Sep 21, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Ville Leino (23) shoots the puck up ice during the second period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Sabres Player Predictions: A-L

Sep 22, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Buffalo Sabres forward Mikhail Grigorenko (25) and defenceman Nikita Zadorov (61) celebrate a goal by defenseman Jamie McBain (4) against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the third period at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Buffalo 5-3. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Sabres begin the 2013-14 season on October 2nd. In anticipation of the season, we are rolling out predictions and speculations. I’ll do this in a sort of over/under way, tossing out a number I’d like to see each player hit, or think they will hit, and we’ll go from there. Simple enough, right? We’ll go in alphabetic order and cut this bad boy in half with Part 2 coming next week in time for the regular season.

Luke Adam: # of games played in Buffalo: 10

Unless Luke Adam has some revealing photos of Ron Rolston, I’m not sure how he’s cracking this lineup without an injury or two opening up space. Even then, he probably won’t be the first guy they go to.

Joel Armia: 40 points

It’s going to really depend on who wins the top line lottery and duty with Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson. Whoever can get up there is probably going to overachieve this year. It could very well be Armia, given the lack of scoring wingers on the Sabres roster. He’d bring some size and skill to a top line or he could fit on a second line with the likes of Ennis or Grigorenko. Either way, Armia should be in Buffalo this year and he stands poised to have a pleasantly surprising season.

Christian Ehrhoff Average Time On Ice: 23 mins/game

I might be tempted by the over here. Ehrhoff was this team’s best defenseman by a mile last season, and he’s likely going to be once more this year. It’s always nice to see a good offensive defenseman find his game in his own zone. Ehrhoff was a bit wonky on defense in his first year in Buffalo, but if he can bring the same play he brought last season, he’s going to be a cornerstone on this defense for a while.

Tyler Ennis: 20 goals

It would be nice to some goal scoring touch from Ennis this year. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a fantastic offensive presence and he brings something to the team that no one else does. He’s a point guard on the ice with the way he creates space and dishes the puck, which is why he’s best at center even if he’s bad at defense and faceoffs. Ennis should be a lock for 30-40 assists this year, but 20 goals might be a stretch for him. Still, with all the young players coming up, Ennis finds himself in tweenerland. Too young to call developed, but too old to say there’s a ton more room to grow. If his game is going to take a leap in a Buffalo uniform, it needs to happen this season.

Jhonas Enroth: .915 save percentage

That’s Enroth’s career average as well as Ryan Miller’s. It’s not a bad average. In fact, it’s downright good.  The big difference between the two is about 400 games played. Enroth will have a chance to his own totals soon enough and based how he’s played through most of his time in Buffalo, there’s a good chance he can come close.

Brian Flynn: 40 GP in Buffalo

Unless the Sabres decide to dump a majority of their young guys into the juniors and AHL, Brian Flynn will likely be on the fourth line at best. This could be an optimal role for Flynn though as he found some success last year with Kevin Porter at center. Right now, if Girgensons and Larsson get sent back to the AHL, these two get slotted in that fourth line. If not, Flynn should be a leader among the Rochester guys, waiting patiently for the inevitable injury or two.

Marcus Foligno: 45 points

I might take the over here. I know, I know. Probably crazy. I’m going on a hunch with this guy. Seeing his early success in the preseason ( I KNOW. Don’t trust the preseason.) on the top line with Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson makes me think Ron Rolston will put Foligno on that line to start the season. I love the idea. Foligno can muck it up in the corners while Vanek plants himself in front of the net and Hodgson makes space with his crisp passing. As an added bonus, Foligno rated as the most defensively responsible forward on the team last year  so he can hopefully make up for Cody Hodgson’s god awful defensive play. If that line sticks for even a few months, Foligno will have one of those “Ten Goals in the first twenty games, then ten more in the rest of the season” years that guys of his stature sometimes have. Think of how he sparked Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford two years ago. Those are two players who play well together, then suddenly the defensive burden was slightly off them because of how hard Foligno plays. It’s possible that Rolston has discovered something, and the longer he sticks with that top line, the better a chance Foligno will have to hit 20 goals and close in on 50 points, which is probably the peak of his offensive upside.

