When Hecht Gets Healthy, Who Comes Out?
Jochen Hecht suffered a concussion in training camp courtesy of Shaone Morrisonn’s rogue helmet. Earlier this week, he was upgraded to full contact status again as the Sabres prepare to play their home opener on Friday (versus Carolina, 7:30PM, MSG). While the forward lines in practice have yet to change to accommodate Hecht’s return, coach Lindy Ruff’s comments about the lineup clearly indicate the German international will have his spot back when he’s ready. The question is, who loses his place in favor of Hecht?
First of all, where does Jochen Hecht slot back into the lineup? The top line of Thomas Vanek-Luke Adam-Jason Pominville absolutely needs to be left alone. The Tyler Ennis-Ville Leino-Drew Stafford experiment has enough talent that it should be given more time to percolate and develop chemistry. The Nathan Gerbe-Derek Roy-Brad Boyes line is missing something and Jochen Hecht might just have it. That “it” is a bit of defensive grind and puck possession that Roy needs backing him up and Boyes just doesn’t have.
Naturally, Nathan Gerbe would be the deposed player from that line looking for a roster home. Where does he go? Back to the left wing on the fourth line, reuniting with Paul Gaustad. That leaves Cody McCormick and Patrick Kaleta staring down the barrel of a trip to the pressbox. Who does Ruff go with? That depends. Who is the more versatile, more useful player of the two energy guys?
McCormick brings an abundance of punching and can play on any line in a pinch (who else did a double take when he was getting shifts with Tim Connolly – and scoring on them! – last season?), but Kaleta has just a bit more to work with. He’s not as apt to drop the gloves, but will if need be, but his real advantage comes in drawing penalties and also killing them off. Kaleta’s dogged puck pursuit mentality makes him an ideal penalty killer and gets lots of shorthanded minutes for the Sabres. Plus, there’s that whole Gerbe-Gaustad-Kaleta line that showed a ton of chemistry and promise in the preseason.
To recap: Hecht back in, Gerbe to fourth line, McCormick riding the (I assume) executive board room chairs that Terry Pegula has stashed in the press box along with a cotton candy machine and Addams Family pinball machine. The forward lineup becomes Vanek-Adam-Pominville, Ennis-Leino-Stafford, Hecht-Roy-Boyes, and Gerbe-Gaustad-Kaleta. It remains to be seen if the youngster – Luke Adam – and the newcomer – Ville Leino – can keep or find chemistry with their linemates, but if they do, this is a forward attack that could match up with any team in the league save a few elite squads.