On paper, the Buffalo Sabres blue line looks better than it has in years, and that should be encouraging to fans of the Blue and Gold.
Despite toiling through a few hiccups in the Buffalo Sabres latest preseason game vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ryan Johnson has been one of the best prospects in camp this year. Unfortunately for those who wanted Johnson on the big club, and he has looked NHL-ready numerous times, he will most likely be heading to the Rochester Americans at some point in the very near-future.
But this is a good thing for the Sabres, since it tells us one thing about the Blue and Gold that they didn’t have last season. However, I’m not going to say it; instead, I’ll quote something interesting from Bill Hoppe of Buffalo Hockey Beat:
"“In the coming days, he will likely be assigned to the Rochester Americans. The Sabres have a stacked blue line and, right now, there’s no room for him.”"
Did you catch what Hoppe said right there? Johnson, who in previous years may have been sent to Rochester anyway, would have gone despite the fact that the Sabres had plenty of holes on their blue line. But that’s not the case this season, or at least that’s what it looks like on paper.
Buffalo Sabres blue line could be “stacked” for 2023-24
Yesterday, I stated the Sabres needed better defense across the board if they wanted to make the playoffs. While their defensive game among the Blue and Gold’s forwards remains a question mark, the defensive rotation itself has quite a few more answers.
Going into the 2023-24 season, we knew Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power were sensational and brewing two-way players, respectively. We also knew Mattias Samuelsson and Connor Clifton were at least solid stay-at-home blueliners.
And we also knew Erik Johnson would give this young group a veteran presence that it lacked in 2022-23, so there were at least five guys in the defensive rotation capable of playing good hockey. Come preseason, Henri Jokiharju and Riley Stillman have stepped up in their own respective ways, giving the Buffalo Sabres perhaps seven defensemen capable of playing at least serviceable hockey.
Last year, we knew the Sabres could score, but their defense and goaltending were far from what they needed if they planned on moving past the “happy to be here” late-season playoff push. With a strong defensive rotation that hopefully will look good and stay healthy come the regular season, it also gives Buffalo ample time to develop and not rush young talent like Johnson or fellow newcomer Nikita Novikov.