Buffalo Sabres End of the Season Awards

March 17, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Buffalo Sabres celebrate the 2-1 shootout victory against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
March 17, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Buffalo Sabres celebrate the 2-1 shootout victory against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

As the Buffalo Sabres prepare for the offseason, it is time to reflect on individual performances of the players and give out awards based on what they meant to the team.

The 2016-17 season was a major disappointment for the Buffalo Sabres that ended with no playoffs for the 6th straight season. Some players found success, while many didn’t. Despite a poor finish for the team, there are still awards to be given out to 5 players.

1. Biggest Surprise – Evan Rodrigues

In 30 games for the Sabres, Evan Rodrigues registered 4 goals and 2 assists. Rodrigues wasn’t called up to produce big numbers, he was called up to be a shutdown 3rd or 4th line center. Before his call-up, the Sabres struggled to find this type of shutdown center after losing Johan Larsson for the season.

During his time in Buffalo, Rodrigues turned into a shutdown center while showcasing his speed and ability to make smart and steady plays. This was never expected of Rodrigues who went un-drafted and had never regularly played center at a high level. For that, he is the biggest surprise from this season.

2. Rookie of the Year – William Carrier

After 2 seasons with Rochester, William Carrier finally made his debut for the Sabres in November. There were high expectations for Carrier who was part of the 2014 Ryan Miller trade with St. Louis. In 41 games, Carrier scored 5 goals and 3 assists. Unfortunately, injuries prevented Carrier from playing in more games.

While playing in Buffalo, Carrier proved to be a unique player with great value. Carrier’s greatest attribute is his speed which translates well to the modern NHL game. On top of that, Carrier brings a physical edge to the way he plays. The combination of speed and physicality helps Carrier get pucks deep and clear out space for his teammates to make plays. Rookie of the year is a close call between Carrier and Rodrigues, but Carrier gets the slight edge due to games played and points.

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3. Unsung Hero – Jake McCabe

After a solid rookie campaign, Jake McCabe took big steps towards becoming a top-4 defenseman in his second season. He played many games on the top pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen where he never looked out of place until the very end of the season. McCabe always seemed to bring stability and composure to a blue line that lacked those two things.

In 76 games, McCabe put up 20 points which is 6 more than he had in 2015-16. While playing with McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen played his best hockey and demonstrated that he is a top defenseman. All the credit should not go to McCabe for this, but he should definitely get some credit. For the majority of the season, McCabe played strong defense while playing top-pair minutes. McCabe’s contributions to the defense sometimes went unnoticed, but he was always consistent. This consistency is what makes him the unsung hero.

4. Best New Edition – Kyle Okposo

When Kyle Okposo signed a 7 year deal with the Sabres, a lot was expected out of him. Kyle spent the previous 9 seasons with the New York Islanders where he developed into a top-line winger. In 65 games for the Sabres, Okposo proved his worth, putting up 19 goals and 26 assists. Okposo led the team in points for a large chunk of the season, but injury caused him miss significant time.

For much of the season, Okposo played on the top line as Ryan O’Reilly’s right-wing. He also played a big role on the power play that finished the season 1st in the league. Okposo proved to be a great addition to a young Sabres team. He offers leadership and experience that not many players have. Okposo would unfortunately  miss the final 6 games of the season due to being hospitalized for an illness that has not been released to the public. Despite this scary and troubling news, Okposo is still an important piece whose presence was missed when he was out.

5. Most Valuable Player – Jack Eichel

The 2016-17 season did not start off the way Jack Eichel would have liked. A high-ankle sprain suffered the day before the season opener cost Eichel 21 games. When he finally made his return, it was clear that he was not 100%, but as the season went on, his ankle progressed. At later points in the season, Eichel showed that he is an elite NHL player who can put up big numbers, even without much national attention.

In only 61 games, Eichel scored 24 goals and 33 assists for 57 points. Jack topped his rookie season by a point in 20 less games and was nearly a point per game player. Although he only played in 61 games, Eichel led the team in points.  While doing this, Eichel was also able to develop into more of a leadership role for the team in only his second season. It has become clear how badly Eichel wants to win and how much he hates losing. He is no doubt the most important player for the success of the Sabres and there are only better things to come from him.