Elias Lindholm: This guy does not get enough credit for his consistency. He finally gets a chance to play with two of the top forwards in the league and he is not letting any second go to waste. Lindholm is accompanied by Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan this season. When playing with those two it seems like Lindholm’s 11 goals and 12 assists this season is not a great feat, but Lindholm has been a consistent 40 point guy that gets no love in the NHL.
Mark Stone: Probably not a typically underrated spoken name but Stone does not get the recognition he should. He plays on a young, struggling and questionable team right now. Ottawa and Canada in general is not an easy place to play and thrive in, yet Stone finds a way to make it happen every year. This season he has 9 goals and 15 assists in 22 games this season. A former 5th rounder, performing like a 1st rounder his whole career in Ottawa is something that should be recognized more.
Bo Horvat: Playing in Vancouver with two young studs in Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, Horvat is often out of the lime light and forgotten about. The 23-year-old forward has been in the league for five years now and been around the 45-50 point mark every year. On the year Horvat has 21 points in 24 games, 11 goals and 10 assists. Extremely good skater, can play both ends of the puck and certainly not afraid to shoot the puck.
Tyson Barrie: He is usually bouncing around on the IR but when Barrie is healthy he is their clear number one and it is obvious. With the addition of some young defenseman in Colorado some of the light has been taken off Barrie but a lot of the Avalanche success this season comes from a guy like Barrie on the back end, who is extremely efficient 5 on 5 and on the power play. Barrie has 2 goals and 17 assists on the year.
Ryan McDonagh: The Lightning have a slew of defenseman and unbelievable offense, therefore it is extremely easy to get lost on this roster. But McDonagh has finally brought what the Lightning were expecting, solid defense and an offensive style game too. McDonagh really stepped in when Victor Hedman went down but continues to be an impactful player on one of the best teams in the NHL. McDonagh 2 goals and 14 assists and two power play points.
Carter Hutton: Coming to a new team, from a back up role to a starter role that. Hutton had a lot of pressure put on him right when he came to Buffalo. Hutton has done nothing but great things in Buffalo and a big reason they are a top team in the NHL right now. Hutton has 10 wins in 16 games started, a 10-6-1 record 2.57 goals against (GAA) and .917 save percentage (SV%). He’s made the 7th most saves among all NHL goalies this season as well.
Henrik Lundqvist: Everyone said Lundqvist was done, he was aging out, his time was done and he could not be on the same level he once was. But Lundqvist is a major reason the Rangers have come out of the gates hot and a complete shock to everyone right now. Lundqvist has the 5th most saves in the NHL right now, a 2.61 GAA and .919 SV % with a 8-6-2 record in 17 starts this season. At 36-years-old the “king” has been off to a surprising start.
The Sabres had a similar offseason plan last year, they stacked up some solid defensive pieces, acquired two forwards and hoped for a better season, yet they fell short by a long shot ranking 31st in the NHL with 25 wins and 62 points.
The Sabres have this sort of persona to them that people know they can be a legitimate team but it seems like year in and year out they deal with injuries or have some issue. Last year it was Robin Lehner not rising to the occasion, Zach Bogosian missing 64 games, Ramus Ristolainen missing a few games, Jack Eichel missing 15 games, players like James Pominville falling short, Kyle Okposo still not rising to the occasion. Well this year, it seems a bit different for Buffalo they have players to replace those struggling veterans on their team now and a pretty solid line one and top nine also.
Sabres offense has high expectations with all the talent added…
With the addition of now Jeff Skinner, who will more than likely play along Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, this could finally be the year, Eichel does not fall apart mentally and actually has someone to look forward to playing with. This could be Eichel’s 30-goal season we’ve all been waiting for! Skinner will bring a ton of speed and be a great line mate for Eichel, he has scored 30+ in his career three times and 20+ three times so he can surely put the puck in the back of the net. Also with Connor Sheary, it may help bump Okposo down or give him something to play for, with a line two looking like rookie sensation Casey Mittlestadt, Connor Sheary and Kyle Okposo the Sabres have another scoring line. With a third line of Patrick Berglund, Evan Rodrigues/Vladimir Sobotka and James Pominville there is a ton of moving pieces in this line up something the Sabres never had.
Carter Hutton will have his hands full… is he ready?
A lot of the pressure will be on the offense to produce but the Sabres will need a full and healthy season out of Zach Bogosian, Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella, these three combined last year for 63 points. Hopefully the addition of Swedish star Rasmus Dahlin will really push this defense in a new direction. A lot will come on the shoulders of Carter Hutton though, the Sabres newly acquired goaltender will have high expectations heading into this year. With the addition of Mittlestadt, Dahlin and Skinner the Sabres are hoping for a MUCH better season than last. Hutton will have his hands full next season with an easy 50 plus starts coming his way. After a 26 start season Hutton will be looking at a lot more work in Buffalo, to say the goalie cannot do it is one thing but we have to assume Hutton may not be the goaltender many are expecting him to be.
