2011/2012 Sabres Season Preview: The Forwards
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 preview the forwards!
8 Cody McCormick
A: 28 H: 6’3″ W: 221lbs S: Righty
10/11 GP: 81 G: 8 A: 12 P: 20 +/-: 2 PIM: 142
McCormick, surprisingly versatile for the Sabres in a pinch, will see his usual spot on the fourth line this season. He became an instant fan favorite, due in part to his ability to pound guys into dust but also due to his random scoring outbursts.
9 Derek Roy
A: 28 H: 5’9″ W: 184lbs S: Lefty
10/11 GP: 35 G: 10 A: 25 P: 35 +/-: -1 PIM: 16
Will Roy, who missed half of last season with a knee injury, be able to duplicate his point-per-game pace again? Unlikely, but if he finds chemistry with his line-workers and keeps that fire burning, he just might keep it up.
21 Drew Stafford
A: 25 H: 6’2″ W: 214lbs S: Righty
10/11 GP: 62 G: 31 A: 21 P: 52 +/-: 13 PIM: 34
Stafford missed twenty games in 2010/2011, but scored at a .500 goals-per-game pace while in the lineup. Can he keep it up in 2011/2012? Unlikely, but possible if the even-fitter and more-determined UND alum starts hot. The key is to keep abusing the Boston Bruins like Jaro Spacek abuses the English language.
22 Brad Boyes
A: 29 H: 6’0″ W: 204lbs S: Righty
10/11 GP: 83 G: 17 A: 38 P: 55 +/-: 13 PIM: 36
Brad Boyes started off strong for the Sabres, but when injury problems found him shifted to center his fortunes changed. Unprepared to tackle the position for the depleted Sabres, his performance and production suffered greatly. He’s looking to redeem himself this season and playing in position will definitely help.
23 Ville Leino
A: 27 H: 6’1″ W: 190lbs S: Lefty
10/11 GP: 81 G: 19 A: 34 P: 53 +/-: 14 PIM: 22
Ville Leino spent his entire life playing center…until he came to North America. Now he’s ready to play the pivot again, and he has a dangerous partner in Tyler Ennis playing his left wing. It’s going to be a stressful season for the Finn, as he’s unproven at the dot in the NHL and is making a tidy sum.
26 Thomas Vanek
A: 27 H: 6’2″ W: 205lbs S: Righty
10/11 GP: 80 G: 32 A: 41 P: 73 +/-: 2 PIM: 24
The man who would be (could be?) captain, Thomas Vanek is the heart and soul of this Sabres team. The offense flows through him, and when things aren’t going well you can CLEARLY read it upon his face…or on his lips (sometimes NSFW). As Vanek evolves into a playmaker, his goal totals may hover around 30 but his assists could increase considerably. His line’s chemistry will likely dictate how he plays. Its current makeup will have him playing creator to Luke Adam’s and Jason Pominville’s finishers.
28 Paul Gaustad
A: 29 H: 6’5″ W: 212lbs S: Lefty
10/11 GP: 81 G: 12 A: 19 P: 31 +/-: 7 PIM: 101
Paul Gaustad has to be the most consistent forward in the NHL. He is coming off of his third-straight 12-goal season and finally got off of the injury schneid after missing 20ish games in 08/09 and 09/10. He’s a consummate 4th line center and one of the league’s 3 best faceoff specialists, but he makes too much money for the Sabres to likely consider extending his contract past this season. Will he do what it takes to convince them otherwise?
29 Jason Pominville
A: 28 H: 6’0″ W: 185lbs S: Righty
10/11 GP: 73 G: 22 A: 30 P: 52 +/-: 1 PIM: 15
Jason Pominville is a very mature, very well-rounded hockey player. He just happens to make a couple of million dollars more than fans think he’s worth. A calming presence on the ice and all-situations guy, Pominville saw his ironman streak end last season following a reckless hit by Niklas Hjalmarsson. As he gets back to never missing games, will he get back to finding his scoring touch, too? (Hey Lindy, try putting Pommer down low instead of up on the point on the PP. It used to work like gangbusters)
36 Patrick Kaleta
A: 25 H: 6’1″ W: 206lbs S: Righty
10/11 GP: 51 G: 4 A: 5 P: 9 +/-: -4 PIM: 78
“Can he stay healthy?” It’s a question that has dogged him for years, and rightfully so. If Patrick Kaleta could stay healthy, he’d be one of the NHL’s premier pests AND a minor scoring threat as well. He’ll take up his regular place on the 4th line as well as on the penalty kill, with a high chance he’ll find himself injured in the press box as well. Can this tiger change his stripes?
