Making the case: Who makes the Sabres opening roster?

Can young guns like Tage Thompson and Alex Nylander land a top-nine role to open the 2018-19 season?

Derek Kramer
September 25, 2018 - 5:58 pm

Photo: Buffalo Sabres - Bill Wippert

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The Buffalo Sabres wrap up their preseason this Friday night as the regular season is set to open on October 4 at home against the Boston Bruins.

The Sabres have already made a number of moves to send some players to the Rochester Americans and other minor league / junior teams, but some have been sticking with the team to get an extra look against NHL competition. There are plenty of jobs to be had for the youth of the franchise at forward, and the veteran presence on defense has created a logjam at the bottom of the roster.

Who has impressed enough to take a job from camp? Who was in the lineup last year that could get waived or sent down?

Here are five young players that have a case for taking a job from training camp:

 

1.) Tage Thompson - Forward

  • The case for Thompson to start in Buffalo: 

Have you seen this man play so far? He's huge. Granted, the second Toronto game on Saturday was not a good performance, but Thompson had played so well that the team wanted to give him a look with Jack Eichel. Expect Thompson to have a top-nine role, at minimum, to begin the season. Thompson is a point per-game through three preseason games with a goal and two assists. 

  • The case for Thompson to start in Rochester: 

The way Thompson has played, there's a good chance he will lock down in a job in Buffalo. Injury may be the only way he does not start with the big club. However, he is one player that if he is sent down, he does not require waivers to get to Rochester. Just an added perk in case he loses out on a spot in Buffalo.

 

2.) Alexander Nylander - Forward

  • The case for Nylander to start in Buffalo: 

Nylander has been playing with more intensity from the Prospects Challenge into the preseason as he tries to land a spot on the opening day roster for the first time in his young career. Nylander has always had the skill, but now he is combining it with an effort and a passion we haven't seen. Simply put, in three preseason games, he's earned a shot to start the year in Buffalo and may have a chance at a top-six role with the injury to Conor Sheary. 

  • The case for Nylander to start in Rochester: 

If Nylander is not going to have a spot in the top-nine, it would better suit him to be a top liner for the Amerks rather than a fourth liner for the Sabres. That's the only reason that can be seen where Nylander starts out in Rochester. He has plenty of competition from the likes of Thompson and C.J. Smith. The Sabres may only carry one extra forward, which makes cuts a bit tighter. 

 

3.) C.J. Smith - Forward

  • The case for Smith to start in Buffalo: 

Smith has been solid throughout training camp and the preseason with the versatility to play on the fourth line, which would help his case. Smith continues to show promise right from the day he signed with Buffalo as a college free agent. Smith is 24, so the time is now if he wants to be a solid NHLer. 

  • The case for Smith to start in Rochester: 

Phil Housley loves Zemgus Girgensons, who is one of those players on the bubble. Furthermore, the instant impression of Thompson and the elevated play of Nylander has clouded the chances for Smith to make the roster. If Smith is in Rochester, he'll play on the top line for the Americans. 

 

4.) Brendan Guhle - Defense

  • The case for Guhle to start in Buffalo: 

Guhle has NHL experience and looked very solid in his time with Casey Nelson last season. However, Guhle has not been that impressive heading into the season. If he can pick up his play this preseason, there is still a chance he can open the season in Buffalo. Perhaps the Sabres can see defense as a deep position now and deal a top-six defenseman to open a spot up. However... 

  • The case for Guhle to start in Rochester: 

That spot should go to Lawrence Pilut over Guhle at the moment. Guhle has been the opposite of Nylander in a sense that Nylander has dominated lesser competition and impressed in the preseason, whereas Guhle has underwhelmed. The 21-year-old looked pedestrian against prospects and not like a player who has played in parts of two NHL seasons. Guhle should start out in Rochester on the top pairing (likely with Pilut) and learn how to attack in more ways when he has the puck and wants to wheel. He can also use some more time to polish his play in the defensive end.

 

5.) Lawrence Pilut - Defense

  • The case for Pilut to start in Buffalo: 

Pilut didn't look amazing in the Prospects Challenge, but he has stepped up in a big way in the preseason. Pilut is aggressive in the offensive zone, along with steady play defensively to add to it. The 22-year-old came over from Sweden as the Swedish Hockey League's top defenseman for a shot to play in the NHL, and he looks like he deserves that shot.

  • The case for Pilut to start in Rochester: 

Despite his play this preseason, there are too many heads to count in the Sabres' defensive depth chart to get Pilut into a top-six role. Pilut will crack the NHL roster at some point, but the Sabres have gotten solid performances this preseason from Nathan Beaulieu, Casey Nelson and a healthy Zach Bogosian. When you add in Rasmus Ristolainen, Rasmus Dahlin, Jake McCabe and Marco Scandella, there is no room for Pilut (or Guhle) to make the roster on opening night.

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