The 2016-17 season marked the sixth consecutive year in which the Buffalo Sabres have missed the playoffs, but they are trending in the right direction.
The season got off to a rough start, with Jack Eichel going down with an ankle sprain before the season even started. The second-year forward ended up missing the first 21 games of the season and the Sabres started 7-9-5. Upon his return to the lineup, Eichel was 10th in the NHL in points (57) through the final 61 games. Eichel was on a 32-goal, 44-assist per 82 games pace and comes into his third year as a potential first-round fantasy selection.
This summer the Sabres went through quite a few changes. Right before free agency opened, they brought back veteran Jason Pominville and defenseman Marco Scandella from Minnesota for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. Once July 1st hit, they inked Chad Johnson to be Robin Lehner’s backup. Benoit Pouliot signed a discounted one-year deal and Jacob Josefson rounds out their bottom-6.
After Eichel, the Sabres rely heavily on Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Evander Kane. O’Reilly plays massive minutes up front and plays a very stable two-way game and posts consistent point totals in the mid-50’s-to-60’s. Okposo’s first season in Buffalo was a bit of a disappointment, but he enters his second year with 20-goal, 40-assist upside. Kane has 30-goal upside, but has had a difficult time staying healthy in his career. To take the next step, the Sabres need players like Sam Reinhart to take his game to another level. The 21-year-old was the No.2 overall pick in 2014 and is coming off of a season in which he recorded 17 goals and 30 assists (47 points) in 79 games. Reinhart has tremendous playmaking ability, paired with 20-goal upside. He could be a 60-point player in 2017-18, which makes him an intriguing mid-round selection.
On the blueline, the Sabres are led by Rasmus Ristolainen, who is coming off of his second 40-plus point season in a row. Ristolainen is a quality two-way defenseman, who thrives on the power-play—the 22-year-old is tied for fifth among defensemen in power-play points over the last two seasons. The tried to get him a better surrounding cast this offseason, acquiring Scandella from the Wild and Nathan Beaulieu from the Canadiens. Viktor Antipin, 24, also joins the team after five seasons (264 games) in the KHL. Antipin likely won’t have a lot of fantasy value because he plays a reliable defensive game, but can put up some numbers—he had 24 points (6G / 18A) in 59 games with Magnitogorsk Metallurg last year.
Between the pipes, Lehner is coming off of the busiest year of his career. The 26-year-old started 58 games and went 23-26-8 with a 2.68 GAA and .920 SV%. In his two years in Buffalo, the Sabres have given up the second most shots per game (32.5) but Lehner has stood tall, posting a .921 SV%—tied for sixth in the NHL over that span. Johnson returns after one year in Calgary. The 31-year-old had a 2.59 GAA and .910 SV% in 36 games with the Flames, but is back with the Sabres, who he posted a 2.36 GAA and .920 SV% with the year prior.
Despite being in one of the weaker divisions in the NHL, the Sabres will still have a tough time making any sort of moves in the Atlantic. They will likely battle the Panthers and Red Wings for last place in the division, but they’re getting closer.
- Boston Bruins
- Buffalo Sabres
Fantasy Rankings (Top 350)
- Jack Eichel-#14 (#5 C)
- Rasmus Ristolainen-#80 (#16 D)
- Ryan O’Reilly-#85 (#25 C)
- Evander Kane-#124 (#22 LW)
- Kyle Okposo-#127 (#24 RW)
- Sam Reinhart-#135 (#38 C)
- Robin Lehner-#206 (#31 G)
- Chad Johnson-#254 (#41 G)
- Jason Pominville-#281 (#RW)