Heading into the 2011-2012 season, expectations are high in Sabres Nation. With the addition of Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, plus the return of first line center Derek Roy, the Sabres should be contending for the Northeast Division title, if not the Eastern Conference title. Without further introduction, lets jump right into the offensive previews:
Jason Pominville- No better place to start then the player who was just named captain. Pominville will be entering this year after a season that was started and ended with injuries. In the October 11th game vs. the Chicago Blackhawks, Pominville suffered a concussion which held him out for nearly a month. After returning Poiminville struggled to find the score sheet only registering 4 points in his first 15 games back from injury. Finding the score sheet is something Pominville will be asked to do more often even though his PP time might be lowered due to additions who could take over the QB spot, but more on that later. Pominville should find himself on the first line with Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy, two of his assistant captains. With that kind of offensive talent Pominville should have no problem returning to the 70 point range. Another thing Pominville will be asked to do is be one of the team’s top penalty killers.
Thomas Vanek- Despite losing his perennial line mate 35 games into the season, Vanek has developed into a player who no longer has to rely on his center to carry the puck the majority of the time. During Roy’s absence Vanek was able to put up 45 point in 45 games, often time playing with players who normally are not considered first line players. More importantly than the points however, Vanek developed confidence in his game, a skill that can not be taught. During this period he trusted himself to carry the puck more and not give it to line-mates. He showed that he is capable of not only scoring, but passing the puck as well. Besides Ryan Miller, Vanek is the player this team lives and dies with during the game. Often times when Vanek is on his game, the rest of the team is, as well. It would not be surprising to see Vanek topple some of his career highs this season, especially if both line-mates Roy and Pominville stay healthy for the majority of the season.
Derek Roy- Roy should be ready to start the 2011-2012 season where he left off the 2010-2011 season, barring the shoulder injury Roy has been nursing throughout the Pre-season. The biggest question for Roy this season in my mind is if he can stay healthy, not if he can produce. Over his career Roy has averaged .81 points per game. Along with Pominville, Roy should also be asked to help in killing penalties. It would be no surprise if Roy produces at a point-per-game pace, and having Vanek and Pominville flanking him will lead to many opportunities for all three of them to have success.
Drew Stafford- Stafford is coming off a season where he put up career high in both goals and points in a season he played only 62 games, his lowest since his rookie season. Stafford should find himself on a line with Tyler Ennis and Ville Leino to start the season. Stafford will be looking to prove that he has earned his newly sign contract and prove his worth to the City of Buffalo. I believe that last season was no fluke and Stafford will add on to his previous totals. He showed up this off-season focused and willing to do anything he could to improve his play. If this line continues to click like they have in the preseason, there is no doubt in my mind the Sabres could have their first multiple 40-goal-scorers in a long time.
Tyler Ennis- In his sophomore season Ennis should be given a more prominent role in the offense. Ennis last season ranked in the top 7 for rookies in most offensive statistics. There is something I see in this kid that I just can’t put a finger on. Often, I have said I see a lot of Daniel Briere in Ennis. Despite their short stature (Briere is 5’10”, Ennis 5’9″), they are both willing to go to and around the net where they are constantly up against larger opponents. Ennis will be looking to add to his rookie numbers, This is doable if he sticks to playing his game, which is avoiding defenders and either getting open or getting the puck to the open player. Ennis should see time on the Sabres second PP unit. Last season Ennis put up 5 PP goals and 9 assists. This season on the upside Ennis could put up 60 points to be conservative, If he hits the all too mentioned sophomore slump, 40 points would be the low-end of the spectrum, but I for one don’t see that happening with this kid.
Ville Leino- Rounding out the top 6 forwards will be newcomer Ville Leino. Leino is joining the team as a premier free-agent signing, something the Sabres have been reluctant to do in the past. Leino will be asked to play center, a position he has yet to play while in the NHL. The Sabres are hoping that Leino will be able to renvert back to the position he played for his entire career before he came to the NHL. While there are legitimate concerns on whether Leino can be a consistent top-six forward, I believe the transition back to his natural position will produce a great deal of points. Don’t forget, Leino was brought into the league by the Detroit Red Wings, who have shown us that when pertaining to scouting European talent, they are one of the best. Leino is another player I wouldn’t be surprised to see have a career year this year. Only time will tell if Leino can live up to the expectations that have grown for him in his short time in Buffalo.
Gerbe-Gaustad-Kaleta – This line will be used as the Sabres Third line. At the end of the season this line really clicked and was doing everything all over the ice: hitting, passing, shooting, defending. You name it and they were doing it. During the playoffs this line often looked as though they where the best line out there. Continuing on the Success from the late part of the season, these three guys took it upon themselves to develop their chemistry together. They did this by meeting during the off-season and working off their success. If this line sticks, they will often find themselves out there against any team’s top line.
Fourth Line- The fourth line for the Sabres this season will often be a mix and match of multiple players this season. To open the year, it looks like rookie Luke Adam will take the pivot with Cody Mccormick and Brad Boyes flanking his wings. Other players who could find time him are Jochen Hecht once he returns from injury and Matt Ellis. The line as it stands now is capable of putting up offensive numbers. Adam and Boyes both are offensively gifted players. Adam should be exciting, he has been labeled the center for the future, and the future starts now for this kid. If he puts up solid performances, he could find himself skating on the top 6 by mid-season. Mccormick will continue his role as the enforcer on the team, and dropping the gloves when it is required. Mccormick is capable of putting up some points, last season he put up 20 points, which in my opinion is all bonus coming from your enforcer.
Stayed tuned. Defensive and goalie previews are coming up.