Sabres training camp preview

By Tony Musso

The Buffalo Sabres have a lot to prove this season. They have missed the playoffs for four consecutive years for the first time in franchise history. They said goodbye to their best forward Miroslav Satan and their best defenseman Alexei Zhitnik, and will shed themselves of one of three goaltenders. But, despite all of this, the Sabres could still be one of the most underrated teams in the NHL.

Coming and going

GM Darcy Regier is the most watched man in the Sabres family right now. His inactivity during the off-season has been a cause for concern going into camp. Many believed that the Sabres were in a good position to be active in the free agent market based on their salary cap position. But by only signing two journeymen defensemen, the Sabres have effectively left plenty of room under the new salary cap to capitalize on next year’s free agent market. Meanwhile there will be some spots for young players on the Sabres roster.

The biggest loss for the Sabres this off-season was sniper Miroslav Satan. The Sabres hope to fill the scoring hole left behind by Satan with newly signed first round pick from 2003, Thomas Vanek. Vanek has been the Sabres most promising prospect since he was drafted out of the collegiate ranks in 2003. His play in Rochester last year with 68 points in 74 games virtually guarantees him a spot on the roster this season.

Other notable losses that left holes in the lineup were left wing Eric Boulton to Atlanta and defensemen Brad Brown to Toronto.

Earning spots

Aside from veteran free agent defensemen Teppo Numminen, the Sabres defensive corps is fairly young: Jay Mckee, Brian Campbell, Dmitri Kalinin, Jeff Jillson, Rory Fitzpatrick, Henrik Tallinder, and Toni Lydman. Prospects Doug Janik and Nathan Paetsch are also hoping to compete for a spot on the roster.

Despite the loss of Satan, there are still 13 veteran forwards returning, not including Vanek. So it looks as though the Sabres roster is pretty well in order. There probably won’t be many surprise selections to the team when all is said and done. That having been said, here is a look at some possibilities to make the team:

Jason Pominville, RW – Pominville has blossomed over the last two years in Rochester and has become a dominant power-play scorer in the AHL. If he doesn’t make the team, he would have to clear waivers in order to be sent down to Rochester for another season. Given the situation, he might have an edge over a player who can be sent back down to Rochester without consequences.

Doug Janik, D – Janik is in the same situation as Pominville, in that he must clear waivers in order to be sent back down to Rochester. It’s probably a good bet that Janik would squeak in as the sixth or seventh defensemen, or possibly be included in a trade by the end of training camp.

Clarke MacArthur, LW – This will be his first pro training camp and the consensus is that he must be groomed a bit more in Medicine Hat or possibly in Rochester before he lands a spot on the club.

Paul Gaustad, C – Gaustad is another question mark to make the team because he has the unfortunate circumstance of being a center prospect on a team overloaded with centers. If he does make the club, it will be as the fourth line center, due to his size and aggressiveness.

The most intriguing part of this training camp will be what happens to the Sabres’ three goaltenders, Ryan Miller, Martin Biron, and Mika Noronen. One of the three will finally get the boot out of Buffalo, with an uncertain return. The Sabres currently hold the rights of only two goaltending prospects, Michal Valent, who remains in Europe and Adam Dennis, who turns pro this year. Dennis will compete for the one goaltending slot with Rochester, alongside a Florida Panthers prospect.

Preseason schedule

Sat, Sep 17 7:30 PM Washington
Sun, Sep 18 5:00 PM @ Columbus
Tue, Sep 20 8:00 PM @ Minnesota
Wed, Sep 21 7:00 PM @ Washington
Sun, Sep 25 5:00 PM @ Tampa Bay
Tue, Sep 27 7:30 PM @ Toronto
Thurs, Sep 28 7:00 PM Ottawa
Fri, Sep 30 7:30 PM Minnesota (at Rochester)

James Patrick named Developmental Assistant

James Patrick announced this week that he was retiring from the game of hockey after 21 seasons and that the Sabres had hired him as a Developmental Assistant for their defense corps. While Patrick’s departure as a player will be a huge loss, his presence as a leader will remain in the young Sabre locker room.

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