Three questions facing the Buffalo Sabres
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.
1. Will all the turnover on the roster amount to a turnaround on the ice?
There’s been a lot of change in Buffalo this summer.
A quick recap:
IN: Jeff Skinner, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, Carter Hutton, Conor Sheary, Matt Hunwick, Scott Wedgewood
OUT: Ryan O’Reilly, Robin Lehner, Chad Johnson, Josh Gorges, Benoit Pouliot
Change can be good, and for the Sabres, any amount of change likely betters than compared to last season. But there’s not much of a guessing game here. Names like Skinner, Berglund and Sheary already mean good things for Buffalo, as does a certain Rasmus Dahlin.
It might be shaky at the start. There’s going to be a feeling out process for all these new guys. But there’s a good shell in Buffalo now that should equate to more wins, providing Hutton can handle the load of a No. 1 goalie in the NHL.
Buffalo has done enough to pencil its name into the playoff conversation.
2. Can Kyle Okposo rekindle his form from the New York Islanders years?
Two concussions in less than a year, and while they’re all scary, his first one was a nightmare.
That’s what Okposo has had to deal with, along with watching his production fall off from where it was on Long Island.
It’s been a tough couple of seasons with the Sabres. Playing on a lesser team, Okposo, concussions and all, hasn’t been able to reach the near point-per-game pace he found in his final three seasons with the Islanders.
It’s likely that Okposo will play on the right side of Casey Mittelstadt next season. Hopefully, a summer of healing from his latest concussion in March will turn into a bounce-back year from Okposo.
3. Speaking of Mittelstadt, can he turn a solid college season and an impressive debut with the Sabres into a productive season as a second-line center?
Buffalo’s depth at center may be it’s strongest attribute, even after losing Ryan O’Reilly to a trade this offseason.
There’s a lot of guys who can play the position, be it full-time or in a pinch, including Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, both who were part of the return for O’Reilly from the St. Louis Blues.
Options are good.
Mittelstadt had five points in six games to close out the season with the Sabres after his season at the University of Minnesota ended. He showed he can perform at the college level and found success early in the NHL.
If he can hold down the fort on the second line, it allows the Sabres far more flexibility with how they handle their other lines. Having Berglund center the third line, for instance, spreads the wealth of talent down further and the team wouldn’t have to consider moving Sam Reinhart off the wing where he put up a career-year last season, and place him at center.
Mittelstadt showed a brief glimpse of his worth at the end of last season. It will be interesting to watch what he can do to start the next one.