BUFFALO SABRES 2012/13 – PLAYER BY PLAYER SEASON PREVIEW

Jochen Hecht

Photo by Adam Jakubiak (All your picture are) from Kokomo, IN (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


In preparation for the 2012-13 NHL Season, IceNationUK will be taking a look at each team on a player-by-player basis.  This isn’t really about predicting overall how well the teams will do, where they’ll end up in the standings, line combinations, or even guessing at individual player stats, but is more about analysing the make-up of each roster.  Of course rosters are yet to be finalised, but I will be using the rosters as stated on each individual team’s website.

I am by no means an expert on every single player in the league, but through looking at traditional “box car” stats (G, A, P, PIMs, TOI, +/-, etc.) and also using Robert Vollman’s Player Usage Charts, I hope to piece together a reasonable, realistic view of each player.  Please don’t hesitate to comment if you agree or disagree.

So without further ado, here is the anticipated 2012-13 roster for the Buffalo Sabres.

FORWARDS

Thomas Vanek

Photo by Giants27 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

    • LUKE ADAM – C (2011-12: 52GP, 10G 10A 20P)
      A strange season was had by the highly touted Adam.  After a superb season in the AHL in 2010-11, in which he recorded 62 points in just 57 games, and earning a cup of coffee with the Sabres (19GP, 3G 1A 4P), expectations were sky high entering this past season.  Adam made the team out of camp, and posted 2 goals and 2 assists in his first two games of the season.  Over the first 11 games, he had 11 points.  So far, so good.  And then the scoring started to come less easily to him, and eventually by mid-December, he’d registered his last point of the season.  In his final 20 games of the season, Adam failed to register a point, and in February was sent down to the AHL to recover his scoring touch and confidence – a justifiable move by the Sabres.  However, things didn’t go quite to plan in Rochester either, with Adam scoring only 13 points in 27 games.  What exactly happened to the large, talented centre, I don’t know, but it does raise a lot of questions going into this season.  Will he make the team out of camp?  Will he rediscover his scoring touch?  In my opinion he should be on the team, and allowed to work through his issues at the highest level.  He is capable of outshooting softer competition at the NHL, evidenced by the Player Usage Charts, so is reliable in that sense.  The guy has all the tools to succeed, and should have a more even season this year, although maybe with a slow start.
    • MATT ELLIS – LW (2011-12: 60GP, 3G 5A 8P)
      Ellis is a strange player when looking at his stats.  He’s a stocky guy, only 6′ but 212lbs, 30 years old and has 261 NHL games to his credit.  His scoring numbers certainly indicate nothing more than a 4th Line “tweener” player – a guy who can score in the AHL, but is a depth option at the NHL.  He plays only around 10 minutes per game, with little to no special teams time.  And yet the guy posts a pretty respectable -3 rating, and by the Player Usage Charts is pushing the puck in the right direction with difficult zone-starts (and soft opponents, but even so there are many 4th liners around the league that can’t even do that).  So all in all, not a bad “filler” guy to have for 50-60 games per year.  Useful, at least by those measures.
    • TYLER ENNIS – LW (2011-12: 48GP, 15G 19A 34P)
      One of the smallest guys in the NHL, at 5’9″ and 157lbs, Ennis is an electric ball of energy and skill.  After a strong rookie season in which he posted 20 goals, expectations were high, and Ennis didn’t disappoint.  He increased his points per game average from 0.59 to 0.70, a figure that would have seen him post 58 points over a full season.  Unfortunately, the injury bug hit, as Ennis had to deal with ankle issues and missed the whole of November and then the whole of January.  Ennis did have negative shot differentials this season, against middling competition and with easy zonestarts, but it’s not uncommon for younger players to find that.  Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on.  It remains to be seen whether Ennis is a top line guy, that Martin St Louis type, or more of a complimentary skilled guy who doesn’t offer much beyond scoring.  My guess would be somewhere in between, perhaps leaning a little more towards the latter.
    • MARCUS FOLIGNO – LW (2011-12: 14GP, 6G 7A 13P)