If Ottawa continues down this direction and Montreal does not get any better the Sabres could possibly make a 6th maybe even 5th place finish for the year. I could easily see the Sabres with 75 points, a couple of games under .500. The playoffs may not be in reach yet due to Toronto, Boston and Tampa Bay still being much better than Buffalo but things are on the up let’s say this, Buffalo will make the playoffs by 2020.
Cam Ward is said to be signing with Chicago soon. The Blackhawks have reportedly been in constant contact with Ward. After Corey Crawford dealt with some major injuries and the Blackhawks missed the playoffs due to goaltending issues and some poor defensive depth. At least the Blackhawks have at least addressed one area of concern. Crawford is set to also be a UFA (unrestricted free agent) in 2019-20. Ward is now 34-years-old probably looking for a 2-3 year deal. The terms and conditions have not come out yet but it is Ward is set to be a Blackhawk soon.
Jonathan Brenier is set to be a Detroit Red Wing upon free agency. Brenier is 29-years-old emerging in the NHL on the Los Angeles Kings, and then bouncing around between Toronto, Anaheim and now Colorado. Brenier is probably coming in to compete with Jimmy Howard for the starting job. Brenier is coming off a playoff appearing season and one of his best years with a 19-13-3 with a 2.85 GAA and .913 SV percentage. Bernier’s best year came in 2013-14 starting in 49 games with 26-19-7 record a 2.69 GAA and .923 SV percentage. Again terms and conditions have not come out yet but it is said he will be a Detroit Red Wing soon.
Carter Hutton is said to be rumored to Buffalo soon. Buffalo is going after Hutton for their starting goalie role. Hutton at 32-years-old now gets his first staring job. Hutton played for St. Louis as the back up for 2 years, before that he was a back up in Nashville for 3 years. Hutton is coming off his best season starting in 26 games posting a 17-7-3 a 2.09 GAA and .931 SV percentage. Hutton will now be another Buffalo test, Robin Lehner failed, so let’s see if Hutton can be the savior in Buffalo…
Carter Hutton: Hutton has been said to be getting a lot of traffic from teams around the league. A lot of teams can use Hutton’s services. The question is though will Hutton settle for another backup goaltending job or will he go to a team that will offer him a starting role. It seems that Hutton wants to leave St. Louis indicating he wants to be a starting goalie. Luckily some starting roles are open. The Islanders, Sabres, Red Wings, Flyers, Canucks and others can all use a starting goalie. Hutton has started in 114 career games posting a 63-39-17 record, with a 2.42 GAA and .915 save percentage. Hutton was undrafted emerging in the league with Chicago in 2012 shortly being moved to Nashville the following season where he started in the most games of his career. Appearing in 34 games with a 20-11-4 record, 2.62 GAA, and .910 SV %. Hutton appeared in just a combined 53 games in the following three years. Until seeing more time this past season appearing in 26 games posting a 17-7-3with a 2.09 GAA and .931 SV percentage. Hutton came in for relief after Jake Allen had some minor mishaps in the crease, which Hutton was a solid and reliable number two which is probably why he has gained so much interest around the league. Hutton has got calls from a few teams and most notably the Blackhawks, where he started his career in 2012.
Petr Mrazek: Mrazek is another young goaltender hitting the free agency market. After being sent over from Detroit to Philadelphia at the trade deadline it has been rumored that Mrazek will not be getting an offer from Philadelphia this offseason making him a qualified free agent. Mrazek was drafted in the 5th round in 2010, making his appearance in the NHL 2012, appearing in just 34 games during his first three years. Slowly after that, he started getting more frequent time from 2015-2017 appearing in 93 games posting a 45-37-15 with a 2.69 GAA, .911 SV percentage. After having a falling out in the 2016-17 season, Mrazek appeared in just 15 games with Detroit after being sent to Philadelphia. Last season Mrazek posted a 14-13-6 record with a 3.05 GAA and a .905 SV percentage in 33 games. Where will Mrazek end up is unknown right now as it only came out a few days ago that he will be a free agent now. A lot of traction will be coming after Mrazek as he is a 26-year-old goaltender with a ton of upside.
Robin Lehner: Another 26-year-old goaltender on the free agency market. Lehner has been said that he will also not be receiving a contract offer from the Sabres, therefore, he will be a free agent. Lehner was expected to be a solid number one this season after failing to do so and posting a 14-26-9 record, the Sabres have obviously decided to move forward. Lehner has career numbers of 72-97-35 with a 2.82 GAA and .915 SV percentage. Lehner has been the “starter” in Buffalo for about two seasons now, after beating out Andres Nilsson last season, Lehner was given the ropes in Buffalo. Being drafted by Ottawa in 2009 in the second round and spending 5 seasons with them appearing in 76 games and failing to post an above .500 record in net, Lehner was sent over to Buffalo in 2015. Not making his mark as a number one goaltender yet, Lehner still has plenty of time to prove to some NHL clubs that he is a worthy number one.