Dobber's offseason fantasy hockey grades – Buffalo Sabres
For the last 13 years (12 with The Hockey News) I have reviewed each team from a fantasy hockey standpoint, and graded them. My 14th 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 – The team is finally moving in the right direction. And by “the right” I mean “any”. Just settle on a vision and head there. That’s what the Sabres decided to do just under three years ago, and things are now falling into place. Other than a few tweaks here and there, the Sabres are just going to let the team mature and grow together. Adding Okposo, as well as the return to health of scoring-line forward Tyler Ennis, gives this team an element of scoring depth that they didn’t have before.
The domino effect of increasing the amount of skilled, scoring forwards from four to six is not to be underestimated. It changes everything. Checking-line forwards can loosen up a little more and create some offense; defensemen can move the puck up the ice with more confidence; goaltenders can hold the occasional lead instead of just trying to ‘keep them in the game’.
Vesey is expected to hit free agency on August 15. He may circle back to the Sabres after that, but I doubt it. More on him below.
Perhaps the most important change is one that wasn’t made on paper: Jack Eichel moves one year closer to his prime. He turns 20 in the fall and with a better supporting cast around him I would expect Eichel to reach the 56-point total that he had last year, but he’ll do that by Game 65. Big things ahead for the future superstar – and soon.
Ready for full-time – Vesey is going to play in the NHL next year, it’s just probably not going to be with the Sabres. It’s certainly possible. Vesey hasn’t ruled it out. But I think he knows which team he wants to sign with and he will sign with that team. The Sabres will give him the contract he wants and the ice time that he wants. So clearly it’s not about money or promised ice time. It’s the destination. Vesey is this year’s Hobey Baker winner as the nation’s top college player and he’ll settle onto a team’s (Toronto? Boston?) second line right away. You can read up more on Vesey here.
Hudson Fasching was acquired as part of the deal that sent Brayden McNabb to Los Angeles. He’s a 6-2, 216-pound power forward who broke out for the University of Minnesota last season when he scored 20 goals and 38 points in 37 contests. The Sabres could use his size and emerging talent on the third or fourth line in 2016-17, though he could stand to be more aggressive and physical. You can read up more on Fasching here.
Casey Nelson was a free agent defenseman from out of Minnesota State. He tallied 22 points in 40 games In his last NCAA season. He joined Buffalo at the end of last year and picked up points in each of his first three games. But if he makes the squad he won’t be a top offensive rearguard, but instead more of a two-way guy. You can read up more on Nelson here.
Linus Ullmark showed us last year that he is close to being NHL ready when he was called up to Buffalo to help out. However, the 22-year-old had a rocky AHL season with Rochester and between that and his need to see plenty of starts/ice time, the Sabres will likely leave him down there for another year. They acquired Nilsson to backup Robin Lehner. You can read up more on Ullmark here.
Fantasy Outlook – The Sabres are starting to appeal to me as a keeper-league owner. Any team with a superstar talent (Eichel) and a promising supporting cast always catches my interest. The farm system could use some depth though, as well as their blue-line talent. And if Lehner doesn’t pan out (injuries?) then goaltending has a gaping hole. Still – it’s getting there…
Fantasy Grade: B- (last year was C+)
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