Projecting the Sabres opening night lineup

Projecting the Sabres opening night lineup
Posted at 6:33 PM, Oct 11, 2016

After weeks of training camp and seven preseason games the Buffalo Sabres 23-man-roster is set.
Tuesday, the team announced its final roster moves leading to Thursday’s regular season opener against the Montreal Canadiens.

Here’s a look at who will be on the opening night roster:

Tyler Ennis, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo, Evander Kane, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Matt Moulson, Zemgus Girgensons, Hudson Fasching, Marcus Foligno, Johan Larsson, Brian Gionta, Derek Grant and Nicholas Deslauriers.

Rasmus Ristolainen, Dmitry Kulikov, Zach Bogosian, Jake McCabe, Cody Franson, Josh Gorges and Casey Nelson.

Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson

Buffalo also announced that 2016 first-round draft pick Alexander Nylander, forward Nick Baptiste, forward Dan Catenacci and defensman Justin Falk have been sent to the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League (AHL). 19-year-old defenseman Brendan Guhle was returned to Prince Albert in the Western Hockey League (WHL).

My thoughts:

The two biggest surprises are Derek Grant and Hudson Fasching – but both have earned their way onto the Sabres roster.

Derek Grant, who came into training camp unknown by most fans, was all over the stat sheet in the preseason. He finished with three goals and three assists –making him the Sabres most productive forward. I don’t know how much ice time Grant will get, but he has earned a shot at least to be the first man up whenever there’s an injury. Tuesday he told reporters that he was happy with his performance but knows that he has to keep improving and finding the back of the net.

Hudson Fasching is a bully behind the net. At times, I compared Fasching to a grizzly bear because he is routinely bouncing defenders off him as he protects the puck with his big frame. Last year, Fasching scored just minutes into his first NHL game. I don’t think he’ll have massive numbers this season – but he’s a solid bottom-six forward who can play in almost any situation.

Nick Baptiste strung together a few nice weeks during the Sabres Prospects Challenge and training camp but suffered a very untimely injury. I’d expect to see him and Catenacci in Sabres sweaters later in the year when injuries start piling up for every NHL organization.

Justin Falk was brought in to add some veteran leadership and experience to the Sabres defensive group, but never showed much of anything during the preseason.

Alexander Nylander showed great strides as the offseason progressed. A year in Rochester could do wonders for the 18-year-old’s long term development. Just look at his brother, Willie: Toronto sent the fellow first-round pick to the American Hockey League to develop and now, he’s expected to be a big contributor this season.

Brendan Guhle is interesting, but is still young. Every once in a while he’ll jump into the offensive zone and look like Erik Karlsson. Other times, he’ll jump into the zone, get out of place and the opposition will have numbers heading in the opposite direction. If he can mature and continue to develop, Guhle will likely be one of the Sabres defenseman for years to come.

Projected lines:

1)    First Line: Ennis-O’Reilly-Okposo

This line boasts a ton of talent and speed. If they can find some chemistry this line can play against anyone

2)     Second Line: Kane-Eichel-Reinhart

Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart on the same line? Gee, that sounds fun. If Evander Kane can sneak in a pass once in a while this line might be on the Sabres best second lines in team history.

3)    Third Line: Moulson-Girgensons-Fasching

 What Matt Moulson will Sabres fans get this season? Will he return to his old goal scoring ways or will he continue to struggle? Playing with Girgensons, who is also looking to bounce back after last season should help.
4)    Fourth Line: Foligno-Larsson-Gionta

In 2015 this was one of the Sabres best lines down the stretch. If Larsson slips off or can’t produce I don’t think Dan Bylsma would hesitate to switch things up and bring in Derek Grant. 

Defensive Pairings:

1) First Pair: Dmitry Kulikov-Rasmus Ristolainen

Rasmus Ristolainen and his new contract will team up with a bruiser in Dmitry Kulikov making for a reliable, steady first pair. For what it's worth, I love the Ristolainen contract.

2) Second Pair: Zach Bogosian-Jake McCabe

When healthy, Bogosian at times has looked pretty solid. I'm expecting big things out of Jake McCabe this season. Last year, he was solid in his own and made few mistakes. This year, If he can produce a little more offensivley I think McCabe will exceed most fans expecations. 

3) Third Pair: Cody Franson-Josh Gorges

Cody Franson said last year was his worst as a pro. If he struggles early on, Casey Nelson should get a shot to take over a full time roll. 

Scratches: Nicholas Deslauriers and Derek Grant