Rasmus Dahlin

Jack Eichel #9 of the Buffalo Sabres prepares for a faceoff during an NHL game against Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers
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A best on best mythical tournament: 23-and-under team

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next three Thursdays.

The first team to enter the competition will be a roster comprised of players 23 years of age or younger. Think a Team North America in 2020. In recent years, younger players have made an instant impact at the NHL level and this team is filled with already established superstars.

Line Combinations

First line: Sebastian Aho – Connor McDavid – David Pastrnak

Thoughts: Leon Draisaitl has benefitted greatly from playing alongside McDavid this season and the addition of two dynamic goal scorers (Aho, Pastrnak) should produce an explosive top line. Aho’s ability to light the lamp and create plays should be a perfect fit to round out the group.

Second line: Andrei Svechnikov – Auston Matthews – Patrik Laine

Thoughts: Matthews has the puck-handling skill and on-ice vision to be an elite distributor with Laine alongside him. The size of all three forwards will be tough for most defensive pairings to handle.

Third line: Kyle Connor – Jack Eichel – Mikko Rantanen

Thoughts: Can this line match up with the opposition’s best and still produce offensively? The trio has the skill to be a top line for most NHL teams, but these three will be relied upon to play a smart, efficient, two-way game.

Fourth line: Matthew Tkachuk – Dylan Larkin – Mitchell Marner

Thoughts: The inclusion of Larkin over a Mathew Barzal or Elias Pettersson will raise some questions, but he was the best option to be a fourth line center and contribute on the penalty kill. Matthew Tkachuk will provide some toughness and size to add an important element to the group.

First D pairing: Zach Werenski – Cale Makar
Second D pairing: Thomas Chabot – Charlie McAvoy
Third D pairing: Rasmus Dahlin – Adam Fox

Thoughts: The second pairing will likely match up against the opposition’s best, but each combination has a strong mix of complementary characteristics. I initially thought it would be tough to find a strong group of mature defensemen in this age range, but these players have established themselves as high-end D-men.

Starting Goalie: Carter Hart
Backup Goalie: Ilya Samsonov

Just Missed: Mathew Barzal, Quinn Hughes, Travis Konecny, Elias Pettersson, Ivan Provorov

Captain: Connor McDavid
Alternate captains: Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy

Analysis

This team should not struggle to score with a ton of fire power in the offensive unit. With two of the top three and six of the top 10 goal scorers from the current season, it will be hard to contain this prolific group of forwards.

Two areas of weakness for this team are its ability to play a strong two-way game in even strength situations and kill off timely penalties. Players of this ilk have the ability to play any style but the question will be if players like Eichel and Marner could buy in to a defensive oriented role.

Additionally, their goaltenders are unproven but have the talent needed to play against the world’s best.

Nevertheless, the amount of skill on this team should help them overcome any obstacles and be a formidable challenge for any opponent. The roster has several established leaders, but young stars of the NHL are always eager to prove they belong in the conversation with the game’s best. Channeling that emotion in the proper way could be the difference between a successful tournament run or an early exit.

Surprising omissions:

Quinn Hughes: The young blueliner has been sensational for the Canucks. He is currently in a tight race with Makar for the Calder Trophy awarded to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL. But the team will need size on the backend and cannot carry three undersized defensemen.

Elias Pettersson: The Swedish center is an excellent talent but didn’t fill a need when creating the lineup. While his talent is immense, this is a player that received the short end of the stick in order to build the most complete roster.


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

What is the long-term outlook for the Sabres?

Jack Eichel #9 of the Buffalo Sabres celebrates his goal with teammate Rasmus Dahlin
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Buffalo Sabres.

Pending free agents

Dominik Kahun (RFA)
Curtis Lazar (RFA)
Brandon Montour (RFA)
Victor Olofsson (RFA)
Lawrence Pilut (RFA)
Sam Reinhart (RFA)
Tage Thompson (RFA)
Linus Ullmark (RFA)
Zemgus Girgensons (UFA)
Matt Hunwick (UFA)
Johan Larsson (UFA)
Michael Frolik (UFA)
Wayne Simmonds (UFA)
Vladimir Sobotka (UFA)
Jimmy Vesey (UFA)

The Core

The Buffalo Sabres have drafted two of the hardest pieces to find in the National Hockey League. A franchise center in Jack Eichel and a top-pairing defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin.

