Dobber's offseason fantasy hockey grades – Buffalo Sabres
For the last 15 years (12 with The Hockey News, last year’s via pinch-hitter Cam Robinson) Dobber has reviewed each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint and graded them.
The 16th annual review will appear here on DobberHockey throughout the summer. This is not a review of the likely performance on the ice or in the standings, but in the realm of fantasy hockey.
Impact of changes – While the Sabres did give up a little bit of quality in O’Reilly, they made up for it in spades with quantity. Good quantity, which means now they have depth. And franchise defenseman Rasmus Dahlin in the fold, the quality was replaced and then some. So now this is a different team altogether. The team is better and deeper offensively, and deeper on defense.
With regards to goaltending, I’m a big believer in team and coaching style taking a lot of credit for goalie numbers as far as fantasy hockey is concerned. There are a few notable exceptions when it comes to truly elite netminders, but beyond those eight or 10 goalies – it’s the system. The system and the quality of the team can bump an average goalie into becoming a good one and a good one into becoming great (or an average goalie into becoming terrible). From that standpoint, I don’t think Carter Hutton offers more in terms of skill level than Robin Lehner. It’s a sideways move except for two things. First, it’s the injuries. Hutton stays relatively healthy whereas Lehner can’t buy a break. So just having the starting goalie actually around to start games will help the Sabres and fantasy owners. Second, it’s the difference in team quality. Because the Sabres are better this year than they were last year, theoretically the goalie numbers should also improve. This makes Hutton very much a draftable goalie.
(Note: This was posted six hours before the Jeff Skinner trade was announced. From a fantasy standpoint for the coming season, this acquisition simply takes the premise and conclusions herein – and amplifies them with a big exclamation mark. The Sabres just got a lot more firepower this offseason)
Ready for full-time – There are no shortage of candidates here, led by shoe-ins Rasmus Dahlin, Linus Ullmark and Casey Mittelstadt. Dahlin is an immediate Calder Trophy contender and potential franchise player who should provide at least 40 points for fantasy owners. Ullmark will almost certainly be Buffalo’s backup goaltender and a lot of prognosticators figure he could even usurp Hutton and take over the starting job by midseason. I think he’s a good dark horse to do just that. As for Mittelstadt – he’s impressed Buffalo management enough that they felt comfortable trading away O’Reilly. I have him penciled in to top 50 points this season with potential for another 10.
Then there are the near shoe-ins – Tage Thompson, Justin Bailey and Nicholas Baptiste. You may be shocked to read here that Thompson actually has a chance of being sent down, but it is possible. I have him at 80% to make the team. But why wouldn’t he? Well, he is a right-handed shot who wasn’t very productive last season (granted, without decent ice time or linemates). And now he joins a team that is very deep in terms of right-shooters. Furthermore, Thompson can be sent to the minors without having to clear waivers whereas Justin Bailey and Nicholas Baptiste, who are also near shoe-ins, each now have to clear waivers to be sent down. With Kyle Okposo, Sam Reinhart and Jason Pominville already playing right wing, who will be the fourth? Not saying it will happen, just saying that Thompson is not a lock to make the team right away and he’s not a lock to stay in the NHL even after making the team.
There are the long shots – Pilut is a puck-moving defenseman signed from out of Sweden as an undrafted free agent at the age of 22. His 38 points last season led the SHL in scoring by defensemen. He’ll get a long look in training camp, but is probably playing for a midseason call-up or a roster spot next year. Brendan Guhle is a top prospect in the system who is on the cusp of being NHL ready. But because this team already has seven NHL defensemen plus Pilut in the mix, Guhle will probably yo-yo back and forth from the AHL. And Daniel O’Regan is in that now-or-never phase of his career. The 24-year-old has done all he can at the AHL level and was a component of the Evander Kane trade. He was also linemates with Jack Eichel and Evan Rodrigues at Boston University, so he has that going for him. But again, the Sabres have four established centers (five if you count Sobotka there), so O’Regan is in tough.
Which brings us to the super-long shots. This is Alex Nylander, C.J. Smith and Andrew Oglevie. Nylander, to me, is injury prone, slightly overrated and nowhere near NHL ready. But there are many who are more in the know than I am who feel that his weak AHL numbers are misleading and that he could actually make an impact. I’ll leave that to you, but I won’t pursue him in my fantasy leagues. Smith would have led Rochester in scoring last year were it not for an injury. But he was a coveted undrafted college star after 2016-17 and last year’s rookie-pro campaign was outstanding. As for Oglevie, I don’t know a lot about him other than he was coveted by several NHL teams after Notre Dame’s season finished and he chose to sign with Buffalo, likely under the belief that he could make the jump quickly. Since Oglevie and Nylander also shoot right, they run into the same obstacles that Thompson could run into – and they’re further behind the eight ball than Thompson. (Click here to see Nylander’s scouting profile)
Buffalo Sabres prospect depth chart and fantasy upsides can be found here (not yet ready for mobile viewing, desktop only right now)
Fantasy Outlook – The Sabres may not be a playoff team yet, but this is fantasy hockey so who cares? This is now a deep squad with two franchise players. Soon, Buffalo will be a consistent Top 5 team in terms of goals scored. And player acquired through draft, free agency or trade will start seeing boosts in their fantasy value just on the remote chance that maybe he could be partnered up with Eichel or Dahlin. If Buffalo players are easy to get in your keeper league – start acquiring them. Because a year from now it will be difficult and two years from now it will be impossible.
Fantasy Grade: A- (last year was B)
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