Late-season injuries were a burden on the Buffalo Sabres in 2022-23, and they must keep them at a minimum if they want to make a playoff push.
Player health is pivotal to all teams, and unfortunately for the Buffalo Sabres, they won’t be completely healthy when opening night rolls around in mid-October. Jack Quinn will most likely miss the first two months of the season since he is recovering from an Achilles injury.
Fortunately, someone like Casey Mittelstadt can fill in for Quinn and the team shouldn’t miss a beat. But there are three players in the lineup who would be more difficult to replace if they go down with an injury. Let’s meet them.
3 Buffalo Sabres who must stay healthy in 2023-24
1 – Mattias Samuelsson, D
Perhaps no one was more important to the Buffalo Sabres success last season than Mattias Samuelsson, who was part of 33 of the Sabres 43 wins when he was in the lineup. Overall, Buffalo went 33-18-4 (70 points) when Samuelsson was either healthy or late in the season, playing through injury. But they finished just 9-15-3 (21 points) when he missed time, effectively showing his overall efficacy to the team.
Since the Sabres are slated to be even better in 2023-24, the shutdown defenseman could help them overachieve if he stays healthy. While the Sabres added a pair of blueliners in Erik Johnson and Connor Clifton, they may not be viable replacements for someone like Samuelsson, given Buffalo’s overall success when he is in the lineup.
2 – Alex Tuch, W
Alex Tuch is the best power forward on this team and it isn’t even close. He missed a few games last season with a lower-body injury and as a result, the Sabres were nowhere near as effective as a unit, but Tuch worked his way back quickly and the Blue and Gold continued to play meaningful games as a result.
While the Sabres should be a better team defensively, nobody on the first line plays better defense, as Tage Thompson and Jeff Skinner both lack the skills that Tuch possesses. To minimize the probability of odd-man rushes and breakaways when the first line turns the puck over, Tuch’s presence is vital.
3 – Devon Levi, G
It’s ironic that the Buffalo Sabres had to put their faith into a goaltender who spent most of the 2022-23 season playing college hockey, but Devon Levi was one of the reasons they were able to stay in contention late in the year. No, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but the odds were not in Buffalo’s, or Levi’s, favor, and they still nearly snagged a playoff spot.
But we can all agree that if the Blue and Gold want to maximize their success this season, then Levi needs to be the 1A, barring any unforeseen trade for a more experienced goaltender, anyway. If Levi goes down, then the Sabres will most likely turn to Eric Comrie and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, and that’s not an inspiring combo.
(Statistics provided by Hockey-Reference)