2011/2012 Sabres Season Preview: The Defensemen
The Sabres played their final preseason game yesterday, an 8-3 romp over the DEL-leading Adler Mannheim. They open their regular season on Friday in Helsinki against the Anaheim Ducks. Roster spots are coming at a premium now, with all the jockeying for positions coming down to the wire. Let’s look at the defense!
3 Jordan Leopold
A: 31 H: 6’1″ W: 206lbs S: Lefty
10/11 GP: 71 G: 13 A: 22 P: 35 +/-: -11 PIM: 36
Leopold comes into 2011/2012 fresh off of career numbers, but with competition for ice time. Offense will never be a problem for the journeyman, but he’s not exactly known for his defensive prowess. He’ll need to not be so shifty in his own zone this season, especially since he’ll likely be playing with another offensive defenseman in Ehrhoff.
6 Mike Weber
A: 23 H: 6’2″ W: 211lbs S: Lefty
10/11 GP: 58 G: 4 A: 13 P: 17 +/-: 13 PIM: 69
Mike Weber will never contribute offensively, but he more than makes up for it in his nasty, dogged defensive play. Having finally found his groove with the Sabres, he’s ready to contribute on a full-time basis. And having Robyn Regehr and Tyler Myers patrolling the blue line with him, he knows he won’t have to always be That Guy that’s making statements with his aggression. That doesn’t mean he’ll stop doing so, however. With a veteran mentor to help him along, expect Weber to try and work his way into the second pair as the season progresses.
10 Christian Ehrhoff
A: 29 H: 6’2″ W: 208lbs S: Lefty
10/11 GP: 79 G: 14 A: 36 P: 50 +/-: 19 PIM: 52
One of the new guys, Ehrhoff brings with him a monstrous shot from the point. The accuracy and quick release he commands is something the Sabres have missed since…a long time ago. The German-born blueliner will be hard-pressed to duplicate his scoring without the vaunted Sedin twins in front on his power play unit, but having the league’s best shot-tipper in Thomas Vanek is no big step down.
17 Marc-Andre Gragnani
A: 24 H: 6’2″ W: 201lbs S: Lefty
10/11 GP: 9 G: 1 A: 2 P: 3 +/-: 0 PIM: 2
Gragnani is, due to an unfortunate numbers game both on the bench and in the books, looking at a 7th defenseman role coming into 2011/2012. He’s a slick skater with good vision on the power play, but has Leopold, Ehrhoff, and Myers ahead of him on the depth chart in that regards. While starting out in the press box isn’t ideal for the long-time AHLer-turned-NHLer, he does provide the Sabres a fantastic option should injury problems arise.
24 Robyn Regehr
A: 31 H: 6’3″ W: 225lbs S: Lefty
10/11 GP: 79 G: 2 A: 15 P: 17 +/-: 2 PIM: 58
Robyn Regehr is big. He’s mean. And he’s bringing the snarl back to the Sabres defensive ranks. Nicknamed “The Tunnel of Death” after his devastating hits along the boards, Regehr is the kind of veteran stalwart any team needs. His strong stay-at-home style and mentoring will benefit Tyler Myers and Mike Weber immensely.
44 Andrej Sekera
A: 25 H: 6’0″ W: 201lbs S: Lefty
10/11 GP: 76 G: 3 A: 26 P: 29 +/-: 11 PIM: 34
After his shocking call-up with Mike Weber in 2007/2008, Andrej Sekera suffered from crippling bouts of inconsistency in his play. After showing flashes of brilliance last season, Sekera is armed with a contract extension and plenty of confidence heading into the new campaign. If he can keep his level of play high, he’ll be a terror for opposing teams to play against.
57 Tyler Myers
A: 21 H: 6’8″ W: 227lbs S: Righty
10/11 GP: 80 G: 10 A: 27 P: 37 +/-: 0 PIM: 40
As poorly as Tyler Myers started his sophomore season, he finished it that much stronger. It was in the first round playoff series against the Flyers, however, that a frightening new Myers emerged. Fans were stunned to see him crushing the opposition, dragging players across the ice, and flat out bullying them in his zone. The Big Easy’s offensive game always came naturally, but with his childhood idol now mentoring him defensively as his teammate and his anger becoming an asset, the Sabres’ generational talent could hit new heights this season.
While the forward lines for the Sabres shake out pretty easily, the defense is harder to pin down. Tyler Myers will no doubt play on the top pair, but who is his partner? Ehrhoff? Myers could certainly back him up on a rush but what if Myers goes galivanting up the ice like he’s wont to do? Regehr? Possible, but do the Sabres risk putting Ehrhoff and Leopold together? I think it’ll end up being Myers and Ehrhoff on the top pair and top power play unit with Regehr and Leopold manning the second pair. Together again, Mike Weber and Andrej Sekera will man the third pairing. The second power play unit will, logicially, be Leopold and Sekera running things at the point. On the penalty kill, Myers will likely get double-shifted with Regehr and Weber.
It’s definitely an improved defense for the Sabres this season, who missed at time the veteran influence of Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman last year. Will the new veterans fill the void left by the old veterans? If the younger stars on the back end continue to mature, they may not exactly have to.