37 Matt Ellis
A: 30 H: 6’0″ W: 212lbs S: Lefty
10/11 GP: 14 G: 0 A: 0 P: 0 +/-: -4 PIM: 0
A fan favorite for his tremendous work ethic, Matt Ellis is the least skilled guy in the Sabres’ lineup. What he lacks in talent, he makes up for it in the Matt Ellis Principle. He’ll be a veteran mentor in Rochester and veteran call-up for Buffalo, and little more.
42 Nathan Gerbe
A: 24 H: 5’5″ W: 178lbs S: Lefty
10/11 GP: 64 G: 15 A: 16 P: 31 +/-: 11 PIM: 34
Nathan Gerbe spent most of last season living up to every criticism of smaller players in the NHL. Then he found his game – a mix of gigantic…attitude that earned him the nickname “Honey Badger” and his old college scoring touch – and everything came up Milhouse for the league’s smallest player. He’ll be playing an entire season with his new style and he’ll be spending it with skilled linemates, so expect Gerbe to do much better than 31 points.
55 Jochen Hecht
A: 34 H: 6’1″ W: 198lbs S: Lefty
10/11 GP: 67 G: 12 A: 17 P: 29 +/-: 4 PIM: 40
The Sabres’ elder statesman is in a tight spot going into this season. He’s injured to start the Sabres’ 41st season, faces a diminishing role on the ice, and is in the final year of his contract. He is defensively responsible but his offensive skills don’t justify his salary. He’ll need to play better than ever to get his spot back and try and stay in Buffalo following this campaign.
63 Tyler Ennis
A: 21 H: 5’9″ W: 157lbs S: Lefty
10/11 GP: 82 G: 20 A: 29 P: 49 +/-: 0 PIM: 30
Tyler Ennis scored 20 goals as a rookie and for a while was mentioned in the same breath as Jeff Skinner and Logan Couture. How is he going to follow all that up? By getting a (likely) permanent top six spot in the roster and playing with Ville Leino and a linemate to be named later. The small winger and newcomer center have already formed considerable chemistry and should do wonderfully together.
72 Luke Adam
A: 21 H: 6’2″ W: 203lbs S: Lefty
10/11 GP: 19 G: 3 A: 1 P: 4 +/-: -6 PIM: 12
Luke Adam has looked good with Vanek and Pominville. Very good, even. With Hecht injured, the kid has gotten a lot of looks in the preseason and is hungry to make the jump for good. Could playing with two established scorers make Adam a dark horse candidate for the Calder Trophy? The scoring talent is there, but in order to be considered for silverware, he’ll need to keep his feet moving.
Fourteen forwards. Twelve spots. If everyone was healthy, this would be a different blog entry. But with veteran Jochen Hecht injured with no timetable for his return, there’s a battle being fought to fill that final center slot. Currently in the lead is youngster Luke Adam, who has looked very good this preseason centering a line with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. Lindy Ruff will be hard-pressed to not dress the rookie for the season opener in Germany versus the Ducks.
From various game reports and Twitter updates, the Sabres were rolling with three skill lines by the end of the exhibition contest against Adler Mannheim. There was the aforementioned Vanek/Adam/Pominville line, a Tyler Ennis/Ville Leino/Brad Boyes line, and a Nathan Gerbe/Derek Roy/Drew Stafford line. The fourth line was Cody McCormick/Paul Gaustad/Patrick Kaleta, a line that spent the majority of their time together last season.
As defensively sound as Hecht is, I’m inclined to say this team is much better and deeper with Adam in the line-up and that skill depth is something the Sabres have missed since that magical 2006/2007 season. It’s going to be fun for Sabres fans to watch the various forward lines and powerplay lines that the team will roll out this season.