Zemgus Girgensons GP in Rochester: 10

I don’t think Girgensons is going to get a whiff of Rochester this year to be honest. I’m sure there will be dips in his season and I’m sure he’ll be low on points in the big leagues, but Girgensons has the perfect attitude for this team and he’s the player type they need the most, save for a franchise-level point producing two-way center. So uh, unless you know any of those types…

Sep 17, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Mikhail Grigorenko (25) shoots the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the third period at Nationwide Arena. The Sabres won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Mikhail Grigorenko: 35 points

I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not sure Grigorenko is going to be prepared for a year of getting splattered by this new Atlantic Division. Apparently I’m not alone in that regard. I love his offensive gifts and if there’s anyone on this team who could be a true #1 center, it’s him, but boy this kid is young and this team just has no veteran centers to lead the way and show these guys how it’s done in the NHL. I’m really worried that the Sabres have gone down a path of ruining this kid by playing him in the NHL too early. Just think: next July, the Sabres will have to start thinking about an extension already because of that decision to play the kid before he was ready in the lockout season.

# of Over/Unders I can come up for Matthew Hackett: 0

Even odds! Everyone wins! Seriously though, the only way Hackett plays is if Miller moves. The only way Miller moves is if there’s another big injury to a Western Conference contender’s goalie. At that point you’re just tossing numbers in the air. (SPOILER ALERT) I don’t think Miller is going anywhere this year, so I don’t see how Hackett cracks the pro squad. He could very well be an AHL MVP candidate and that could mean little more than Hackett moving on elsewhere. Essentially, he’d get the David Leggio Treatment. By the way, if Leggio somehow plays in net for the Caps in big games down the stretch and it doesn’t interfere with the Sabres, I am absolutely hopping on that bandwagon.

Cody Hodgson Corsi rating: -3.0

I’m in Show Me Mode with Hodgson. I love the points, I love the offense, but that defense, I mean, it might be the worst defense by a top two center right now. Hodgson either needs to dig deep and start playing tough on the puck or pile up points to overcome his gaping, screaming defensive flaws and lack of foot speed.

Diving Penalties assessed to Patrick Kaleta: 10

Obvious over.

Diving Penalties Kaleta will have deserved: 8

Over, as well. Oh, Kaleta. There’s a reason he draws twice as many penalties as any other Sabre. But now of course he has a reputation he’ll never shake for that.

# of Games Johan Larsson is only mentioned in the same sentence as Jason Pominville: 50

If/when Larsson plays in Buffalo, there will be sets of fans all over in a conversation starting with, “Who is that guy?” and ending with, “One of the guys from the Pominville deal.” Give me the over’s over on that one. Of course this number will probably go down some when, ya know, Larsson starts the year in Rochester. But hey, two goals against the Canes. You never know. If nothing else, Larsson is one of those guys who will become the silver lining to any injury problems the Sabres have. Instead of calling up 30 year old AHLers, now the Sabres have the option to bring up promising young prospects on the cusp of being ready for the NHL.

# of Times a fan screams Just buy him out! when Ville Leino takes the ice in the First Niagara Center: 5,643

My prudent advice would be to take the over. Here’s a question: Back on that first day or two of free agency when the Rangers signed Richards and Buffalo signed Leino, fans took it as a consolation prize because they thought Pegula Bucks would be enough to woo Richards (well, the crazy ones did). Now, which contract would you rather have in Buffalo? Seven more years of Brad Richards at an evil $6.66M cap hit or four more years of Leino at his $4.5M cap hit. I mean…I don’t want either, but if I had to be stuck with one…

The thing is, I actually expect good things out of Leino this year. There’s a lot of youth and exuberance around this club and Leino will be one of the few veterans, but he also won’t be counted on in a top six role for the most part. He can chill, make some plays, kill a few penalties, play a smart possession game, and get bought out at the end of the year who knows what can happen from there? If he’s paired with Steve Ott like he was last year, he could be a part of a good defensive third line and shield some of the younger players from heavy minutes against top players. That’s worth something, if not $4.5M, right?

Stay tuned for Part II coming out later this week in which we tackle the team from M-Z.

Cory Buck is a staff writer for Sabre Noise. You can reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @TheBuckMopsHere.

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