This is Part 2 of my 2013 Buffalo Sabres preview for the 2013-14 NHL season, covering players with last names M-Z. You can find Part 1, A-L, here.
Jamie McBain – 2,000 times this season, someone shouts McBain in the voice of the character from the Simpsons.
Really all I know about Jamie McBain is that he’s a relatively speedy, young defenseman who we got in a trade in which we gave up a relatively speedy, young defenseman. We also got a second round pick in the deal so it sounds good to me. Anything this guy can do positively for the team will be an added bonus.
Cody McCormick – 8 fighting majors, 100 cringe-worthy mug shots on MSG
Those 8 majors might be more than the games he actually plays in the NHL. McCormick sits on the bubble of a team desperate to find more goals. They won’t find them here so unless there are a number of injuries up front, so expect McCormick to once again be a mainstay in Rochester or a healthy scratch in Buffalo most nights.
Brayden McNabb – 20 games played in Buffalo, -6, 35 hits
McNabb appears to be the odd man out for now, but his play could put him in pole position for the first guy called up after an injury. Given how quickly Buffalo blue linemen tend to get hurt, that number could be a little low. Plus if the Sabres get cozy having big defensemen like Rasmus Ristolainen on the blue line, McNabb would make for a more seamless transition than some other bubble prospects.
Ryan Miller – 20 wins in a Buffalo sweater. 1.98 GAA .927 Save %, then 15 wins with Pittsburgh
Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston will look to play Miller like any other starter, showcasing talent for the league and the contenders building depth. Should a goalie go down or a team be employing an untenable goaltender situation (Pittsburgh) then the Sabres should find a taker. Either way, it’s hard to imagine that Miller is going to be in Buffalo next year so even if it’s a low offer, the Sabres should plan on trading him unless they’re in playoff position come trade deadline day.
Tyler Myers – 10 G 30 A. + Anything, 10 assists to the other team
I’m going to give Tyler Myers the benefit of the doubt. Yes, he was grossly out of shape last season, but he was also nursing an injury that prevented him from staying in peak shape. He’s also 23 years old. Give anyone that age $10M and you’re going to see a few bumps along the way. Myers can still be the best defenseman on this team. In fact, I think he will be once he settles in with Tallinder or Ehrhoff or whoever. He’ll still make some turnovers because it’s a long season and that’s what young defenseman do, but I think Myers will be back on the upswing this year.
Steve Ott – 18 goals, 20 assists, 100 PIM, 1,000 fans who swear the Sabres should pay him $5M/year in the summer
Ott has clearly taken to Buffalo and his role is etched in stone on this team. He’ll be an agitator, but given that he’s likely to be paired with Ville Leino and either Tyler Ennis or Mikhail Grigorenko, I expect to see some offense out of Ott as well. He’s had a 19 goal season before, so I’ll stay in that range and say 18.
Kevin Porter – 50 GP in Buffalo, Positive +/-, 8 times Pierre McGuire calls him Curtis or something when the Sabres play on NBCSN.
That’s about all I’m going to ask from Kevin Porter. He was a solid Corsi player last year and there’s no reason to think he can’t be this year with limited minutes. I also expect to see him kill penalties and draw defensive zone assignments against top six lines. We don’t know enough about Porter to say that will work, but of all the centers on the Buffalo roster, he seems like the safest bet to handle some heavy defensive duty.
Mark Pysyk – 18 min. TOI/game, 24 points, +5
Mark Pysyk is an exciting player in the most bland way possible. He makes tough plays look so routine and so simple that you’d think you could make them in your bar league (you can’t). I expect him to quickly gain the coaching staff’s trust and jump into a top four role in Buffalo, which would put him just shy of 20 minutes played/game. Not bad for a guy with 19 games played thus far in his career.
Rasmus Ristolainen – All games played in Buffalo, 5G 10A, +2
Even moreso than Pysyk, I expect Rasmus Ristolainen to step in and play beyond his years. He’s used to playing with men after his time in the Finnish League. Now it’s time to see how he does outside of it. Much like Tyler Myers in his rookie year, Risto will benefit from fitting the mold of a player the Sabres desperately need. He’s big, smooth and smart. He’s not going to eviscerate anyone with his nastiness, but he can play a tough game. Darcy Regier wanted to address the lack of toughness and skill along the blue line with this past draft. That starts with Ristolainen.
