Dobber's offseason fantasy hockey grades – Buffalo Sabres
For the last 12 years over at The Hockey News, I have reviewed each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint and graded them. Now that I am no longer with THN, my 13th annual review will appear here on DobberHockey. This is not a review of the likely performance on the ice or in the standings, but in the realm of fantasy hockey.
Gone – Andre Benoit, Tyson Strachan, Cody Hodgson, Zac Dalpe, Matt Hackett, Anders Lindback, JT Compher, Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov, Matt Ellis, Patrick Kaleta, Andrej Meszaros, Ted Nolan (Coach)
Impact of changes – Well, a Cup-winning coach, a future superstar, a stud two-way center, a top goal-scoring power winger and a new No.1 goalie will probably combine to make a bit of an impact, wouldn't you say?
The Sabres were dead last in 2014-15 when they averaged 1.87 goals per game. That's like Dominik Hasek's goals against average back when he was winning Hart Trophies. The team had two 40-point players last year and just four 25-point players. This year they will have five players with 50 points or more, mark my words. And Eichel should flirt with 65, even on this team. The power play was an ugly 13.4%. Just a bump to 16.5% would make all the difference.
Defensively, they'll still have their trials and tribulations (29th last year). But scoring goals won't be quite the issue anymore.
Ready for full-time – Eichel needs no introduction. The second overall pick this summer will make this team and, from his spot on the second line, he'll lead it in scoring.
Sam Reinhart was last year's second overall pick. But make no mistake – he's no Jack Eichel. In fact, he's not even a Jonathan Drouin. People cite a logjam at center in Buffalo, and that only makes the decision easier. Reinhart will go back to junior. If he sticks, it will because he earned it in camp (and somebody will lose their job or get traded). So if he sticks, expect upwards of 45 to 50 points.
Johan Larsson finished last season as the top center on the team, gelling with Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson and posting 13 points in the last 17 games (which is quite a clip on a team like the Sabres). But then one fine day in June (or maybe it was over two days?), they went and acquired Eichel (draft), O'Reilly (trade) and Legwand (trade). Now Larsson is off a scoring line and probably moved to the wing.
Jake McCabe is adapting well to the pro game, but probably needs a half season in the AHL yet. Look for a midseason call up and maybe 15 points in 35 or 40 games.
Chad Ruhwedel is now 25 and in a make-or-break year. Is he a career AHLer? He led Rochester defensemen in scoring with 36 points in 72 games and he has seen a few cups of coffee with the Sabres. The team also lacks puck-moving defensemen to help their dismal power play. I have him playing more than half the season in Buffalo and getting at least 20 points.
Jason Akeson made a big splash with the Flyers despite having never been drafted. He got in a game at the end of the 2013-14 season and then proceeded to impress through seven games in the playoffs. A spot was his last year. But a terrible start to the season (and camp) had him back in the AHL where he posted nearly a point per game for Lehigh Valley. Like Ruhwedel, he is 25 and in a make-or-break situation. But unlike with Ruhwedel, the Sabres have less of a need for his skill set. A long shot.
Fantasy Outlook – The Sabres are on the rise, but are still missing many pieces. They have a few good players in the pipeline, but fewer than the average NHL team. Still, with a player like Eichel as the centerpiece, it's appealing for keeper league owners to pick up a few Sabres.
Fantasy Grade: C+ (last year was D+)