Sam Reinhart reached the 50-point mark for the third consecutive season and Victor Olofsson has been a pleasant surprise. However, the Sabres will need to find several more pieces to fill out the rest of the lineup to challenge in the top-heavy Atlantic Division.

Casey Mittelstadt is only 21 years of age, but after playing 77 games in 2018-19, he didn’t take the next step in his development. The young center played just 31 games in the NHL while spending the other half of the season with the Rochester Americans of the AHL. The maturation process varies from player to player, but the Sabres still expect Mittlestadt to grow into a formidable NHL player.

Two of the Sabres’ top five scorers (Dahlin and Rasmus Ristolainen) anchor the defensive group. Ristolainen has been the subject of trade rumors for several years now, but still is a right-handed shot defenseman with an offensive touch. Brandon Montour was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in February of 2019 but is a pending restricted free agent.

Linus Ullmark has provided a boost in goal this season but hasn’t cemented himself as the long-term option. Several goaltenders could hit the free agency market this season and the Sabres could find a long-term solution at a reasonable price if they play their cards right.

Long-term needs for Sabres

The challenge for the Sabres front office has been finding the right complementary pieces to play alongside their foundational players. The Jeff Skinner contract extension is not providing the return expected with a $9 million average annual value. In 59 games this season, the high-priced forward has recorded only 23 points (14 goals, 9 assists).

The Sabres didn’t give up a valuable asset for Wayne Simmonds at the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, but the idea that they gave up a draft pick for an expiring contract was strange to say the least. Simmonds’ value to the Sabres might not be measured by his on-ice performance but could be another veteran voice in the locker room. If he is extended in the offseason, Simmonds can be a sounding board for Eichel and Dahlin as the they continue to develop.

General manager Jason Botterill has six draft picks in the upcoming NHL Draft, but is missing his third and sixth-round picks from the Skinner acquisition in the summer of 2018. The Sabres have needs throughout their NHL lineup, but have limited assets and salary cap space to fill the holes.

Buffalo will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the ninth straight season and will struggle to break that streak in 2020-21.

Long-term strengths

Eichel and Dahlin represent two foundational pieces and should be the face of the Sabres for years to come.

Head coach Ralph Krueger is also an interesting character and has gotten a lot out of his captain and Dahlin in his first season behind Buffalo’s bench. But, after an 8-1-1 start this season, Krueger was unable to stop the skid as his team fell out of the playoff picture.

Obviously, if there was more to add in the strength’s column, the Sabres would have finished higher in the standings and have a better trajectory for years to come.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres
Sabres biggest surprises, disappointments so far

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

Looking at the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres

2019-20 Buffalo Sabres Eichel Olofsson Reinhart
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres.

2019-20 Buffalo Sabres

Record: 30-31-8 (68 points); sixth in the Atlantic Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference
Leading Scorer: Jack Eichel — 78 points (36 goals and 42 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves:

• Traded Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary to the Penguins for Dominik Kahun.
• Sent a conditional fifth-round pick to the Devils for Wayne Simmonds.
• Traded away Marco Scandella for the Sharks’ fourth-round pick, then flipped that fourth-rounder to the Flames for Michael Frolik.

Season Overview: 

Woof. What can you really say about the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres but, “Woof?”

The Sabres present a story that’s felt basically the same for far too long, only with a rotating cast of characters.

While Jack Eichel’s basically willed them from seasons that rank among the worst of the salary cap era, the Sabres remain disappointing. Whether the coronavirus claims the season and playoffs or not, Buffalo’s playoff drought will extend to nine consecutive seasons. They’re heading toward a string of 11 misses in 13 seasons, and haven’t won a playoff series since that nice run in 2006-07.

Again, woof.

Sabres fans have largely had it, as you can observe from their Duane Drain. And who can really blame them?

If new head coach Ralph Krueger made any real difference, it’s negligible, at least in the short-term. The hope is that maybe he’s building something, but you have to squint to see the potential beyond Eichel, Rasmus Dahlin, and others making progress.

The Sabres added to that dire feeling with some brow-furrowing trade deadline moves. The season felt long gone when they traded for the likes of Wayne Simmonds, although at least Buffalo only spent marginal draft picks. Selling probably would’ve been the wisest move, but PR-wise, fans are likely far beyond tired of that liquidation approach.

Considering how tough the Atlantic figures to be for the near future, this Sabres franchise has its work cut out for it. Terry Pegula hasn’t exactly earned a lot of goodwill regarding how he’s handled COVID-19, either.

At least Jack Eichel rules though, right?

Highlight of the Season So Far:

The Sabres started 2019-20 on a heck of a run, going 8-1-1 in their first 10 games. They claimed that they didn’t fear echoing the 2018-19 season by ultimately falling apart, but, well … they did.

Again, Eichel authored many of the Sabres’ crescendos, including a robust personal point streak.

Victor Olofsson played a big role in Buffalo’s hot start with a historic early run of scoring, and while both the player and power play slowed down, Olofsson shows some promise.

Eichel, Olofsson, Dahlin and others simply need more help. Maybe Buffalo can actually build on the positives … eventually?

MORE SABRES BITS:
Sabres’ biggest surprises and disappointments
What is the long-term outlook for the Sabres?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: McDavid and MacKinnon miss time; Kings’ royally surprising streak

McDavid MacKinnon illness injury PHT Buzzer
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Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon miss time; unclear if they will be out longer

As of this moment, it’s unclear if anything serious happened to McDavid or MacKinnon. Yet, consider the star power of both centers, the situations are both worth monitoring.

In McDavid’s case, he missed Monday’s significant game against the Golden Knights because of an “illness.” Despite waves of coronavirus jokes splashing around, the specifics remain unclear.

Speaking of unclear, it’s not immediately obvious how badly Nathan MacKinnon is hurt. He left the Avalanche’s loss to the Kings with a lower-body injury and did not return. Injuries are really piling up for Colorado, so the Avs have to hope this is only a minor setback.

“He leaves the game, I’m concerned right away. I have no idea (of the severity),” Jared Bednar said in his postgame press conference, via the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers. “Honestly, I just went (into the coach’s room) and came out here. I know he wasn’t good enough to come back in the game tonight. So, yeah, there’s some concern.”

Here’s hoping that neither this illness for McDavid nor this injury for MacKinnon costs either star much time.

Coronavirus causes disruptions for Sharks, media

Monday’s most noteworthy bits of information often didn’t revolve around Monday’s games.

Santa Clara County called for a ban on meetings involving 1,000 people or more, which puts the Sharks in a pickle. The Sharks provided a statement on the matter, with the basic takeaway being “TBD.”

On a related note, the NHL joined other sports leagues in prohibiting media and other “nonessential” people from locker rooms in hopes of limiting the chances of the virus spreading.

Three Stars

1. Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets

Ehlers spearheaded a spirited comeback after the Jets fell behind 2-0 to the Coyotes. Ehlers generated one goal and two assists to help Winnipeg earn a crucial win against Arizona, and in regulation to boot.

After failing to score a point in three straight games, Ehlers now has one goal in each of his last two contests, and five points during that two-game span. With 25 goals and 57 points, Ehlers could match or exceed career-highs (29G, 64P).

Cody Eakin (GWG, 1A) and Tucker Poolman (1G, 1A) were also instrumental in the win, while Nick Schmaltz scored two goals in a losing cause for Arizona.

2. Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers must have groaned heading into Monday’s game. They didn’t have McDavid in the lineup with a Pacific Division lead on the line against the Golden Knights.

Vegas did indeed dominate Monday’s game, and they ultimately won after Shea Theodore scored the overtime game-winner. Even so, Koskinen made 45 saves to secure a useful standings point for Edmonton. Considering McDavid’s absence and the Golden Knights’ 48-24 shots on goal edge, the Oilers should be thankful.

3. Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres

Dahlin generated two assists despite pretty brief-for-overtime usage (17:16 TOI) and then generated a shootout goal as the Sabres beat the Capitals. You could definitely give some of the credit to Linus Ullmark, too, as he made 33 saves.

