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Bove: A way too early Buffalo Sabres opening night lineup projection

Bove: A way too early Buffalo Sabres opening night lineup projection
Posted at 12:18 PM, Jul 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-03 12:39:54-04

If you're anything like me, predicting the Buffalo Sabres opening night roster and line combinations is a common occurrence. Whenever the Sabres make a trade or change their roster I immediately envision how it will impact their lineup. More likely than not, things will change in the next few months. But with the recent additions to the Sabres roster, let's have some fun.

Offense:

Line 1

LW - Insert Name Here   C- Ryan O'Reilly    RW - Kyle Okposo

As the offseason has progressed the biggest question, at least in my opinion, has shifted from the blue line to left wing. The depth chart on the left side is underwhelming, with a pretty substantial drop off after Evander Kane.

So why isn't Kane on the 'first' line?

His style of game fits better with the duo he has spent a good chunk of the last two seasons with. It'll be interesting to see how the Sabres handle this potential opening.

If you ask me, the spot should be given to one of the younger players in the organization. Playing alongside two very solid players like O'Reilly and Okposo should allow whatever youngster wins the spot to make an immediate impact.

Line 2

LW- Evander Kane      C- Jack Eichel     RW- Sam Reinhart

If it's not broke, don't fix it.

This trio should provide the most offense from any line on the team. Over the past two seasons, this group has proven to be dominant at times. Another year together could elevate all of their games to the next level.

If you're wondering why this is not listed as the 'first' line, it's because all three still need to improve in their own end. If the Sabres need a goal, this will be the line on the ice. 

Line 3

LW - Benoit Pouliot    C- Johan Larsson     RW - Jason Pominville

It's amazing how fast things can change, isn't it? Four days ago Pominville and Pouliot weren't on the team and many, myself included, had Marcus Foligno penciled in on the left side, with a few other options on the right. Both Foligno and Tyler Ennis have been sent to the Land of 10,000 Lakes and the Sabres old pal, Jason Pominville, has returned for a homecoming of sorts.

Last year, Pominville bounced back statistically, finishing the year with 47 points in 78 games. Be warned, Pominville's not as fast as he once was and will likely be a more complimentary player during his second stint with the Sabres. That being said, he's an above average third line winger who can move up and down the lineup if called upon. He should also bring a nice spark to the Sabres second power play unit.

Pouliot, who signed a one-year, $1.15 million dollar deal with the Sabres just minutes after free agency opened is looking to as Big Sean would say, bounce back.

Last season, Pouliot saw his numbers plummet from 36 points in 55 games (2015-2016) to 14 points in 67 games. When speaking with reporters after signing his new deal Pouliot didn't mince words, saying last season was his worst as a professional.

Jason Botterill and his staff, however, think Pouliot can make an impact in the Sabres lineup and return to the player he was in 2015. Like Pominville, Pouliot can be moved up and down the lineup if the injury bug rears its ugly head. For what he's being paid, Pouliot is a perfect fit on the Sabres third line. If it doesn't workout he'll be free to take his talents elsewhere after the 2016-2017 season.

As for their center, I'm expecting a nice season out of Johan Larsson. He wouldn't have been the difference in the Sabres making the playoffs last year, but he was surely missed.

Line 4

LW- Matt Moulson  C- Zemgus Girgensons   RW- Evan Rodrigues

Putting together the fourth line was a little tricky but this trio makes sense.

Girgensons is a better fit down the middle than he is when playing the wing. Next year will likely determine his long-term fate in Buffalo.

Rodrigues, who at times looked great last year, was inconsistent. Putting him on the wing could prove to be beneficial. He'll still be able to utilize his speed and playmaking abilities, without some of the pressure he would have at center.

Moulson is paid far too much to be a fourth line winger but he's lost a step over time. He was better last year than he was two seasons ago and can still be an asset in a secondary role.

Defense:

Pair 1

LD - Marco Scandella    RD- Rasmus Ristolainen

Adding Scandella is the Sabres biggest addition of the offseason. While with Minnesota he logged big minutes, proving to be valuable at both ends of the ice. Pairing him with Ristolainen could pay dividends.  It will allow the Sabres young defenseman to jump into the rush more often than he felt comfortable doing last year.

Pair 2

LD- Jake McCabe   RD - Victor Antipin

I thought long and hard about splitting up McCabe and Ristolainen, but moving McCabe to the second pair makes sense.  He'll provide a nice balance of offense and defense with Russian free-agent Victor Antipin, who in the KHL often jumped into the offensive rush. How Antipin translates to the speed of the North American game will be something to watch early in the season but having McCabe to his left should make the transition a tad easier.

Pair 3

LD Nathan Beaulieu  RD - Zach Bogosian

Bogosian spent a good portion of last season sidelined, missing 26 games. When he was in the lineup he was inconsistent and it was something he addressed after the season. Starting the year healthy and on the third pair should help Bogosian take strides to playing a more consistent game.

Beaulieu, like Antipin, is a bit of a mystery for the Sabres. Last year he started the season in Montreal logging big minutes, at times even playing with star defenseman Shea Weber. By season's end, he was a healthy scratch, in and out of the lineup. From all accounts, a change of scenery could benefit the 24-year-old puck moving defenseman.

Goaltender:

Starter - Robin Lehner

Backup - Chad Johnson

This really won't come as a surprise to anyone. Robin Lehner, despite what many believe, was perfectly fine last year. Aside from shootouts, he was a very capable starting goaltender, keeping the Sabres in plenty of games they had no business in.

"But he lets in a bunch of bad goals" - person on Twitter 

Newsflash, every goaltender lets in the occasional bad goal. Ryan Miller used to do it all the time. An improved blue line should also help Lehner. For a good stretch, Lehner was seeing 35 shots a game.

Johnson is a very capable backup who can likely play at least 25 games for the blue and gold. If injuries sideline Lehner Sabres fans should take comfort in having an experienced NHL goaltender like Johnson ready to step in.