Atlantic Division 2014-15 Preview: Buffalo Sabres
COACH: Ted Nolan
2013-14 RECORD: 21-51-10, 52 points (eighth in Atlantic; worst record in NHL)
VITAL SIGNS: 1.91 goals-for per game (30th; 3.02 goals-against per game (25th); 14.06 power play pct. (29th), 81.4 penalty kill pct. (20th); shootout record: 7-5 (12th)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Matt Moulson — Zemgus Girgensons — Brian Gionta
Marcus Foligno — Cody Hodgson — Chris Stewart
Tyler Ennis — Sam Reinhart — Drew Stafford
Nicholas Deslauriers — Mikhail Grigorenko — Cody McCormick
OUTLOOK: It's all about next summer for the rebuilding Sabres, but they're not rolling over this season. GM Tim Murray was aggressive in free agency, bringing in Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta to fill top-six roles, and Josh Gorges to solidify the defense. Those moves won't make this team a contender, but they will make Buffalo a more contentious opponent. More important, the presence of those three veterans will buy development time for the team's top prospects and keep them out of the line of fire this season. Chris Stewart has been dynamic in the preseason. If he ever brings consistency to his game, he could be an All-Star. It will be interesting to see just where No. 2 draft pick Sam Reinhart fits in the lineup. Head coach Ted Nolan has been riding him hard, giving the 18-year-old the second-most minutes of any Sabres forward in the preseason opener. Reinhart will get his nine games, but the smart money says he gets sent back to juniors for another year. Gorges will be asked to get Tyler Myers back on track. There's too much potential in the former Calder Trophy winner's game not to give him every chance to succeed. The rest of the defense looks ugly, a mix of aging veterans and promising but unproven youngsters. That group will put a lot of pressure on Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth, who are battling it out for the No. 1 goaltender position. Enroth would seem to be the favorite, but his inconsistency could open the door for Neuvirth.
Player to watch: Mikhail Grigorenko
The Sabres would love a do-over of their botched development of this talented center, but it's not too late for Grigorenko. Now bigger and stronger—he's up to 219 pounds after a summer dedicated to building muscle mass—and focused on playing as hard without the puck as he does with it, the former first rounder is on the verge of becoming an impact player for Buffalo. The natural center has been used as a wing alongside Cody Hodgson during the preseason, which would allow him to play important offensive minutes with lesser defensive responsibilities. There are no guarantees that he stays on that line, or even sticks with the club out of camp, but he finally seems to be on the right path.
PREDICTION: 62 points, eighth in Atlantic