As we watch our division rivals and most of the teams in the East fill their holes and improve their rosters, we ask ourselves “what in the world is Darcy Regier doing?” The Sabres have obvious holes that need to be filled, but is free agency the way to go? Players like David Clarkson, Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss and Tyler Bozak were substantially overpaid this free agency and with such lengthy contracts, could be costly for their respective teams down the road.
As much as we would love to see Darcy pull the trigger on some top remaining UFAs, he’s done the right thing thus far by keeping quiet. The Sabres are in an obvious rebuilding mode, and have a number of prospects that are ready to make the transition to the pros. With the ideal coach in Ron Rolston to guide the future of the team, Darcy is doing the right thing by letting the kids play!
When it comes to forwards, Buffalo has no shortage of talent whatsoever. Top prospect Mikhail Grigorenko will be on the Sabres 2013-2014 squad and will hope to rebound from a disappointing rookie campaign. The upcoming season marks a fresh start for the young Russian, and a healthy Ville Leino could greatly benefit Grigorenko. 2011 first rounder Joel Armia is NHL ready. The Finnish sniper accumulated 19 goals in the Finnish Elite League and is ready to transition to North American soil. Armia should start the season in the NHL and should perform well, due to the fact that he’s been playing with men the past three seasons. The next prospect ready to make the jump is Latvian centre Zemgus Girgensons. Often compared to Ryan Callahan, Girgensons has size and grit with some scoring ability as well. Girgensons will be a perfect third liner to begin his career, and will be a player that opposing defenseman will get to know quite well. Finally, Swedish forward Johan Larsson is on the bubble to make the team. Larsson is a solid 2-way winger who will most likely begin the season in Rochester, and eventually finish the season with the Sabres.
If you take a look at the defensive prospects the Sabres have, there is again no shortage of talent. 2010 first rounder Mark Pysyk proved at the end of last year that he is NHL ready, and should be a top 5 Dman to begin the season. The Sabres drafted two defenseman in the first round of the 2013 NHL draft, and both will have a legitimate shot to make the big club. Finnish Dman Rasmus Ristolainen will have the best shot to crack the roster. The 8th overall pick has been playing with men in the Finnish Elite League, which should give him an advantage. 16th overall pick Nikita Zadorov will most likely play this season in the OHL with the London Knights, but will be given a shot to make the team out of training camp. Finally, 2012 2nd rounder Jake McCabe is still a couple years away from the NHL, but shows great promise and potential to turn into a top 4 Dman in the pros.
Two relatively young players who were not mentioned above were Corey Tropp and Brayden McNabb. Both players should make the Sabres final roster, and both add much needed toughness and grit. Tropp is coming off a serious knee injury, but can still be a solid dominant third liner in the NHL. He has some offensive potential and is definitely not afraid to drop the gloves. Tropp, barring that he can stay healthy, will have a solid season with the Sabres. Brayden McNabb is on the fringe. He may be the 7th Dman, but will most likely start the season in Rochester, and be called up if an injury or a suspension were to occur.
As painful as this recent free agent frenzy has been for Sabres fans, just look at the abundance of prospects we have. Would you rather have a veteran taking away precious ice time from a young star? Although it is still early on in the offseason, Darcy Regier has made all of the right moves. We may be in for a rough season, but the young players will get their feet wet in the NHL and gain valuable experience.