Dobber's offseason fantasy hockey grades – Buffalo Sabres
For the last 16 years (12 with The Hockey News) Dobber has reviewed each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint and graded them.
The 17th 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.
Gone – Alexander Nylander, Jason Pominville, Coach Phil Housley
Impact of changes – You see a lot of Jack Adams Trophies get awarded thanks to situations like this. A young team several years into a rebuild with a franchise player to build around. Then in the offseason very little was moved off of the roster while bringing in several proven players with talent to bolster the depth. Magically, the new coach looks like a hero!
Not to belittle what Ralph Krueger will do, but his team is set to add at least six or eight points to the 76 they had in the standings last year (I have them for 84 in the Fantasy Guide), with upside to break out and top 90. I have the Sabres as the 11th most improved offense in the league this offseason and I problem sold them short (though to be fair, had I projected just six more goals it would make them the fourth most improved offense so it’s not as far off as it seems). The Sabres are now quite deep on defense, with five legitimate NHLers and they’ll have to stick Lawrence Pilut and Jokiharju in the minors to start the year unless some bodies can be moved (Rasmus Ristolainen’s name is in a lot of trade rumors). The team is also now deep on the wing, which if anything kind of exposes their lack of depth at center. Unless the likes of Jeff Skinner or Sam Reinhart try their hand at center this year, Evan Rodrigues could be your No.2 guy. But at least this year they have options, and Jack Eichel is an elite talent who now has a better supporting cast around him. Ditto for defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. Together, those two alone could keep the Sabres in the hunt well into March.
Ready for full-time – Casey Mittelstadt was an NHL regular last year and he should not have been. He wasn’t ready, and the lengthy stay in the bigs didn’t help him improve any, either. In the last 22 contests he was a minus-14. Because the Sabres added a lot of depth, they can afford to send him down to the AHL. He is still exempt from waivers until he plays another 77 NHL games. His spot is definitely not set in stone. But don’t sour on him because of a demotion – trust me when I say that it will be good for him in the long run, even for just half a season.
Victor Olofsson is champing at the bit. His transition to North American hockey was wildly successful as he quickly dominated the AHL and then in a brief six-game NHL call-up he was equally effective. If he doesn’t make the team out of training camp he will be an early recall and will be hard to send back down. He could work his way into the top six by February. Keep an eye on this one. (More on Olofsson here)
Henri Jokiharju had five points in his first three NHL games last year, all of them assists, but then tapered off. Eventually he was back in the AHL. Because the team is deep on the blue line, some room will need to be made for him and as such he will probably start the year in Rochester. But eventually he and Dahlin could own the blue line for the Sabres.
Because Buffalo is very weak down the middle, Dylan Cozens stood a great chance to make the team right off the bat. The seventh overall draft pick is another reason why Mittelstadt’s spot is not secure. Thumb surgery in July takes Cozens’ odds of making the squad down below 50-50, but he is an upper-tier talent who would probably just embarrass the WHL if he went back there. Watch training camp closely.
Lawrence Pilut was signed as an undrafted free agent last year after a prolific SHL career to date. The 23-year-old came over and dominated the AHL with 26 points in 30 games last season. When the Sabres called him up, he showed that he was capable of logging minutes and contributing offense despite very little PP time. A roster spot is deservedly his but the aforementioned depth on defense should push him to the minors to start, since he doesn’t need to clear waivers. But he won’t be held back for long. He has potential to be a 40-assist set-up defenseman in the long term.
Buffalo Sabres prospect depth chart and fantasy upsides can be found here (not yet ready for mobile viewing, desktop only right now)
Fantasy Outlook – As I noted in this space last year, the Sabres are on the cusp of being a tremendous fantasy team that scores a lot of goals thanks to their two franchise players. In a year or two the players on this team will be difficult to acquire so those who are rebuilding in keeper leagues may want to snag some of these prospects now. Depth on the wing is much better now, but lack of depth up the middle makes owning a winger somewhat of a lottery pick: who gets to play with Eichel when he double-shifts (which will happen a lot)? Goaltending is an issue, as combined Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark managed approximately 52.5% Quality Starts, and over 15% RBS (Really Bad Starts). Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is a great-looking prospect goaltender but he needs time. The team boasts top prospects Cozens, Olofsson, Jokiharju and Pilut but as far as offense goes things slide quite a bit after that. Still, that’s a great foursome to have and the wait on them will be short.
Fantasy Grade: B+ (last year was A-)
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2019 Offseason Fantasy Hockey Grades
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- Ramblings: The 10 Biggest Worries (Of My Projections)…and The 10 Guide Projections I’m Not Budging (Oct 14)
- 21 Fantasy Hockey Rambles
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- Top 300 Keeper League Skaters - October 2019
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- Wild West: Early Hot Streaks (2019)
- Fantasy Hockey Podcast: Martin Jones, Martin Jones, Wake Up Now