3 Buffalo Sabres players who desperately need a strong second half of 2023-24

The Buffalo Sabres haven’t played to expectations, and if that’s to change in the second half of the season, these three players must step up.

Dec 15, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens (24)warms up before a game
Dec 15, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens (24)warms up before a game / Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
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The Buffalo Sabres are heading toward the second half of the season, and we already got bold with what we’re looking for once the puck drops again on December 27th. But for those bold predictions to best transform into reality, we also need a few players to step up and play a better game than what we have seen so far. 

Below, we got one goaltender, one forward, and one defenseman who have been either disappointing or very ticky-tacky in terms of how they have performed this season. The good news is that each player listed below has enjoyed their fair share of good moments, but consistency has been an issue so far. 

3 Buffalo Sabres players who must step up in second half of 2023-24

1 - Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, G

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen loves to fool us, as this would be two seasons in a row when saw him enjoy a small roll before reverting to pedestrian mode. At one point this season, Luukkonen played so well that the Sabres deemed it safe to send Devon Levi to Rochester, and since then, the 24-year-old hasn’t played well in the net. 

While Luukkonen has allowed two goals or less twice in his previous five appearances, he has also allowed four or more on three other occasions, one of which came in relief of Levi in that embarrassing loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Overall, Luukkonen is down to his final chance to show he can be one of the two guys in the Sabres net, as he becomes an RFA following the season. 

2 - Dylan Cozens, C

Nobody thought Dylan Cozens would have 19 points after 33 contests this year, and it puts him on pace for just 46 points all season. The upside, however, is that Cozens has both familiar linemates back in Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka back, and that should pay dividends as the season progresses into 2024. 

It’s also worth pointing out that Cozens has six points in his previous five games, and he was arguably the best player on the ice in the Sabres 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. Overall, if there is one player on this list who should be fine, it’s Cozens.

3 - Connor Clifton, D

I hesitated to place Connor Clifton on this list, as he’s been playing a much better brand of hockey lately, but he gave us such a poor performance to kick things off this season, he’s not out of the woods yet. Over the last five games, Clifton has three points, a plus-6 rating, 12 blocks, and 13 hits, so his stock is more than just trending north, but can he keep it up?

If Clifton reverts to the pedestrian play we saw far too many times earlier this season, then we’ll be saying, “Well, he’s always played this way.” If not, then we will look fondly at Clifton and say he was a good pickup after all, much like we have with winger Jordan Greenway. 

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(Statistics provided by Hockey-Reference)