Apr 22, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Winnipeg Jets center Alex Burmistrov (8) and Buffalo Sabres defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (5) during the game at the First Niagara Center. The Jets beat the Sabres 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Buffalo Sabres Create the Most Fearsome D in the NHL?

Dear readers, I am a humble man.

Well, at least I try to be.  When I am wrong, I like to think I can admit it.  When I act out of ignorance, I strive to educate myself.  When I make a mistake, I take the time to fix it as best I can.

Allow me to begin this post, then, by admitting to you: I was wrong.

Sort of.

On July 21st, I wrote a piece entitled 2013 NHL Draft a Step Backwards for the Buffalo Sabres.   A good number of readers were kind enough to leave their comments;  some agreed with me, some disagreed with me, and some readers were on the fence.  Clearly, the draft didn’t please – or infuriate – everyone, but it sure did generate a lot of emotions on both ends of the spectrum, and I wound up on the negative end of things.  I failed to see how a team who struggled to score goals all year, both at even-strength and most glaringly on the power play, could pass up the opportunity to draft at least one offensive player in a draft loaded with near sure-hit offensive players.

It has now been nearly a month since the draft, and I am still concerned that the Sabres offense will be offensive in a bad way during the 2013-2014 season, but I have come here to tell you this: damn it all to hell if I am not excited about the thought of the Buffalo Sabres skating one of the stingiest and most fearsome defenses in the NHL.

There can be no doubt: the potential is there.   Christian Ehrhoff was the best blueliner for the Sabres last season, putting up 22 points, logging major ice time, and

Jun 30, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Nikita Zadorov puts on a jersey as he is introduced as the number sixteen overall pick to the Buffalo Sabres during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

providing a reliable presence who was rarely caught out of position.  Mike Weber shows no regard for his personal well-being, using his frame to make hits and block shots.  Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Pysyk (especially Pysyk) were bright spots in a pretty bleak season.  Tyler Myers may have looked terrible at times last season, but with Henrik Tallinder back on the team Myers might regain his form, giving the Sabres a blueliner who rivals Zdeno Chara in height and reach (and Myers can skate circles around cinder-blocks-for-feet Chara).  It would be great for Myers to develop a more physical presence . . . which is where the new guys, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov come into play.  If their physical brand of hockey proves to be infectious, than we might see Myers inspired to take advantage of his size a bit more (especially if he is worried about his ice time being cut).  Word on the street is that Ristolainen and Zadorov are impressive, and if they develop their potential, they will form the cornerstones of a Buffalo Sabres defense that will make the blue and gold a tough out once they finally reach the playoffs.

Of course, the key word today is, “if.”  “If Ristolainen and Zadorov can adapt to the NHL” is something we’re all going to be thinking about, and reading about, once these two kids start playing.  “If Tyler Myers can revert back to the player we thought he would be based on his rookie season” is another question Sabres fans must ask themselves.  How about, “If Pysyk and Ruhwedel can go an entire season playing as well as they did in just a small sample of games last season”?   And there’s other players with “ifs” hovering over them – Brayden McNabb, Jamie McBain, Jake McCabe, to name a few – who will determine how prominent this defensive core becomes.  And let’s be honest: looking good in the rookie scrimmage game is one thing . . . but it’s a rookie scrimmage, not an NHL game.

Still: what it all boils down to, fans, is that I am honestly excited. Yes, I’m still nervous about where the scoring will come from next year, and I have my opinions on the Thomas Vanek / Ryan Miller situation, and there’s a lot of cooking that must be done before these young pups are finished . . . but the promise of the Buffalo Sabres skating a bone-crunching, lockdown defense that gives offenses in the NHL nightmares for years to come is just too good for me to ignore.  If the Sabres organization plays its cards right and provides these young blueliners with the guidance and training they need, this year’s draft class may be less of a step backwards and more of a step in a new, exciting direction.

As always, leave your comments below, or hit me up @theamazingMrS! 

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