John Scott — 3 John Scott-related controversies needlessly pressed on Buffalo
John Scott starts one fight with the wrong guy and once again he’s at the certain of the hockey world’s Twitterconversation. Sure, it’s mostly about the role of guys like John Scott, but fighting and players who pretty much only fight have been a hot topic in the NHL for some time now. I imagine Scott will tangle with the wrong player from a big hockey market some time this year and once again the pundit columns will pour in condemning fighting in the NHL. I won’t be the who writes on it one way or the other, but I do expect that somehow John Scott will be roped into whatever discussion ensues. That’s pretty much the only way John Scott is going to have an impact on this season.
Drew Stafford – 20 goals, 35 points, more boos than you can count
This has been a pretty optimistic preview, so I’ll keep that going with a Way-Too-Generous prediction for Drew Stafford. In fairness, I could see him producing those goals in about 9 games. That would be a classic Stafford season right there. Maybe a hat trick at home some time, a few 2 goal games, then a whole bunch of games where you only know Stafford played by looking at the box score. There’s some serious buyout potential with this cat next year, but honestly Regier should be eating a salary’s salary to ship this guy off for any kind of mid round pick.
Henrik Tallinder – 20 GP before an injury, then another 20 games, then another injury
Tallinder has always been injury-prone and this is Buffalo, where our defensemen drop like flies on an annual basis. Tallinder isn’t getting any younger, but he’ll get top four minutes at least to start the season. Once he goes down though, I expect it to boost guys like Pysyk and Ristolainen into the more prominent roles for which I’ve had them pegged
Thomas Vanek – 30 goals in Buffalo. Another 10 somewhere else.
Expect a torrid year from Thomas Vanek, who is playing not only for pride but for a contract next year. I think deep down he wants to sign in Buffalo because he’s a loyal guy, but he doesn’t want to be stuck on a bad team, which right now is pretty much what the Sabres look like. Instead of duffing it though, I think Vanek will get out there and play his tail off. Whether or not that will be enough is another story. The point is, Thomas Vanek will play a good chunk of this season in Buffalo and, much like Ryan Miller, where he finishes the season is going to depend on where this team sits in late February and March. He’s a competitor and he wants to be in the playoffs, but if he’s not, it’s hard to imagine he’ll do anything but bolt in the summer. If that’s the case, well, you know what has to be done.
Mike Weber – 50 GP in Buffalo, 10 pts, -4
Weber isn’t going to shut down any top centers down for games at a time, but he’s a tough customer who’s steadily improved over his career. He deserves a shot at the sixth or seventh defenseman’s role for at least a good chunk of games. If anything else, he can be the guy Rolston plays when he’s trying to prove a point to one of the young guys. In that role, Weber is just fine, if unspectacular.
Buffalo Sabres team prediction:
And of course it wouldn’t be a two part prediction column without my take on the team as a whole. I think the Sabres are going to be a little better than people expect. Not a lot mind you. I think they’ll be in the playoff mix until at least the trade deadline, if not the whole season. Maybe they make it, maybe they don’t. I would slot them in that 7th-12th slot in the East. That’s certainly more generous than mainstream media, whose general concensus is that Buffalo is among the 5 to 10 worst teams in the league. Look at their roster and you have a tough time arguing that in October, but there are a lot of unproven elements there that make it hard to predict. What if Tyler Ennis, Tyler Myers, Cody Hodgson, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Mark Pysyk all contribute beyond expectations? Those are five young players with some NHL experience who have not shown they are at their production ceiling. They are also not being factored into predictions very much. How much better are the Sabres if just those five players bring it? How much better would they have to be to make the playoffs? Maybe another player or two stepping up? The Sabres are so young and will have so many different kids taking a shot at this that if they can strike gold, they can shock the league.
If the Sabres are to fight for the playoffs, it will rest on the shoulders of their young, unproven talent, not the few veterans left on this roster. You can say it doesn’t work like that, but look at the Ottawa Senators. They’ve been one of the youngest teams in the league for a few years now and they keep winning. They have a few experienced vets who have been with the team for years and the rest is a well coached bunch of youngsters. That’s about the ceiling for the Sabres. Somewhere in that 7th-8th range in the playoff picture In a league with a bulging gut in the middle between seeds 5 and 13, there isn’t much difference between a team like Buffalo playing well and a team in that middle playing their average game. If they can start hot and take the league by surprise, the Sabres just might have what it takes to sneak into the playoffs.
Record: 38-33-11 for 87 points. 8th in the East.
Cory Buck is a staff writer for Sabre Noise. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @TheBuckMopsHere.