Grading the Buffalo Sabres defensemen for 2023-24

Oct 13, 2022; Buffalo, New York, USA; Ottawa Senators left wing Tim Stützle (18) and Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (26) look for the puck during the third period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 13, 2022; Buffalo, New York, USA; Ottawa Senators left wing Tim Stützle (18) and Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (26) look for the puck during the third period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /
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Apr 13, 2023; Buffalo, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Owen Power (25) skates with the puck and looks to make a pass during the second period against the Ottawa Senators at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

How the Defensive Rotation Stacks Up

So, why Johnson/Clifton and Dahlin (at this point) as opposed to rolling with Samuelsson and Dahlin, which seems to be the logical choice? Easy: Dahlin no longer needs “help,” but Power can use some.

And as implied above, this isn’t to say the 35-year-old Johnson constantly plays first pairing minutes, as he would rotate the role with Connor Clifton, another free agent pickup this past offseason. Overall, neither Johnson nor Clifton should be playing constant first pairing minutes, but letting them rotate in and out while Samuelsson becomes the perfect complement to Power could make this rotation shine.

Johnson and Clifton are also capable of bringing physical play, and giving them third pairing minutes after a stint on the first should best preserve their bodies, especially Johnson. Behind them, you will see Ilya Lyubushkin, Henri Jokiharju, Riley Stillman, and Jacob Bryson filling the final slot and a role as the extra.

None of the aforementioned four players are long-term fixtures on the Buffalo Sabres blue line, and they will likely all be playing somewhere else next season. This will force Buffalo to either bring in another set of more capable stopgaps, or perhaps someone like Ryan Johnson will be ready to enter the NHL ranks.