Seven Bright Spots For Buffalo
Despite a slow start to the 2021 season, all is not lost. Buffalo's pieces are beginning to come together. Let's have a look
1. The Power Play. Buffalo has some high level talent in Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall, and Rasmus Dahlin. Throw in Victor Oloffson's slap shot and Sam Reinhart's positional excellence and you have the number one power play unit in the NHL, tied with Chicago. Jack and Vic are lethal from the flanks. Dahlin is coming into his own as the PPQB especially when he makes the decision to rush through an opening in the middle causing the penalty killers to scramble. Techniques for drawing penalties to activate this group should be a high priority for the coaching staff.
2. Dylan Cozens. Currently my favorite player. His energy is infectious. He plays a complete game at a high level for a rookie. He's fast. He can score. He sees the game well. He is responsible defensively. I've said this before but I see a lot of Michel Bergeron in him. He possibly has the brightest future of any player on the team.
3. Rasmus Dahlin. Dahlin is the reason I said Cozens possibly has the brightest future on the team. This youngster is beginning to show signs of his promise. Dahlin came into the NHL as one of the world's newest adults. He had turned 18 only six months prior. He's gone through some growing pains which in most cases with such a young player would take place in the minors, never to be seen by NHL fans. Dahlin's been under a microscope though and every learning opportunity gets highlighted. Now at age 20, he's still just a youngen, several years away from hitting his prime but you can see how his confidence has grown which has allowed his skill to begin to shine. Great things ahead for him.
4. Rasmus Ristolainen & Jake McCabe. They began the season as Buffalo's top defensive pairing. Both have been sidelined, McCabe with a serious knee injury and Risto with side effects from covid. Risto at 26 and McCabe at 27 looked like what a true top pairing should look like while they were on the ice this season. Skaters in forward positions hit their prime at around the age of 24. For skaters playing D, the development takes a little longer and their prime usually begins around the age of 26. Once healthy, expect this pairing to play a dominant role for a several seasons.
5. Will Borgen. The 24 year old defenseman known for his toughness and checking ability was called up in the wake of a spate of injuries to the Buffalo defense. He was paired with Rasmus Dahlin and the combination was electric. Borgen was a force in his own end winning battles and making the right play to help clear the zone, allowing Dahlin the freedom to turn it up offensively. After the game, coach Krueger said, "This could be a pairing we see for a long time." If so, that could potentially make two upper tier defensive lines. Very exciting.
6. Linus Ullmark. Goalie is yet another position which takes time in development. So far this season, it looks as though the 27 year old Ullmark has arrived. In 11 games this year he has posted a career best 2.51 goals against average and a .915 save percentage, both being his career best when playing more than 5 games in a season. A number of his saves have been world class. With a depleted defensive core, Ullmark is the glue that keeps the team from falling apart. In his last outing he stopped 41 of 42 shots, allowing the only goal against with just 27 seconds left in the game. He's been a hero in net. A healthy defensive core should make his numbers look even better.
7. Victor Oloffson. How often do seventh round draft picks ever play a game in the NHL let alone become a mainstay on the top scoring line? Well it happened in Buffalo. Oloffson is playing like a first round draft pick, which evens things out when considering the number of first round busts they've had. Oloffson has one of the deadliest shots in the game. If you blink you'll miss it, just like an opposing goalie. His skills really come alive on the power-play where he already has 6 goals and 6 assists this season, ranked second in the NHL. He's only 25 but even as he ages, a shot like that never gets old.
Additionally, Buffalo also has some solid prospects coming down the pike. Defensively there are Jacob Bryson, who looked great in his NHL debut, Mattias Samuelsson, and Ryan Johnson. In net there's Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen and at forward there's Jack Quinn.
If the current scoring lines, which include Eichel, Hall, Cozens, Olofsson, and Reinhart, can pick up their 5 on 5 game, the Sabres have a very bright future. The pieces are there for deep playoff potential.
Tonight, the Sabres are in New Jersey for their fifth meeting of the season with the Devils. Puck drops at 7:00 p.m.