zach Bogosian, Josh Georges, and Cody Franson patrolling the blue line, the Sabres should be in pretty good shape on the back-end. Not to mention the emergence of twenty-two year old defenseman Jake McCabe who finished his first full NHL season with fourteen points and a plus six rating. In addition to those six, rookies Casey Nelson and Brendan Guhle could make an impact, especially if they have a good camp and an even better preseason.
In goal seems to be where the trouble lurks for Buffalo. Chad Johnson, Buffalo’s wins leader last season, finds himself in back in his hometown of Calgary this season. This leaves the goal tending duties to either Robin Lehner, Anders Nilsson, or Linus Ullmark. Lehner, the favorite to win the starting job, has struggled staying healthy his entire NHL career. Lehner, twenty-five, still has his best years ahead of him and if he can manage to stay healthy he has the ability to really make a name for himself. Nilsson and Ullmark will likely battle for back-up duty, which will probably go to Nilsson so that Ullmark can spend another year in the AHL refining his skills.
When all is said and done I think Buffalo finds themselves just barely on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture. In a stacked Atlantic it could be hard for the Sabres to find a playoff spot this year, but look for Buffalo to return to postseason as soon as 2017-2018.