In just a few weeks, the Buffalo Sabres will hit the ice at HARBORCENTER for training camp. This year it’s playoffs or bust for most fans; but is the roster talented enough for the Sabres to end its five year playoff drought?
As camp draws near, 7ABC will take a closer look at the training camp roster and put together our list of the “Top 20 Talents.”
Here’s the criteria on how the rankings will be established:
-Overall Skill Level
-Age, improving/declining ability
On to the countdown:
No. 17 - G Robin Lehner
Why he's here:
We know Robin Lehner will be the Buffalo Sabres opening day starting goaltender, barring any surprises -- but how good is he? General Manager Tim Murray clearly believes in Lehner, he traded a first round pick for him in 2015 at the NHL Draft. But what about a few years down the road? Will Lehner be the answer long-term? Last season, in his first with the Sabres, Lehner played in only 21 games. He was injured opening night — then came back several months later — then suffered another ankle injury, before he was shut down for the remainder of the season. When the 25-year-old goaltender did play he was inconsistent, but still managed to show flashes of the goalie Tim Murray wanted so desperatley. He finished 5-9-5 with a .924 save percentage and 2.47 goals against average (GAA). The win-loss record is ugly, but the save percentage and GAA are pretty good. He’s 6'5" and has quick reflexes-- two of the traits that make him so intriguing, and worthy of a spot on this list.
Lehner told WGR 550’s Paul Hamiltion that he lost weight this offseason and has been doing MMA workouts every day. It looks like opponents will be avoiding Lehner’s crease even more this year. Since his second injury last season, there’s been a lot of questions about Lehner and his health, especially after he withdrew from the World Cup of Hockey last month. Lehner says that was to make sure he’s ready for the upcoming Sabres season and completely healthy. The Sabres will need Lehner healthy, especially after losing backup Chad Johnson in free agency to Calgary in the offseason. Lehner’s never played the majority of an NHL season as a starter. He’ll need to stay healthy if Buffalo’s going to end its five year playoff drought.
I think Lehner plays the entire season, and I think he'll play well. Last year, Lehner let in some softies, but made some really challenging saves look routine. Former Sabres net minder Ryan Miller did the same thing, and he worked out pretty well. The Sabres likely won’t give Lehner too heavy of a workload with his recent injuries, but somewhere around 55-60 games is likely a fair expectation. This season, Lehner is a cap hit of $2.25M and next season just north of $3M (courtesy General Fanager). That’s a bargain for a starting goalie. If it doesn’t work out, the Sabres aren’t on the hook for too much money, but Lehner’s saying and doing all the right things—so I think it will.