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NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 32 teams from Aug. 8-Sept. 8. Today, the Buffalo Sabres.
The Buffalo Sabres won’t be lured by any quick fixes, even if they’ve missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 11 consecutive seasons.
Entering his third season as general manager, Kevyn Adams has preached a game plan of youth and development rather than opting for making waves in free agency and the trade market. The goal is to accrue as much young talent as possible and use the tools within the organization to improve.
“You need patience,” Adams said. “You need to be able to really be honest and self-evaluate and reflect, but you need to have patience because things don’t happen overnight.”
[Sabres 32 in 32: 3 Questions | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown]
The Sabres are practicing what they preach. They have three players who are at least 30 years old: goalie Craig Anderson, 41, and forwards Kyle Okposo, 33, and Jeff Skinner, 30. To that end, coach Don Granato will methodically help develop a group of prospects and elevate them to the next level. The 55-year-old who had an interim tag removed prior to the 2021-22 season did that during his time with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, coaching future NHL players including Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and Vegas Golden Knights forward Jack Eichel from 2013-16.
“He’s a really good teacher,” Skinner said. “The talent base keeps being added to, and it’s exciting to see these young guys get better and better and better.”
Granato’s influence could be seen on numerous fronts last season. Skinner scored 33 goals, 12 more than his combined total of the previous two seasons. Rasmus Dahlin, a 22-year-old defenseman, set NHL career highs in goals (13), assists (40) and points (53). Forward Tage Thompson (38 goals, 30 assists, 68 points) did the same and at age 24 is still entering his prime years.
The Sabres opted not to make any big splashes in free agency. They signed Ilya Lyubushkin to fill the need for a right-handed defenseman and Eric Comrie to split goaltending duties with Anderson.
“They fit our needs, but they fit what we wanted too, in people and competitors,” Granato said. “We didn’t need to do a lot. We’re an organization that, I think, goes month to month, week to week.
“We know we’re going to get better by virtue of our age. We feel we have the right pieces.”
Video: Top 5 Jeff Skinner Plays from the 2021-22 Season
There is plenty to like.
Prospects Owen Power, a 19-year-old defenseman, and forwards Jack Quinn, 20, and JJ Peterka, 20, each made his NHL debut last season and will be given every opportunity to make the Sabres roster out of training camp. The idea of having two No. 1 picks at defenseman, Dahlin in 2018 and Power in 2021, has created excitement in Buffalo.
“If I had any advice for [Power], I’d tell him to just be patient,” Dahlin said. “Defense is a difficult position to play. You aren’t going to put up the points right away like you might be accustomed to. There is a lot to learn.
“There is no rush. There will be growing pains.”
Buffalo re-signed Victor Olofsson to a two-year, $9.5 million contract July 13. The 27-year-old scored 20 goals last season and is part of a young forward group with Thompson, Quinn, Dylan Cozens, 21, Peyton Krebs, 21, Casey Mittelstadt, 23, Rasmus Asplund, 24, Alex Tuch, 26, and perhaps Peterka.
The Sabres had three first-round picks in the 2022 NHL Draft, and though Adams said there was plenty of interest in them from teams that inquired about possible trades, he stuck with the rebuilding plan. Buffalo selected three centers, Matthew Savoie (No. 9), Noah Ostlund (No. 16) and Jiri Kulich (No. 28).
Even with the Sabres finishing fifth in the Atlantic Division (32-39-11), it went 14-7-3 in its final 24 games. Adams said he liked the improvement the young players showed during that run but emphasized they won’t be pushed in order to wring out a few extra wins.
The focus, he said, is on the long term.
“We’re not going to be in a spot where we’re going to rush anyone,” Adams said. “We’re going to let these guys develop.”
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