By Justin LaDuca
Before the season, it seemed that fans wanted the Buffalo Sabres to lose…a lot. The reason? Well that was simple, the more games they lost the better their chances would be at getting Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery. Both players are considered generational talents who could turn a franchise into a contender. McDavid has been projected to be “The Next Great One” since he was thirteen years old, while Eichel has been tearing it up at Boston University this year as a true Freshmen at age eighteen. Currently in the NHL standings, the Sabres are right on track towards being at the basement of the league. They are the 28th worst team in the NHL, four points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers who are the worst team at number 30.
The Sabres started off the season very badly. They were on pace to be even worse than last seasons team, which was their worst in franchise history. However, the Sabres went on a bit of a winning streak in late November to mid December. From November 18th to December 15th, Buffalo went 9-3. They played so well that at one point during their streak they were only four points out of the final wild card spot. Well, since December 18th, the Sabres seem to be back at their losing ways with a dismal 1-7-1 record. Personally, every night I watch this team I am not rooting for them to lose. I want this young team to grow and learn how to play well together. Yes, I would love to have McDavid or Eichel, but when you look at the bigger picture the Sabres are already set for their future turnaround.
The Sabres have the number one ranked prospect pool according to Hockeys Future.com. Buffalo has many young promising prospects which include, Sam Reinhart (Center), Mikhail Grigorenko (Center), Joel Armia (Winger), Brendan Lemieux (Winger), Hudson Fasching (Winger), Jake McCabe (Defensemen), Nikita Zadrorov (Defensemen) and Rasmus Ristolainen (Defensemen). Not only do the Sabres have these young prospects, but they also have other good young players on their current roster. Buffalo has promising young players Zemgus Girgensons (Center), Tyler Ennis (Winger) and Cody Hodgson (Center/ Winger) who all have at least on year of experience under their belt. Girgensons, by the way, is leading in All-Star Game fan votes and has earned himself a spot on an All-Star Game roster. He is clearly a fan favorite. This year Girgensons has had a strong campaign posting 11 goals and 9 assists, a total of 20 points in 38 games. Last year Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson had their two best seasons in the NHL. Hodgson had 20 goals and 24 assists in 72 games, while Ennis had 21 goals and 22 assists in 80 games. Ennis is continuing to play well this season having 24 points in 38 games. Hodgson is struggling only having 6 points this season. He is still a young player at 24 and has a ton of potential.
Looking at the prospects Buffalo has in its arsenal, one player in particular really jumps out. This player is Sam Reinhart. Reinhart has been compared to two time Stanley Cup Champion Jonathan Toews by many hockey analysts. If any of you Buffalo fans haven’t paid much attention to the World Junior Hockey Tournament, you should. On New Years Eve, Team Canada defeated the United States 5-3 in a very competitive game. It was a game featuring both highly anticipated players Connor McDavid (Team Canada) and Jack Eichel (Team USA). But it was neither McDavid or Eichel who looked like the best player on the ice, that player was Reinhart. Reinhart (Team Canada) had a very strong performance with one goal and two assists. Reinhart is tied for second in the tournament in scoring with four goals and six assists. He is tied with McDavid and ahead of Eichel. For the Americans, another Sabres’ prospect Hudson Faschig was all over the ice. In my opinion he looked like a very strong skater who can make things happen with his size. He is a pretty big kid standing at 6-3, 214 pounds. He will only get bigger. During the New Years Eve game, Fasching recorded an assist that put his team within one goal of the Canadians.
Even though the Sabres seem to be headed downwards toward the end of the season, they are also not guaranteed to win the lottery. Last year for example, they were the worst team in the league with 52 points. They ended up losing the lottery to Florida who was 14 points better than them with 66, forcing Buffalo to pick second. However, if Buffalo is one of those lucky teams that happens to pick first or second, they will only make their prospect pool stronger. The only way Buffalo can get either of these players, is if they finish dead last in the NHL. In the Draft Lottery System, the last place team can only move as low as the number two overall pick. Even if they don’t get either of these generational players, they still have a number one franchise center in their system who has a great hockey IQ and playing like the best young center in the world. They also have many young prospects slowly making their climb into the NHL, i.e Armia and Grigorenko. Their defense is loaded with the elite talent of Zadorov and Ristolainen, who are both currently playing on the Sabres NHL roster, learning and maturing everyday. My guess, Buffalo Sabres Stanley Cup Champions 2018.