Krueger holds key to unlocking Sabres’ potential

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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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Buffalo Sabres.

One has to wonder what Ralph Krueger could have done with the Edmonton Oilers and all of their talent if given more than 48 games.

The truncated 2012-13 season due to the lockout was all Krueger would get, however. The Oilers went 19-22-7 and Krueger was let go a season after he was promoted from an associate coach.

Krueger then disappeared from the NHL, first moving into a role as a consultant with Team Canada for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and then taking on the role of director and then chairman of Southampton Football Club, who were in the Premier League at the time, England’s top-flight soccer league.

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He was named coach of Team Europe for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, where he and his squad would reach the best-of-three final before losing to Canada in two games.

Everywhere he’s gone, at least on the international level, Krueger has met success. And he’s garnered a title of a players’ coach who gets the maximum from those under his tutelage.

And let’s face, there hasn’t been a coach in Edmonton that’s really done anything special with that club since. And while Krueger wasn’t afforded a longer chance, he’s now getting on in Buffalo on a team with some special, young talent itself.

If the Sabres have an x-factor this season, it very well could be the man standing behind the players. Krueger’s ability to band the troops together will be key as the Sabres try and reverse their losing culture and make the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons.

And Krueger believes the team is on the cusp.

“This group is ready to become a contender and to compete with anybody on any given night,” Krueger told The Associated Press back in May. “I’m confident that we can become that kind of a team quite quickly.”

There’s optimism around the Sabres after another aggressive summer that has seen them acquire both Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju on the back end and Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey up front, along with signing 40-goal man Jeff Skinner to a massive eight-year deal.

Skinner was a big piece that needed to be signed this summer if the Sabres were going to continue to have a big-time goal scorer. It would appear Krueger played a part in Skinner’s decision to commit long-term.

“Before I even had the chance to speak with him, I had a few different people reach out and tell me about their positive experiences with him,” Skinner told NHL.com. “Our conversation on the phone seemed to confirm all those things.

“He’s obviously a great leader, and his resume speaks for itself. What stood out from our conversation was how excited he was to be in Buffalo. I think his excitement is genuine and reflects the feeling we have as players.”

While question marks remain in goal and with the team’s defensive structure, there’s a good chance that Krueger shifting the team’s mindset from one of losing to one with promise going forward will only pay in dividends to the team buying into his message.

Krueger is the man tasked with changing it and much of where the Sabres head this season rests on his shoulders.

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Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck