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Buffalo Sabres’ 2022 Off-Season Summary

18 Jul

The work of improving the Buffalo Sabres’ fortunes in the 2022 off-season really began during the season for general manager Kevyn Adams. He was patient and eventually completed the blockbuster trade involving the team’s former captain, Jack Eichel. The disgruntled center was shipped to the Vegas Golden Knights for a couple of NHL-ready players – Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs, and a pair of high draft picks. Last off-season, Adams had the Seattle expansion draft to deal with, and the team was lucky enough to win the draft lottery and made the most of the top pick by selecting big defenseman Owen Power, who will be a cornerstone going forward. Don Granato is now firmly entrenched as the head coach, so this year’s summary has only 3 categories – potential trades, the entry draft and free agency. Here are our opinions on how Adams did or should handle those:

 

Potential Trades

Most observers expect any trade involving Buffalo will be for their biggest position of need, goaltender. The goalie trade merry-go-round is already in full swing, with Colorado and Detroit swinging deals. Adams tried to swap for Ottawa’s Matt Murray, but he refused to play here and is now off to Toronto. The Sabres seem to have been a step behind other clubs in the goalie market, and may have to look to free agency to fill that need now. There was a rumor, put out in the media by coach Don Granato’s brother-in-law Ray Ferraro, that the Sabres could be considering trading for Chicago’s Patrick Kane, a Buffalo native. At 33, he’s not exactly a good fit for the team’s rebuilding youth movement, but on the other hand he would be a valuable asset for however many years he has left in a couple of different ways. First, in helping the young players learn how to win, and secondly, in helping sell tickets to a fan base exhausted by all the recent losing.

 

Entry Draft

The Sabres collected 3 first round picks with their own and through the trades of Eichel and Sam Reinhart. They chose skilled centermen with all 3, beginning with Matthew Savoie at pick 9. His strengths are his speed, skating ability, and stick-handling. He was projected as a possible top 5 pick so Buffalo was smart to grab him at 9. With the 16th pick, Swedish centerman Noah Ostlund was the choice. His scouting report is similar to Savoie’s in that it stresses his speed and skill. Finally, Buffalo chose Czech Republic center Jiri Kulich, also known for his speed but one of his strengths is his goal scoring ability. The Sabres pulled a mild surprise when they used their second round pick on a goaltender, the enormous Topias Leinonen from Finland. He’s 6’5 and 233 lbs. Despite his size, his scouting report says he is athletic and quick. One other pick with interesting hockey bloodlines is 4th round defenseman Mats Lindgren Jr., whose father had a long NHL career. With 22 selections in the last 2 drafts, Adams has fortified Buffalo’s pipeline of young prospects heading into the future. Here are the rest of the 2022 picks:

Victor Neuchev (winger from Russia, 3rd round)

Vsevolod Komarov (Russian defenseman who played for Quebec in junior hockey, 5th round)

Jake Richard (forward who played for USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, pick 6A)

Gustav Karlsson (forward from Sweden, pick 6B)

Joel Ratkovic Berndtsson (forward from Sweden, pick 7A)

Linus Sjodin (forward from Sweden, pick 7B)

 

 

Free Agency

There were no big splashes for the Sabres in the early days of free agency. As expected, the team inked a goaltender, Eric Comrie, formerly of the Winnipeg Jets. He’s 27 and has been with 3 different teams, mainly with the Jets. Adams is banking on potential with this signing, as he showed some flashes in 2021 while backing up Connor Hellebuyck. Buffalo also brought in a veteran defenseman from Toronto who plays a somewhat physical style in Ilya Lyubushkin. Buffalo signed 3 more little-known defensemen to two-way contracts (Jeremy Davies, Cale Clague and Chase Priskie) to bolster their defensive depth in the organization. Lawrence Pilut, once a promising prospect who bolted to Europe a couple years ago, was re-signed, along with some important pieces of the current team in Victor Olofsson and Vinnie Hinostroza. With Dustin Tokarski signing in Pittsburgh, Adams re-signed goaltender Malcolm Subban, likely with the idea that he will man the nets in Rochester.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

18 Jul

Logo of a Canadian minor hockey team of the past, the Moose Jaw Canucks. They were founding members of the Western Canada Junior Hockey League, beginning play in 1966. The franchise disbanded when the Winnipeg Warriors moved to Moose Jaw in 1984. Notable former Moose Jaw alumni include Larry Popein, Al Rollins, Willie DesJardins, Fred Sasakamoose and Chris Chelios.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

18 Jul

1999 Opeechee hockey card of former NHL center Mats Lindgren, who played 9 injury-plagued seasons in the league for 3 franchises. Despite being a high draft choice due to his offensive skills, he never lived up to his potential, with his highest single season goal total being only 13 while playing for Edmonton. He represented Sweden in the 1998 Winter Olympics. His son Mats Jr. was recently drafted by the Buffalo Sabres.

 

Reviewing The Buffalo Sabres’ 2021-2022 Season

07 May

Buffalo has always been an important franchise in the NHL, despite their recent long string of losing seasons. With the club finally showing signs that they might be ready to be a competitive team next season, we here at Rayonsports have decided to do a year end review of the team for the first time since the 2015-2016 season.

 

Front Office/Coaching

 

It’s been musical chairs in both the general manager and head coaching positions with the Sabres during their long non-playoff drought, but it’s possible that owners Terry and Kim Pegula have finally hit on a winning combination with GM Kevyn Adams and coach Don Granato. Adams was patient in dealing with Jack Eichel’s situation and did a great job of prying the best deal possible from the Vegas Golden Knights when he landed Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs and a pair of draft picks for his disgruntled star. The jury is still out on the draft picks he has made but it was a no-brainer in grabbing Owen Power at the top of last year’s draft. As for coaching, there’s no denying the work Granato and his staff have done in both developing young players into the best versions of themselves (Tage Thompson, Rasmus Dahlin), and in turning around the careers of supposedly overpaid veterans who previously underachieved (Jeff Skinner, Kyle Okposo). The next challenge will be turning the progress made into an actual winning season in 2022-23.

Forwards

 

The Sabres made the transition from a forward group led by offense-only Eichel and Sam Reinhart to a more well-rounded and versatile unit this season. Thompson’s emergence and the addition of Tuch were 2 examples of this. Both were key power play pieces and also top contributors on the penalty kill. Skinner’s revival into a 30+ goal scorer and Okposo banking 20+ while also being a locker room leader were priceless. Okposo is a prime candidate to take on the captain’s role next season. Granato was patient with Victor Olofsson and was rewarded when the young winger produced after being fully recovered from an injury to also score 20+. Casey Middlestadt has suffered setbacks in his development due to injuries but when healthy he looks to be an important player going into the future. Dylan Cozens continued to develop and although he still has the potential for more growth in his game, he is a solid teammate who can be counted on to stick up for his fellow Sabre players. Krebs is still raw but he shows flashes of possessing some impressive skills and looks to be a major part of the team’s future. Zemgus Girgensens is another veteran role player who figures to stick around and provide important minutes on a third or fourth line. Vinny Hinostroza was signed to a one year free agent contract, and his play earned him a future here. Adams should make him a priority to re-sign. John Hayden was signed to a similar deal to add some toughness to the lineup. He was scratched from the lineup most nights but always ready when called upon. The rest of the forward group could see some shuffling next season. Rasmus Asplund and to a lesser degree Anders Bjork have shown they can be contributors, but it will likely be the end of the line for veterans like Cody Eakin and Drake Caggiula, a forgotten piece who was injured most of the year. All of the bottom-end forwards will be challenged for roster spots by the young bucks coming up from the AHL, including Jack Quinn, J.J. Peterka, Arttu Ruotsalainen and Brett Murray, among others. There are also top players in the pipeline, most of whom will need to mature and develop in the junior ranks, college and minors.

Defensemen

 

This unit going forward will be led by a pair of top draft picks of recent years, Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power. Their games are not necessarily the same but they already appear to be headed toward being the best at their position. Dahlin has developed nicely under Granato’s tutelage, earning his first All Star game appearance, while Power jumped straight from the college ranks into the lineup and never looked out of place or intimidated. When the season concluded, the remaining top 4 defensemen were a combination of speed and puck-handling ability in Jacob Bryson and Henri Jokiharju, and size and toughness in Casey Fitzgerald and Mattias Samuelsson. The rest of the D corps consists of veteran journeymen Colin Miller, Mark Pysyk and Will Butcher. It’s unlikely all of them will be back in 2022/23. The only AHL prospect who might make the leap to the Sabres’ roster next season is Oskari Laaksonen. Ryan Johnson, a first round draft pick from a couple of years ago, is returning to college for another season.

 

Goaltenders

 

This is the team’s top area of concern going into next season. They will have to make a move here if they expect to compete for a playoff spot. Craig Anderson was a warrior as the top netminder this year, but he is 40, injury-prone and an unrestricted free agent who isn’t sure whether or not he wants to continue to play. Dustin Tokarski did about as well as expected when he had to play, but he is an AHL goalie if truth be told. There has to be an upgrade made here. In the system, the other options are Malcolm Subban, another AHL-level goalie, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who was to be the goalie-in-waiting but can’t stay healthy and Michael Houser, who played in the ECHL with Cincinnati this year and probably belongs there. A pair of top-fight prospects who should eventually compete for the #1 goaltender spot for the franchise, Devon Levi and Erik Portillo, both decided to remain in school for another year, and aren’t ready for the NHL yet anyway. Whether Anderson returns or not, there is a crying need for a legitimate NHL-caliber bridge type netminder to hold the fort until Levi and Portillo are ready.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

07 May

This is the iconic logo of an original six National Hockey League team, the Chicago Blackhawks. Founded in 1926, the franchise has won a total of 6 Stanley Cup championships over the years, with half of those coming in a 5 year span from 2010 to 2015. The Hawks boast an amazing 51 Hall of Fame inductees, including such luminaries as Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito, Glenn Hall, Chris Chelios, Denis Savard and Marion Hossa.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

07 May

1979 Topps hockey card depicting the top 3 goal scorers of the ’78/79 season. They are all Hall of Famers and include Marcel “Little Beaver” Dionne and 2 former superstars who recently passed away, Mike Bossy and Guy Lafleur. Those 2 were key elements in their respective franchises’ dynasty years. Bossy had 5 consecutive 50 goal seasons during his New York Islanders run of 4 straight Stanley Cups in the early 1980s, and twice had the Cup-winning goal for his team. He also won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, was a three-time Lady Byng Trophy winner and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in the Islanders’ 1982 Cup run. Lafleur had 6 consecutive seasons of 50 goals and 100 points while helping his Montreal Canadiens to 5 Cup titles in the 1970s. He also won the Conn Smythe, in 1977 and was a two-time Hart Trophy recipient as NHL MVP.

 

Buffalo Bills’ 2022 Draft Picks

05 May

Buffalo General Manager Brandon Beane continued his quest to build a Super Bowl-winning roster in Las Vegas over the weekend at the NFL’s annual college player draft. The Bills are in a position where they have a championship caliber roster and other than  maybe cornerback, just needed to find a few pieces for depth and to help them get over the hump. Here’s an analysis of the choices they made:

 

 

Round 1Kaiir Elam (CB, Florida) – good cover corner with versatility and NFL bloodlines as both his father and uncle played in the league. Cornerback is the top position of need for the Bills, and Elam will have a great opportunity to win a starting job in his rookie year, replacing the departed Levi Wallace.

 

 

Round 2James Cook (RB, Georgia) – some scouts compared him to the Saints’ Alvin Kamara due to his ability to both run and catch passes out of the backfield. Another player with NFL bloodlines as his brother is Vikings’ RB Dalvin Cook. He is more of a breakaway threat than any back currently on the Bills’ roster. A definite positive addition to the running back room, and there’s a good chance he develops to the point he is RB1.

 

 

Round 3Terrel Bernard (LB, Baylor) – an undersized linebacker who covers the field from sideline to sideline and is a solid tackler. He may be a replacement for A.J. Klein, or could even be an eventual replacement for Tremaine Edmunds depending on how the Bills view him long term.

 

 

Round 5Khalil Shakir (WR, Boise State) – a great value at this spot in the draft, he has good run after the catch ability and makes highlight reel catches, although he will need to work on cutting down on dropped balls. Along with Cook, he is another weapon for Josh Allen to use in exploiting opposing defenses.

 

 

Round 6A – Matt Araiza (P, San Diego State) – the “Punt God” was considered the best punter in the draft and was surprisingly the third one chosen. He’s left-footed and has a booming leg. He can also placekick even though the Bills don’t have a need there. He should have the inside track to win the punting job over the disappointing Matt Haack.

 

 

Round 6B – Christian Benford (CB, Villanova) – a little-known prospect from a school better known for producing basketball players. The Bills have a need for depth at the position and Bernard has shown a knack for being around the ball, racking up 14 interceptions in his college career. He will have to make the transition from small school competition to the pros.

 

 

Round 6C – Luke Tenuta (OT, Virginia Tech) – The Bills apparently like extremely large offensive linemen, as he is the third 6’8 player drafted by them in the last 2 years. He can also play on the inside at guard, where the Bills can use some added depth.

 

 

Round 7Baylon Spector (LB, Clemson) – another undersized linebacker with a high motor. Buffalo seems to be seeing the need for lighter, faster backers who can cover as opposed to bigger hard-hitting tacklers who specialize in stopping the run. A practice squad candidate if nothing else.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

05 May

Hardly a “classic” logo, this is the official logo of the newly re-branded Washington Commanders, a team that plays in the National Football League and was formerly known as the Redskins and the unimaginative “Football Team”. The franchise played in Boston in the early NFL years, then moved to Washington in 1937, winning the league championship that year. They also were champs in 1942 and have won 3 Super Bowls in 5 appearances in the title game. There are 32 former Washington players, coaches and management people in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 20 of which had most of their accomplishments playing in the nation’s capital.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

05 May

From CheckOutMyCards.com, a 1988 Topps football card of a dependable running back who logged 8 seasons in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills, Robb Riddick. He was a backup for most of his career, but his tremendous leaping ability made him a short yardage and goal line weapon for the Bills. He scored 12 touchdowns in that role in 1988, 9 of which were 1 yard jaunts. Riddick’s brother Louis also played in the NFL, has held management positions in the league and worked as an analyst on Monday Night Football.

 

NFL – Bills’ 2022 Mock Draft Predictions

22 Apr

The Buffalo Bills are in the midst of a Super Bowl window that they have yet to achieve, and in this year’s college draft they hope to add some pieces that will help them get there. With no trading of picks allowed, here are the predicted 7 round Buffalo selections by each of our pro football analysts – Connor Pohlman of Sunrise Sports Report, Josh Pohlman, Scott Prelewicz and Ray Prelewicz:

 

Round 1, Pick #25

Connor Pohlman – Kaiir Elam (CB, Florida) – nagging injuries kept his production down in 2021, but he’s an aggressive, physical boundary corner who could comfortably step into a starting role with the Bills. He does have some issues with aggressive penalties.

 

Josh Pohlman – Jameson Williams (WR, Alabama) – another prospect whose draft status is hurt by injury. If he falls to the Bills this late in the round, they could perhaps be getting the best wideout in the draft. Coming off a torn ACL, the Bills would have to be patient with him, but the reward would be another big time weapon for Josh Allen.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Garrett Wilson (WR, Ohio State) – his status is similar to Williams’, without the injury concerns.  Brandon Beane would make this pick in a heartbeat if the Buckeye star falls to 25. He is not a speedster, but is a precise route runner with great after-the-catch ability.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Trent McDuffie (CB, Washington) – although slightly undersized, he is an aggressive tackler, is rarely out of position and drives on the ball well when targeted, all traits the Bills covet. An immediate starter opposite Tre White at Levi Wallace’s old spot.

 

Round 2, Pick #57

Connor Pohlman – Troy Andersen (LB, Montana State) – he’s a raw prospect from a small school, which makes him a risky pick, but an intriguing one. He played quarterback, running back and linebacker for the Bobcats, and excelled when he found a home as a LB. He’s very versatile, which the Bills love, can cover well, is a willing tackler and has tremendous sideline-to-sideline range.

 

Josh Pohlman – Kenneth Walker III (RB, Michigan State) – a dynamic back who excels running inside between the tackles, a trait the current Bills’ backs don’t possess. He is also explosive and could easily become RB1 in Buffalo’s attack if he can help in the passing game as a receiver, something he didn’t do much of at Michigan State.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Derion Kendrick (CB, Georgia) – he has the profile the Bills like – a willing tackler, athletic, fluid in his movements and has good ball skills. His technique can be raw and he can be undisciplined at times, but that can be coached up and he would be a good addition in an area of need.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Troy Andersen (LB, Montana State) – see above.

 

Round 3, Pick #89

Connor Pohlman – James Cook (RB, Georgia) – he’s a smooth runner with low mileage since the Bulldogs used him primarily on third downs, and being the younger brother of the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook, he won’t be intimidated by the transition to the pro game.

 

Josh Pohlman – Tariq Woolen (CB, UTSA) – he is a converted wide receiver who lacks major experience as a CB, but he’s a tall, physical specimen who should be able to handle the bigger wideouts in the NFL once he learns the way the position is played in the pros. He was a standout basketball player and ran track in high school so he’s definitely a great athlete.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Ed Ingram (IOL, LSU) – although the LSU program has diminished in stature lately, he has been a steady starter on the Tigers’ O-line for a good part of 5 years, so he brings a wealth of experience to the position heading into the NFL. He’s fundamentally sound with good mechanics, and has the pedigree to blossom into a solid pro.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Zyon McCollum (CB, Sam Houston State) – a tall (6’2) prospect from a small school, he checks all the boxes – quick, athletic, intelligent, a willing tackler and his best trait of all, his ball skills. He has a definite knack for finding the ball and is the definition of “ball hawk”.

 

Round 4, Pick #130

Connor Pohlman – Cam Jurgens (IOL, Nebraska) – he is slightly undersized and probably strictly a candidate to play center, but the Bills have a need there for a backup with the departure of Jon Feliciano. He would be an ideal depth pick here, with an eye on having him be the eventual replacement for Mitch Morse.

 

Josh Pohlman – Nick Cross (S, Maryland) – the Bills have a couple of young safeties on their roster that they’re high on, but both starters at the position are in their 30s and Cross is an intelligent back liner who has explosive speed and makes plays on the ball.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Hassan Haskins (RB, Michigan) – at 6’1 and 220 lbs. he is the tough yardage back the Buffalo offense lacks at the moment. He enjoys the physical side of the game and has a reputation as a “finisher”, a back who keeps his legs churning and fights for every yard.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Chad Mays (IOL, Tennessee) – a 5-star recruit coming out of high school, his draft stock has dropped but he still has the potential to develop into a depth piece and has the one trait the Bills look for, versatility. He played 4 of the 5 positions on the line, including center, where the Bills have a need for a backup.

 

Round 5, Pick #168

Connor Pohlman – Danny Gray (WR, SMU) – he is a developmental player with speed and ball skills, much like Marquez Stevenson was for the Bills last year. He definitely has the pedigree to make an impact in the pros, and also had some kick return reps in college.

 

Josh Pohlman – Chasen Hines (IOL, LSU) – big, agile blocker with good hands. He plays to the whistle and is a good run blocker. This draft is stocked with good mid-round interior offensive linemen, and Hines is one of those.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Joshua Williams (CB, Fayetteville State) – another small school prospect, he was a wide receiver in high school, and considered joining the Army before he was switched to CB and started to thrive. He’s tall (6’2), raw and rangy but certainly has the chops to make it in the pros with the right coaching.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Hassan Haskins (RB, Michigan) – see above.

 

Round 6A, Pick #185

Connor Pohlman – Matt Araiza (P, San Diego State) – there will be plenty of love for the “Punt God” in this draft, and Buffalo was surely disappointed with Matt Haack’s game last season. His ability to both punt and place-kick makes him an excellent value, and some pundits think he won’t last until the late rounds, but if he does the Bills would be wise to grab him.

 

Josh Pohlman – Cam Taylor-Britt (CB, Nebraska) – one of the Bills’ biggest needs is at corner, so it makes sense that they will look in the early rounds and scour the late rounds for them. Taylor-Britt has long arms and good recovery speed that help him in coverage, and is a missile as a tackler in the run game. In a deep CB draft, he would be outstanding value at this pick.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Slade Bolden (WR, Alabama) – this guy is lost in the talent pool at Alabama, but is an excellent route runner with good hands who can also get open deep. He could be a depth piece with an eye on eventually taking over the Cole Beasley role in the Buffalo offense.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Cole Turner (TE, Nevada) – in a weak draft class for tight ends, he was one of the most productive. Turner  is a 6’6 red zone target who is raw and will need time to develop, but is worth a look in the late rounds. He might be an upgrade over Tommy Sweeney and that’s the roster spot he would be competing for.

 

Round 6B, Pick #203

Connor Pohlman – Kalon Barnes (CB, Baylor) – he might be the fastest player in this draft, and speed is a high priority for the Bills in their search for CB help as they look for answers in covering the many outstanding AFC receivers. He’s a good coverage man and the tape shows his speed helps him cover up some of the mistakes he makes. Again, a developmental player but well worth the late round draft pick.

 

Josh Pohlman – Matt Araiza (P, San Diego State) – see above.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Nick Zakelj (T, Fordham) – Brandon Beane likes to take risks on small school players in the late rounds, and Zakelj is one of those. He has 4 years of experience at the school where Vince Lombardi played, so the only thing he has to show is that he can play at the highest level. He is plenty strong enough but needs to work on maintaining leverage.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Jake Camarda (P, Georgia) – if the “Punt God” does get snatched up earlier than expected, he is a good consolation prize. He has a strong leg and may be the most accurate punter in this class, consistently having his punts downed inside the 20 yard line.

 

Round 7, Pick #231

Connor Pohlman – Michael Clemons (Edge, Texas A&M) – an under-the-radar prospect in a deep edge rusher class, he was overshadowed even on his own team. He has great size and strength and was quietly productive in 2021. The Bills have spent a lot of high draft capital on edge rushers recently, so he would be a depth or practice squad piece at best, which is what is expected of players this late in the draft.

 

Josh Pohlman – Malcolm Rodriguez (LB, Oklahoma State) – good read and react player who is a willing tackler but sometimes goes for the big hit and doesn’t wrap up the runner. He is a high effort player who is decent in pass coverage also.

 

Scott Prelewicz – James Skalski (LB, Clemson) – as a six year college player at Clemson, he is one of the oldest prospects in the draft, which will hurt his status. However, it also means he is experienced. He is agile and has good football instincts. At 5’11 he’ll have to overcome his lack of height, but he has the mental make-up to stick on a pro roster.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Jereth Sterns (WR, Western Kentucky) – a short receiver who lacks high end speed, his strengths are being a good route runner who tracks the ball well. He is a willing downfield blocker, which should endear him to the Bills.

 

 
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