Another year has gone by and another season closes with more questions than answers. Sabres fans longing for a playoff berth. A fantastic start to the season, placing first in the NHL standings to derailing. Crippled morale, inconsistent play, and goaltending that left something to be desired.
2018-19 Record (33-39-10) 76 Pts
However, the Sabres may not be far off. The addition of superstar in the making, Rasmus Dahlin was a treat to watch, a shining light in the dark. Jeff Skinner, wowing fans with the flick of a wrist, scoring 40 goals. Jack Eichel, dominant as always, scoring highlight-reel goals, scoring over a point-per-game rate. Sam Reinhart finally breaking through, using his high hockey IQ and vision, finding the finishers on the ice with his crisp accurate passes.
Keep your heads up Sabres fans, up is the only way for this team.
Season MVP – Jack Eichel
A strong, consistent campaign from Eichel has solidified his MVP status on the Sabres. Posting 28 goals, 54 assists, 82 points in 77 games. He had his hand in 37.1% of all the Sabres goals scored. He was one of three Sabres with over 60 points and the only one with 80+ points. His talents are elite and his scoring progression is trending upward.
Most Improved Player – Sam Reinhart
Picked 2nd overall in 2014, Reinhart has struggled to find his game in the NHL. A player capable of posting high offensive numbers has been stuck in a rut posting 42, 47 and 50 points in the first three years of his career. Reinhart broke out and played with a spring in his step this season, finally finding his stride scoring 65 points in the 2018-19 campaign.
Biggest Disappointment – Carter Hutton
Hutton signed as a free agent with the Sabres at the end of the 2018 offseason, expected by many to take the starting job. Coming off a season where he posted a .931 save percentage (SV%), a 2.09 goals-against average (GAA), and a record of 17-7-3, there were high expectations. Those expectations weren’t met in Buffalo. He started the season strong but that didn’t last, inconsistency took over, a drop in morale and he wasn’t able to recover. Hutton has to find a way to be that number one goalie and steal games if they expect to be a playoff team.
Top 5 Prospects
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen – An elite goaltender in the making, he possesses all the tools to make a name for himself in the NHL. It is likely he starts in the American Hockey League next season to work with Chris Taylor on his pro game.
Dylan Cozens – Drafted 7th overall in 2019, Dylan is a big, fast, hard shooting center. He possesses legitimate top-line potential. Cozens will find ways to beat opponents. Could make a splash at camp, however, I do expect him to be in the Western Hockey League next season.
Henri Jokiharju – Acquired in a trade that sent Alex Nylander to the Chicago Blackhawks. He is a right shot, smooth-skating, incredibly smart d-man with top-four upside. Don’t be surprised to see him in Buffalo this season, depending on his camp.
Ryan Johnson – Picked with the 31st overall pick in 2019, Johnson is a smooth-skating defenceman, with a high-end hockey sense and compete level. Not a physical player by any extent, but an all-around solid defenseman. Committed to the University of Minnesota. Ryan is two to three years from any NHL action.
Lawrence Pilut– Another offensively talented d-man. Top-notch skater, smart passer and possesses a high-end hockey IQ. Pilut suffered a shoulder injury that will keep him out until November. Expect him to start in the AHL upon his return.
Free Agent Signings
Marcus Johansson – Signed a two-year, $9 million ($4.5 million AAV) contract. Coming off of a 13 goal, 17 assist season split between the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins. Johansson addresses team needs perfectly. The Sabres need secondary scoring and he fits that bill.
The Sabres needs start from within. The team displayed great primary scoring. Eichel (82 points), Skinner (63 points) and Reinhart (65 points) took off this season, but outside of that, the next highest scoring forward was Conor Sheary with 34 points. This team has to find a way to produce offense outside of the top line. Adding Johansson addresses that team need but he can’t do it on his own. As for goaltending, Hutton needs to find a way to steal games. His numbers weren’t great after a promising start.
The Sabres are trending upward. The team has an abundance of high-end talent, they just haven’t pieced it all together yet. With players like Dahlin, Jokiharju, Reinhart, Eichel, and Skinner, the team boasts skill and confidence. They have grown tired of golfing in April rather than competing for the Cup. This team is going to push hard for a playoff berth and I believe they will be there this season.
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