Alex Ovechkin was productive in defeat, scoring his 48th goal and adding his (heh) 19th assist to improve to 67 points in 68 games. Ovechkin is right in the thick of the Maurice Richard Race, but it wasn’t enough to get the Capitals a win or Ovechkin a third star nod.

Highlight of the Night

The Kings beat the Avalanche on Monday, giving Los Angeles a most-unexpected six-game winning streak. They aren’t just knocking over (other?) tomato cans, either. The Kings defeats the Avs, Penguins, Wild, Maple Leafs and Golden Knights for five of those wins. Yes, the Devils do account for one of those wins, but even New Jersey’s been scrappier lately.

Jonathan Quick didn’t need to be all that busy as the Avs were shorthanded with MacKinnon out on Monday, but this was quite the sequence:

NHL Standings update

East (after significant win for Panthers)

West (after Jets beat Coyotes in regulation, etc.)

Scores

BUF 3 – WSH 2 (SO)
WPG 4 – ARI 2
FLA 2 – STL 1
VGK 3 – EDM 2 (OT)
LAK 3 – COL 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Draisaitl carries Oilers again; Rinne shines for Predators

NHL Scores
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Three Stars

1. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. If the Draisaitl MVP train wasn’t already rolling along, it certainly is now. He scored a goal, assisted on the overtime game-winner on Sunday, and had another three-point game for the Oilers as he opened up a 13-point lead in the NHL scoring race. He is now on a 132-point pace for the season and is showing that he can absolutely drive the Oilers offense without Connor McDavid next to him.

2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators. The goaltending has not always been there for the Predators this season. It was there for them on Sunday afternoon in a 2-1 win over the St. Louis Blues. Rinne stopped 38 out of 39 shots for the Predators to help them climb to within a single point of a playoff spot in the Western Conference with still several games in hand. Improved play from Rinne down the stretch could be a season-changer for the Predators. Read more about the Predators’ win on Sunday right here.

3. Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins. He thought he had a hat trick in the Penguins’ 5-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings, but his first goal was later awarded to Sam Lafferty. So he has to settle for a two-goal, three-point, plus-three day for the Penguins. He has not always looked his sharpest this season — he still brings the energy and physical play — but he is still on close to a 30-goal pace this season. With Sunday’s win the Penguins are now just one point behind the Washington Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division with still one game in hand. Read more about the Penguins’ win here.

Other notable performances from Sunday

  • Charlie McAvoy could not find the back of the net for the first few months of the season, and now he has three goals over his past few games. He opened the scoring in the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Rangers on Sunday. Read more about the Bruins’ win right here.
  • On a day where the Devils traded away two key veterans (read about that here and here) Mackenzie Blackwood shined in net, turning aside 52 out of 55 shots in a 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Highlights of the Day

The Anaheim Ducks are playing spoiler roll right now and handed the Vancouver Canucks a tough 5-1 loss on Sunday. It was highlighted by this play by Ryan Getzlaf to set up Derek Grant.

Turris scores the winner with just under three minutes to play in regulation.

Artem Anisimov helps the Ottawa Senators pull off the upset win over the Dallas Stars with an overtime goal.

Celebration of the day

Jack Eichel tells the Toronto fans in Buffalo to take a seat. The Sabres scored three goals in 1:31 (including one from Eichel) to get a 5-2 win over the Maple Leafs. Kyle Okposo also scored a goal during that stretch to record his 500th career NHL point.

Factoids

  • Connor Hellebucyk stopped 31 shots to help the Winnipeg Jets get a huge win over the Chicago Blackhawks. It is his 25th win of the season, putting him in second place in the NHL. [NHL PR]
  • Rasmus Dahlin now has the second most points in NHL history for a defenseman before their 20th birthday. [Sabres PR]
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk‘s goal just 12 seconds into Saturday’s game is the third fastest goal to start a game in Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes franchise history. [NHL PR]

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Detroit Red Wings 1
Boston Bruins 3, New York Rangers 1
Edmonton Oilers 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3 (OT)
Anaheim Ducks 5, Vancouver Canucks 1
Nashville Predators 2, St. Louis Blues 1
Ottawa Senators 4, Dallas Stars 3 (OT)
New Jersey Devils 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (SO)
Buffalo Sabres 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 2
Winnipeg Jets 3, Chicago Blackhawks 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.