With a 48 game season that starts in January, nothing can be considered normal. Some players have been playing for months, while others desperately need to get into game shape. There are even a few players that have an opportunity to make the team, with some rosters being far from set.
Buffalo is in pretty good shape at this point. Returning from overseas will be Andrej Sekera, Thomas Vanek, Tyler Ennis, Tyler Myers, Mike Weber, Jhonas Enroth, Jason Pominville, Alexander Sulzer and Christian Ehrhoff. Being called up from Rochester are Cody Hodgson, T.J. Brennan and Marcus Foligno, and Mikhail Grigorenko is being brought in from Quebec.
Here are some things to look for in camp:
Tyler Ennis: Buffalo has its top two centers in place in Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson. Ennis played a mix of positions in an injury-filled campaign for SC Langnau. It was clear that Ennis was dedicated to making the Sabres better and considering the depth at left wing in Buffalo, Ennis played mostly center, with a few games of right wing mixed in.
Ennis played mediocre at center posting three goals, eight points and a -3 rating in eight games. At right wing Ennis struggled, recording zero points and a -5 in two games. It is clear that Ennis needs to stay in the middle and develop there, which is good considering Lindy Ruff has shown confidence in Ennis being a top-2 center for the Sabres.
Jochen Hecht: I have been wondering about whether or not Hecht would be making a return trip to Buffalo since the lockout began. It was a perfect storm for the German winger-turned-center. First Buffalo shipped Derek Roy out of town for Steve Ott, who is a natural winger. Then Cody McCormick went down with injury. This left Buffalo with a 3rd/4th line center hole in the lineup.
Enter Jochen Hecht, coming off a strong few games last season that was ended with injury once again. Due to the lockout Hecht was given all the time he needed to fully recover. Hecht was away from Hockey for almost an entire year. But, instead of having to break in mid-season, Hecht had time to get back into shape with Alder Mannheim and still be ready by the time training camp started. Add to that Jason Pominville, captain of the Sabres, played in Mannheim during the lockout and is vouching for Hecht and it seems like a fair assessment to say that if Grigorenko does not work out this season that Hecht will be getting a new contract.
Personally, I’m for this. Hecht is a good defensive player with a bit of offensive upside. He has played very well in Mannheim and could be had on the cheap. I also think that he would fit well with players like Ville Leino. Could be a low risk, medium reward situation for a year.
Mikhail Grigorenko: The big Russian has been lighting it up in the World Juniors (six points in seven games) and in Quebec of the QMJHL (50 points in 30 games). This resulted in a call-up for training camp. Lindy Ruff will have all of camp and five games to decide if Grigorenko will stay or be sent back for his final year of juniors.
I think this is a good reward/incentive for Grigorenko, but that he will be sent back to Quebec for the remainder of the year. It’s also a great way for the coaching staff to see and evaluate a player that they have seen mostly on film. If Grigorenko is going to stick he will have to beat out a lot of veteran guys and make it impossible for the coaching staff to send him home for more development.
Ville Leino and Steve Ott: Both players are natural wingers and both players could end up the 3rd or 4th line centers in Buffalo. Ott is an energy player and could potentially play somewhere on a scoring line, but will likely be in the bottom-6 for the majority of the season. The question is: do the Sabres trust him at center? He will be a contributor no matter what.
Leino was supposed to be a center last year before he failed spectacularly. Leino will need to play a defensive role this year and contribute in limited minutes with lesser linemates. Leino will likely not play center, but could be used to plug a hole on the right side. Regardless, Leino will be counted on and the team needs him to step up in a big way. It was disappointing to learn that Leino, a former Finnish League MVP, did not travel overseas to play during the lockout.
Nathan Gerbe and Cody McCormick: Both players are still recovering from injuries and may need to be spelled early in the season. When they return they should bolster the depth in the Sabres organization.
Kevin Porter and Luke Adam: It was a little surprising to learn that Luke Adam and Kevin Porter were not called up for a chance to make the big club. When you think a bit more about it, it makes sense. Buffalo cannot gut Rochester’s team and expect them to win.
This means that the Sabres clearly think Luke Adam needs to improve. I don’t think they have given up on the forward, although Matthew Koller is much closer to the team than I am. I think that they simply have bumped Adam down the depth chart behind Foligno and Hodgson (where he was at the end of last season anyway) and hopefully he responds to this by working harder to improve his play.
Porter is a surprise because I thought he might fit into Buffalo’s plans with the 3rd line. The idea that they would bring Brennan up, but not Porter mystifies me, but they must have a reason. I do think Porter and Nick Tarnasky are the most likely players to be called up later in the year.
John Scott: Scott is a goon, but when he was signed there was a curious lack of space for him on the roster. Now, with several players out of the way due to injury, Scott has a chance to find some ice time. He will need to make the most out of it, but he really seems like a player that will hopefully be phased out of the lineups by the playoff push. In this shortened season, that will likely be about 20 games in.
Corey Tropp: The injury to Corey Tropp is huge. He was in line for a 3rd-4th line role with the big club this year and having him out for the season is a big loss for a Buffalo team that is trying to sort out its bottom-6 situation.