Mar 31, 2012; San Jose, CA, USA; Dallas Stars center Steve Ott (29) warms up before the game against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion. San Jose defeated Dallas 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

Training Camp Battles

Feb 8, 2012; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Luke Adam (72) looks for the puck against the Boston Bruins at the First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE

With the acquisitions this offseason by the Buffalo Sabres, an inate amount of NHL “ready” depth was added to the roster. With this new depth, there will be a large amount of training camp battles before the season. Usually when you hear about “training camp positional battles” you think of the NFL. Generally, in the NHL, come training camp, the roster is mostly set aside from a player or two, often a rookie, mostly 1st round picks, are given a chance to earn a spot on the team come opening day. However, these “on-the-fence” players really have to prove to be potential “elites” to make the roster, or else they are sent back to the AHL or Juniors.

This season, the Sabres have a flurry of battles that head coach Lindy Ruff will have to decide who stays and who goes.

Center:

Only two players have guaranteed spots atop the list of centers: Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson as out one and two. Beneath them are grinding line center Cody McCormick who will likely make the team on the 4th line.

Those who will be competing will be looking to make that 3rd line, most likely centering a combination of Leino, Gerbe or Ott.

The competition will include newly drafter Mikhail Grigorenko, Ville Leino, Luke Adam, Kevin Porter and even Steve Ott. Grigs is a highly touted prospect this year and is projected to make the roster out of camp, but to most fans, that seems a little unlikely, because Lindy and Darcy particularly like to let the prospects grow through years in the minor leagues, especially Juniors. The exception to this: Tyler Myers. Mikhail will have to really excel in preseason to prove to Lindy that he deserves a chance at at least the first nine games of the season. Ville Leino was a failed project at center last season and, despite his terrible numbers, partly found his game on the wing. But don’t be surprised if Ruff tries him out in the preseason games at center on several line combinations. Luke Adam had the hottest start to any rookie last season, and is no longer considered a rookie due to number of games played, but he could really clamor for a roster spot and with that 3rd line center position open, look for him push hard for that position. It appears that Ruff sees him not as a top line offensive forward but more of a two way center who can play defensively with his body size. So as long as Adam worked on his defense this offseason, then he will have a shot. Finally, the surprise name, Steve Ott. It is possible that Ott is tried out at center at some point. He took over 1000 faceoffs last season with Dallas and won nearly 56% of those, which is comparable to Paul Gaustad’s 57%. He could play center, but expect him to play primarily on the wing. Porter was recently signed and could have a shot at the NHL but is expected to play in the AHL. He has some experience and will be given a chance against Adam and the other young guys.

Left Wing:

Vanek is the #1, the battle will be for the #2 and #3 spots. I am greatly hopeful Foligno makes the team and carries on from last season. This battle will take part between Leino, Ott, Gerbe, and Foligno.

Foligno ended the season incredibly strong on the line with Ennis and Stafford and showed that he is ready but he will still have to earn his spot this training camp because he is still a kid. But I expect him to make the roster, given the immense chemistry he has with Stafford and Ennis, hopefully Lindy will roll that exciting line on opening day(Calder FTW). Leino will most likely be 3rd line if Foligno makes the team, and Ott could be playing either 3rd line left, center, or right, but that remains to be seen. Gerbe is in the same boat as Ott, but if Foligno doesn’t make the team, and Leino and Ott have good chemistry, look for Gerbe to make it to the 2nd line and have a more offensive role.

Defense:

D is for Defense, and D is for Depth.

Myers, Ehrhoff, Regher, Leopold are all locks unless Leopold is moved as many expect.

Sekera and Weber have the best chances of making the team unless Sekera is moved, as many expect, and most hope for.

So the big battle will be between Scott, Sulzer, and Pardy.

Scott will likely be a sub in for toughness on both the blue line and in the forward ranks. Sulzer really stepped up his game when paired with Christian Ehrhoff, so expect him to get a chance at that pairing again. I expect him to start the season on the second defensive line with Ehrhoff. Darcy says that Pardy is a NHL defender but he will have to prove his worth this summer. Pending any moves involving numerous defenders, I expect Brayden McNabb to be starting the season in Rochester.

As the roster stands right now, the “NHL ready” depth chart is as follows:

Left Wing: Center: Right Wing:

Thomas Vanek Cody Hodgson Jason Pominville

Ville Leino Tyler Ennis Drew Stafford

Nathan Gerbe Cody McCormick Patrick Kaleta

Steve Ott Mikhail Grigorenko Corey Tropp

Marcus Foligno Kevin Porter

Left Defense: Right Defense:

Tyler Myers Andrej Sekera

Christian Ehrhoff Jordan Leopold

Mike Weber Robyn Regher

Adam Pardy Alex Sulzer

John Scott Brayden McNabb

My expected lines this coming season:

1st Line: Vanek, Hodgson, Pominville

2nd Line: Foligno, Ennis, Stafford

3rd Line: Ott, Leino, Gerbe

4th Line: Scott(McCormick), McCormick(Porter), Kaleta

Subs/Call-ups: Scott, Tropp, Porter

1st Defense: Myers, Regher

2nd Defense: Ehrhoff, Sulzer

3rd Defense: Sekera(Weber), Leopold(Pardy)

Subs/Call-ups: Weber, Pardy, McNabb, Scott

 I will be at Sabres’ Rookie Development Camp this week to give updates on how the young 1st and 2nd year players, who could make the team in camp, look this summer.

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