Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Buffalo Sabres.
[Three Questions | Under Pressure | Building Off a Breakthrough]
Record: 25-45-12, 62 points. (8th in the Atlantic Division, 16th in the Eastern Conference, 31st in the NHL)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
The best part of the Buffalo Sabres’ season last year was the day it ended and they had secured the highest odds for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft
And after winning the lottery with the best odds, the Buffalo Sabres went out and took defenseman Rasmus Dahlin to bolster their defense.
It’s a nice reward for a horrible season, where Buffalo finished dead last in goals-for with 198, the only team in the NHL not to eclipse the 200-mark, and gave up the third-most goals-against.
Their season was a tire fire that burned until for a good, long while.
The good news for Sabres fans is that’s all in the past now, and suddenly the team might just work itself in to — get ready for it — the playoff discussion.
Yes, general manager Jason Botterill has been hard at work trying to craft a better hockey team. Losing Ryan O’Reilly via trade to St. Louis stung, but they got three roster players in return in the deal, added Carter Hutton in goal to replace the outgoing Robin Lehner, and made a splash just this week to get Jeff Skinner to inject some offense into the team.
Botterill has a something that resembles a team now, and a future to go along with it as he’s cobbled together three first-round picks in the 2019 NHL Draft.
What the Sabres look like in terms of lines and defensive pairings remains to be seen, but rest assured, it has to look better than last season.
• Casey Mittelstadt, C, University of Minnesota – 2017 first-round pick
Mittlestadt had 11 goals and 30 points in 39 games in his first season of college hockey this past season, led the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships with 11 points, including four goals, as Team USA finished with a bronze medal and then scored his first NHL goal with the Sabres as he played in six games, amassing five points. Mittelstadt turned pro in March, signing an entry-level deal and looks poised to be a key contributor to the Sabres next season.
• Brendan Guhle, D, Rochester Americans – 2015 second-round pick
Guhle had 26 points in 50 games in a solid first pro season in the American Hockey League. He also played 18 games with the Sabres, putting up five assists in that time. He didn’t look out of place during his time with the big club and will compete for a roster spot in Buffalo come training camp.
• Alex Nylander, RW, Rochester Americans – 2016 first-round pick
Perhaps a bit of a polarizing figure in Buffalo as he hasn’t progressed as quickly as brother William has in Toronto. Still, it’s premature to label Nylander — who is only 20 — a bust. His eighth overall pick status in 2016 comes with certain pressure, sure, but Nylander improved in his second pro season despite beginning it injured. His 27 points were one fewer than his 28 from the previous year, but he played in 14 fewer games in 2017-18. He also had eight points in seven games as Sweden captured the silver medal at the World Juniors and scored his first NHL goal on April 6.
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck