When the Buffalo Sabres concluded their season in April, it was evident that changes needed to be made, especially on the blue line. On July 1st, Tim Murray made some moves that will really benefit the young Sabres. After acquiring Josh Gorges, the Sabres, hours later, inked Andrej Meszaros to a 1 year deal. Mid-way through the summer, the Sabres made another move and added former Avalanche defenseman Andre Benoit to a one year deal.
We are just weeks away from the regular season, so here are my projections for the Sabres opening night blue line.
Tyler Myers Josh Gorges
Andrej Meszaros Rasmus Ristolainen
Andre Benoit Mike Weber
On the bubble: Jake McCabe, Chad Ruhwedel, Nikita Zadorov
The Sabres first pairing is almost a given, as Tyler Myers will be matched with veteran and leader Josh Gorges. Gorges excels in his own end, and will really teach Myers how to play better defensively. Myers will also have the freedom to rush the puck a lot more, since Gorges will always be there to hold down the back end.
The second pairing is by far the most intriguing. Rasmus Ristolainen is finally ready to make the full time jump to the NHL, and will be paired with a proven veteran in Andrej Meszaros. If Meszaros can stay healthy, he can be a top pairing defenseman who can put up points, and also eat up a lot of minutes. Ristolainen has a physical aspect to his game, and the pairing should complement each other quite well. Both Ristolainen and Meszaros could have breakout seasons, if they can stay healthy.
The final pairing consists of cagey veterans Andre Benoit and Mike Weber. Benoit is coming off an impressive year with the Avalanche, as he recorded 28 points in 79 games. After signing a 1 year contract, Benoit will look to prove that he can produce and play consistent full time at the NHL level. Weber will look to rebound from a disappointing 2013-14 season, where he was a career worst -29. Benoit and Weber will be interesting to watch throughout the season. If both players can play up to their potential, the Sabres will have a nice third pair of defenseman.
There are a few defensemen who are on the bubble to crack the roster. Jake McCabe, Chad Ruhwedel and Nikita Zadorov are an injury away from being called up to the NHL. Ruhwedel will most likely be the first man called up, as he has had the most experience in the NHL. McCabe will play his first season in the AHL, and with a strong start, could be a candidate for a mid-season call up. Zadorov will most likely play another year with the London Knights in the OHL. This will allow him to continue to develop both sides of his game, and continue to gain confidence and experience playing in North America.
With the multiple additions the Sabres have made on the blue line this offseason, it is safe to say that they will have a much stronger defensive core than they did a year ago. A very encouraging aspect of the Sabres blue line is the amount of young talent they have. It is scary to think how good this defensive group will look in the coming years. However, for now, they will have a solid mix of veterans who possess leadership qualities, and some younger players, looking to make a name for themselves.