      Foligno had a whirlwind pro debut this year.  After spending the previous 4 seasons with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, in which he was a 2nd/3rd liner at best until perhaps his final year, he found himself in the AHL with Rochester, where he posted very respectable, though not outstanding numbers for a pro rookie.  Foligno is a big bodied player, so perhaps his game suits the pro style quite well.  His play in the minor leagues earned him a recall to Buffalo for the final few weeks of the season, and Foligno went supernova – for a relatively unheralded rookie at least.  He posted 13 points in 13 games (he had made his debut as a callup in December, playing 1 game) with 6 goals.  However, no-one, and I repeat no-0ne should expect him to continue on at anywhere near this pace in the future.  It was a hot-streak, a fluke.  He shot at 26.1%, an insanely high total in this day and age, and over a very small sample size of games.  It was impressive that he managed those totals with only average powerplay time, but the player usage charts show he was bleeding chances against soft competition so he was giving up more than he was creating.  Don’t get me wrong, the kid’s a good prospect and could well make the team this year, but he’s a third-liner at best who got hot at the right time.  Anyone expecting that to continue is setting themselves up for disappointment.
    • NATHAN GERBE – LW (11-12: 62GP, 6G 19A 25P)
      Where do the Sabres keep finding these tiny players that can play?  One of the other smallest players in the NHL is Gerbe, standing at 5’5″ but is stockier than Ennis at around 180lbs.  Gerbe is more of a third-liner than Ennis, not as offensively talented but still capable of contributing a lot to the team.  He didn’t appear to be a special teams option this season, so 25 points virtually all at even strength is very good.  He also suffered from a painfully low shooting percentage (4.4%) which should be poised to rebound up to more average levels this coming season, resulting in more goals scored.
    • CODY HODGSON – C (11-12: 83GP, 19G 22A 41P)
      Acquired from Vancouver, the Sabres paid a steep price by giving up prized bull-in-a-china-shop forward prospect Zack Kassian.  The Sabres evidently felt they wanted more scoring ability, and so went after Hodgson, who was having a fine season at the time of the trade.  Unfortunately, Hodgson’s points per game went from 0.52 in Vancouver, to 0.40 in Buffalo, not a huge slump but safe to say he didn’t provide quite the scoring punch that the Sabres thought he would.  Canucks GM Mike Gillis revealed that they had actually been trying to pump up Hodgson’s value by playing him heavily in the offensive zone to inflate his stats, but the Player Usage Charts don’t really show this  – he did get a slight zone-start boost, but more in the 53% range than what Gillis was suggesting (60%+) and was playing reasonably tough competition, though not outplaying it.  He’s a talented player, but I’m not convinced he’ll ever be anything more than a second line, 40-50 point player at best.  That’s not a bad thing, every team needs those, but he’s not the player (at least yet) that they thought he was.
    • PATRICK KALETA – RW (11-12: 63GP, 5G 5A 10P)
      Kaleta is one of those players that teams love when they play for them, but hate when they play against them.  Known as a pest and a bit of a dirty player, he accumulated 116PIMs this year in limited playing time.  He can chip in with a few goals here and there, and also contributes on the PK significantly.  A useful 4th line guy who takes on difficult zone-starts and doesn’t get destroyed is a good guy to have.
    • VILLE LEINO – C (11-12: 71GP, 8G 17A 25P)
      Buffalo’s big free agent signing of the “new era” with Terry Pegula as the new owner with deep pockets was a disaster.  Leino had been a depth forward for years with the Red Wings and Flyers, until he broke out with Philly in 10-11 with 53 points in the regular season – off the back partly of a high 16.2% shooting rate.  He had previously pumped up his value by going red-hot in the 2010 playoffs, scoring 21 points in 19 games.  Everything came crashing back to Earth this season, as Leino returned to a more normal shooting percentage (10.3%) and couldn’t find his team-mates with passes as much.  I think perhaps his luck swung too much the wrong way this year, and he is perhaps somewhere in the middle – a 35-40 point guy.  He was dominating his competition in terms of shot-differential, which is no bad thing even if it was relatively easy minutes.  He didn’t get any shorthanded time, or even a lot of powerplay time, which is somewhat surprising for a big signing.  Perhaps they realised what he really was early on.  Massive, massive mistake by Buffalo.  Good player, just nowhere near $4.5m per year good.
    • CODY MCCORMICK – C (11-12: 50GP, 1G 3A 4P)
      A depth forward through and through, McCormick was something of a disappointment for Sabres fans this year after “breaking out” with 8 goals and 20 points in 10-11.  However, his shooting percentage that season was high (for him), so a drop should have been expected.  A big guy who hits a fair bit, though not a lot, and only plays 7:47 per game with virtually no penalty kill time is a very replaceable player, although surprisingly he did dominate the shot differentials when he was on the ice.  Other than that though, I wouldn’t expect to see him improving on anything he did last year.
    • STEVE OTT – C (11-12: 74GP, 11G 28A 39P)
      A great move by Buffalo to acquire premier agitator Ott from Dallas for inconsistent and underperforming scorer Derek Roy.  Ott will give Buffalo an incredibly physical presence (278 hits last year), who can play in all situations and help out with secondary scoring.  An extremely useful player, Ott was deployed against pretty tough competition and won the battles.  There was a reason a lot of teams wanted this player badly at the deadline.  Buffalo fans should be very happy.
    • JASON POMINVILLE – RW (11-12: 82GP, 30G 43A 73P)
      Great season by Pominville, who’s probably been Buffalo’s most consistent offensive player over the last several seasons.  Pominville plays tough competition, albeit with around 55% offensive zone starts, and just about breaks even in shot differential.  Considering how much he scores, I’d say that’s pretty good.  His shooting percentage was a little higher than normal at 12.8%, but nothing to worry about – no massive drop-off to be scared of here!  He contributes major minutes at all disciplines, and in fact led all Buffalo forwards in ice time by a significant margin (except for the now-departed Roy, who was played 19 seconds less per game).
    • KEVIN PORTER – C (11-12: 35GP, 4G 3A 7P)
      A disappointing season in Colorado following a solid season in 10-11 resulted in Porter being free to sign with Buffalo as a free agent.  He got destroyed by some of the easiest competition by shot-differentials, and was probably lucky to escape with only a -2 on the season.  He doesn’t hit that much, he doesn’t play special teams, and he doesn’t have the defence of playing mainly defensive zone minutes.  Poor signing by Buffalo in my opinion, plenty of better, more effective players available.  Like Jochen Hecht, for one.  Oh, wait…
    • JOHN SCOTT – W/D (11-12: 35GP, 0G 1A 1P)
      Huge, scary player who really doesn’t contribute much of anything other than being a huge, scary player.  Standing at 6’8″ and 270lbs, it’s a shame he doesn’t have much hockey playing ability, but teams seem to strangely value a guy who can punch things but not actually contribute to winning hockey games.  C’est la vie.
    • DREW STAFFORD – RW (11-12: 80GP, 20G 30A 50P)
      Another solid, consistent season from Stafford.  He perhaps hasn’t developed into the offensive force that some thought he might be when he was a scoring star both in High School and in the NCAA, but he’s an effective player who get’s it done.  His goal output might be disappointing to some after a 31 goal season in 10-11, but that was an aberration, the result of an extremely high 17.3% shooting accuracy.  This season, his luck swung the other way as he posted a below average 8.8%, and so scoring 20 goals whilst not having much luck is actually very good.  He outplays his competition, is big and physical, and contributes in all disciplines.  Extremely valuable players, those.
    • THOMAS VANEK – LW (11-12: 78GP, 26g 35A 61P)
      Vanek is something of an enigma.  Consistently inconsistent as I like to say.  His shooting percentage, whilst overall quite high at 15.2% over his career, fluctuates all over the place from season to season, but he always manages to pot anywhere from 25 to 43 goals and 50 to 80 points.  He’s a great scorer, but very streaky.  Still, he’s no doubt a first line forward, and a quality one at that.  Not the straw that stirs the drink, so to speak, he’s more of a complimentary player, very much like Rick Nash, formerly of Columbus and now with the Rangers.  But I shudder to think where the Sabre’s offence would be without Vanek.

