By Brandon J. Koch
If you haven’t noticed, the Buffalo Sabres have a drought of their own. It’s been seven seasons since the blue and gold have played playoff hockey. So much has happened since the last time this franchise took the ice for a playoff series. Coaches, GM’s, team presidents, players all in constant change. Tanking, finishing last three times in five years.
With another offseason of a total roster rebuild, it’s time for this team to make a run. What needs to happen? Here’s what to watch for…
BETTER 5 ON 5: It shouldn’t be hard to improve on the disaster that was a season ago. Puck possession, 5 on 5 scoring, high danger scoring chances. The question is, can this team drastically improve? The additions of Skinner, Sheary, Berglaund and even Dahlin have to make you feel pretty good about it. This is first and foremost the number one area to watch for.
GOALTENDING: I’m not usually worried about who’s in between the pipes, but I hope both Hutton and Ullmark can both provide stability throughout the season. Hutton hasn’t started more than 34 games in a season and this is Ullmark’s first full season in the NHL.
NEXT LEVEL EICHEL: He’s by far the best player on this team and there’s another level to his game that we haven’t seen yet. The new additions made in the summer have to help him. Playing with linemates that can finish. No more playing with Girgensons or Pominville. The new captain leads his team to the next step.
PATIENCE WITH DAHLIN: It’s going to be a treat watching this kid’s grow throughout the season. Dahlin is going to be very good but it will take time. That doesn’t mean he can’t make a big difference this season, he will. But it will take a while before we see his full arsenal.
MORE YOUNG KIDS: Can Casey Mittelstadt make a jump and consistently improve? He will be good at the NHL level, the question is how long will it take? Tage Thompson is a wildcard that can give this team the speed and skill they’re looking for. When will we see Alex Nylander and Brendan Guhle?
BOTTOM 6: All good teams have productive bottom 6 players. Something the Sabres haven’t had that in years. Botterill made changes to fix that. Production is needed if the Sabres want to go anywhere. Can’t rely on the same players night in and night out.