Thursday, August 25, 2011

Buffalo Sabres 2011-12 Preview

Will the Sabres' influx of talent blend quickly enough to compete with the beasts of the East?

Does Buffalo have what it takes with their new additions? With injuries to some of the Sabres’ top forwards like Derek Roy, their season took a downturn, but optimism reigned supreme in the off-season with the acquisition of D Christian Ehrhoff, D Robyn Regehr, and F Ville Leino. 
Improved depth on the blueline and up front will mean the Sabres should reach greater heights this season.  They’ll be competing in a mediocre division with two teams (Toronto and Ottawa) that should struggle. 

Ryan Miller will provide his usual stellar goaltending, and their forward corps is as deep as its been in years.  Montreal has taught hockey fans to not under-estimate the under-sized, so let’s not write Buffalo off just because their top talents are predominantly under six feet. 
Last year, the Sabres took the Flyers to the limit and came within an eyelash of winning their opening round series.  This year, they’ll make the playoffs and put a scare into a top seed—any team with Ryan Miller is capable of that.
Expect the Sabres to finish 6th—8th in the Eastern Conference and possibly upset one of the high seeds in the Eastern Conference.


Forwards
Buffalo may house some of the most talented forward in the league, despite not having a superstar.  New ownership has ushered in a new era, and Buffalo may regain some of its former offensive flare. 

Thomas Vanek
The Austrian can be streaky over the course of a season, but he’s consistently putting up points by the end of the year.  This year’s supporting cast should take some pressure off.


Derek Roy
Roy has been an offensive catalyst for the Sabres for some time.  Much like Vanek, a healthy supporting cast may give him some space to operate.  Look for Roy to excel this year and perhaps hit 80 points. 

Tyler Ennis
This young forward excited fans in Buffalo with his incredible hand-eye coordination and dazzling moves.  Another year of experience and development can only help this young man.  Expect 40 points at least, but he may hit 50+.

Jason Pomminville 
The mayor of Pomminville struggled last year after being hit into the boards awkwardly.  Pomminville is usually a consistent performer, but given the depth the team now boasts up front, perhaps expect a dup in his production as he may be forced to share prime ice time with Vanek and Roy a bit more often.

Drew Stafford
Frustrating fantasy hockey fans for years now, Stafford finally lived up to the hype last year with a litany of goals.  His 31 markers put him on a 40 goal pace and surprised most analysts.  Do not expect a 40 goal campaign from Stafford, as he’s likely to grab around 45 points this year.

Brad Boyes
Scooped up late in the year, Boyes rebounded after struggling most of the season.  He could make one of the top lines, or struggle for ice time alongside a lot of younger scorers.  Take Boyes late, around other 40-50 point men and hope he overachieves.

Nathan Gerbe
The small, versatile forward turned heads last year with his tremendous drive and determination.  Gerbe is, at the very least, an exciting fantasy option with sleeper potential.  40 points is a real possibility if he finds himself alongside some talented linemates.  A player with his qualities will have plenty of opportunity to score shorthanded, and may get some top line minutes to shake things up.

Ville Leino
The former-Flyer brings solid experience and some depth to the forward ranks in Buffalo.  Without a skilled centreman like Danny Briere, Leino may have in tough to hit 50 points.  He has the talent, but 40 may be more reasonable.
Defence
Christian Ehrhoff
The German speedster vacated Vancouver and sgned a dream contract in Buffalo.  Ehrhoff has a hard shot, a good pass, and is an excellent skater.  His 50 points may be tough to repeat without the slick Sedin twins setting him up.  Still, 40 points is very reasonable.

Tyler Myers
Myers suffered from a sophomore slump, but could rebound with a strong supporting cast this year.  As he finds his niche and settles into his size, he may become even more dangerous.

Goaltending
Ryan Miller
Miller is a perennial Vezina Trophy candidate it seems.  This year, he should have a capable defence and enough offense in front of him to take some pressure off.  A Vezina trophy may be in his midst.

Prediction -  37 Wins

Jhonas Enroth
Enroth filled in admirably for Miller when injury struck late in the year.  His 1-0 shutout of the New York Rangers gave a glimpse at what may be to come.  Having said that, this is Miller’s team.

Prediction -  10 wins

TOP SLEEPER
Tyler Myers
Myers has a tremendous skill set and is too good to pass up just because of a sophomore slump.  He had 48 points in his rookie campaign and should rebound to a healthy total once again this year.  Playing with more skilled forwards will also help him pick up some additional assists. 
Some players like Brad Stuart enter the league with a lot of points but never regain that form, Myers is too big of a talent , expect more points this year.

TOP ROOKIE 
D - Marc-Andre Gragnani
This shifty defender burst onto the scene in 2010-11 and found a permanent spot on the Sabres blueline.  His tremendous series against Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs may be his coming out party.  Not a typical rookie at 24, Gragnani may fly under the radar and be a good pick up nonetheless.

Potential Breakout Player 
Tyler Ennis
Ennis electrified fans last year with dazzling shootout moves and top flight speed.  His stick-handling ability is among the best in the league. 

One criticism of Ennis may be that he over-handled the puck last season.  If we figures out when to pass and when to shoot, he will be even more dangerous.  His talent is unquestionable, and he is a no-brainer for a breakout.  Diminutive players do not always make a sudden impact, but his skill really is too great to ignore.  If you are in a keeper league, be sure to grab Ennis and wait for him to blow up.  40-50 points are well within reach, and he could soon attain 70+.



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