DEFENCE

Tyler Myers

Photo by CzechAnada (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  • CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF – D (11-12: 66GP, 5G 27A 32P)
    The Sabres other big free agent signing was the German 2-way defenseman, who previously played for the Vancouver Canucks and was an important part in their run to the Finals in 10-11.  He didn’t quite blow everyone away with his play, indicating he was not perhaps worth quite so much money, but he still did pretty good, and by some eyewitness accounts was the Sabres best on the blue-line most games.  He’s big but not particularly physical, but contributes in all disciplines whilst pushing the play towards the opposition.  Not an irreplaceable guy, but pretty darned valuable on what is actually a relatively deep d-corps for the Sabres.
  • JORDAN LEOPOLD – D (11-12: 79 GP, 10G 14A 24P)
    A pretty par-for-the-course season from the steady d-man – put up good numbers, finished the season +4, played heavy PK minutes as well as on the PP, and was generally reliable game in, game out.  His shot differentials aren’t great playing middling minutes, so that could stand to improve.  He is at an age now, 32, where d-men start to decline, so I wouldn’t be surprised to start seeing his play slip, but not by much.
  • BRAYDEN MCNABB – D (11-12: 25 GP, 1G 7A 8P)
    The young defenceman, taken in the 3rd round of the 2009 Draft, surprisingly made the team for 25 games this year, and was actually somewhat good.  He possesses great size (6’4″, 204lbs) and had stunning offensive numbers in junior for a d-man too, playing for Kootenay in the WHL.  He was also brilliant for the Rochester Americans this year in the AHL, playing 45 games and scoring 30 points and a +15 rating.  He didn’t face difficult competition, but nearly broke even on shot differentials and that’s impressive for a former 3rd rounder only 3 years out from his draft day.  He played on the PK but didn’t get much of a shot on the powerplay, but it will be interesting to see if he does this year with all of Ehrhoff, Myers, Leopold etc. already in town.  He has the talent, so I’d be surprised if he didn’t get a good shot.  I have him here because I see no way that he doesn’t make the Sabres this year.  Very impressive young defenseman.
  • TYLER MYERS – D (11-12: 55GP, 8G 15A 23P)
    I find Myers somewhat overrated, to an extent, largely due to his surprise Calder Trophy win 3 seasons back.  He has been pretty mediocre since.  He’s still only 22 however, and has a ton of potential.  He’s huge at 6’8″, 227lbs and can skate very well for a big man.  Defenseman never develop in straight lines, so here’s hoping he’ll pull it all together soon and really impress.  He played big minutes in all three situations, so he’s massively relied upon on the Sabres.  He was pretty significantly outplayed by middling competition however, so if he’s ever going to be a true difference maker he’ll have to improve on that.
  • ROBYN REGEHR – D (11-12: 76GP, 1G 4A 5P)
    The veteran defenceman isn’t the dominant player he once was, but he’s also not as bad as last season’s stats make him look.  Regehr played the toughest competition on the team by far and with less than favourable zonestarts, and that is almost certainly the reason for his poor stats.  A guy being leaned on by his coach that heavily, particularly if he’s reaching the age where only the most elite defenseman can cope well, will always struggle to look good, but he is in fact helping everybody else on the team by being the one that is “sacrificed” for that purpose, much like Shawn Horcoff on the Oilers or Manny Malhotra for the Canucks.
  • ANDREJ SEKERA – D (11-12: 69GP, 3G 10A 13P)
    A very good young d-man, possibly one of the most underrated in the league, Sekera faced competition almost as tough as Regehr and excelled, blowing them away in terms of shot-differential.  He’s not the most skilled or dominant offensive guy on the ice, but he gets the job done and he does it well.  He plays strong minutes at 5v5, PK and even contributes a bit on the PP.  A cornerstone of the Sabres blue-line, and a player every fan should appreciate.
  • MIKE WEBER – D (11-12: 51GP, 1G 4A 5P)
    Weber is a handy depth defenseman, capable of playing a physical game and helping out on the PK.  He’s still young and developing, with the potential to perhaps become a full-time NHLer, probably as a number 6 d-man.  If he can get the playing time on a relatively deep Sabres blue-line this season, I’d expect a pretty good season.

GOAL

Ryan Miller

Photo by Michael Miller (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  • JHONAS ENROTH – G (11-12: 26GP, 8W 11L, .917SV% 2.70 GAA)
    Considered the goalie of the future by many, the 24 year old Swede continues to play at a strong level, backing up current starter Miller.  His workload increased this year, and his stats didn’t drop off from last year – in fact they got better.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see his workload increase again this season, as Miller doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of returning to his Vezina-winning levels of 3 years ago.  Very good young goalie, from the looks of things.
  • RYAN MILLER – G (11-12: 61GP, .916SV% 2.55 GAA)
    Buffalo’s starter since the lockout has been consistently good-to-great for his team, the pinnacle being a Vezina Trophy in 2009-10, when he also put in a standout performance for Team USA at the Winter Olympics.  However, people have viewed his subsequent seasons as pretty disappointing, and to be honest, whilst they haven’t been bad, they’ve been pretty average.  He hasn’t been playing behind the greatest team though, so it may be to be expected.  Miller is also 32, and may be on the decline.  I wouldn’t rule out another 1 or 2 very good seasons though.

PROSPECTS MOST LIKELY TO MAKE THE TEAM / EARN A CALL-UP

Photo by oilersaddict.com [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mikhail Grigorenko.  The Buffalo Sabres got a stroke of luck there.  After being in consideration for the 1st Overall Draft Pick in the 2012 Draft, Grigorenko’s stock plummeted as scouts suddenly decided to penalise him for a perceived lack of effort, and as a result he slid all the way to 12th, straight to Buffalo.  A big, strong, rangy centre, I would expect him to probably make the team out of camp, although that’s not a certainty.  He’s very,very talented, but his range of potential goes from average 2nd line centre to elite 1st line centre.  I think he’ll be leaning more towards the latter, he’s too good not to succeed.

Other options are TJ Brennan, a defenseman who has already seen time with the Sabres.  An all-round player, he has an outside shot as making it someday as a number 4 defenseman.  Buffalo also got lucky again by nabbing Zemgus Girgensons, a highly touted Latvian centre, at number 14.  Big and talented, he’s more of a 2-way player than Grigorenko, and could make the perfect compliment to him.  I’d expect him not to make the team this year however.

On the whole, Buffalo already has many of their top young players playing for them, so I wouldn’t expect to see too many youngsters making the jump just yet.  They’ll be better players in the long run for it.

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