The Sabres will look very different up front this season. Their two most identifiable and effective players -- Chris Drury and Daniel Briere – have moved on through free agency, leaving a huge hole up the middle.
But don’t feel too bad for coach Lindy Ruff. He still has a vast array of offensive weapons at his disposal.
A potential first line of Thomas Vanek -- signed long-term this summer -- Derek Roy and Jason Pominville is nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, that trio combined for 215 points last season.
It also leaves an explosive second line that could feature Jochen Hecht, Tim Connolly and Maxim Afinogenov. Hecht and Afinogenov put up a combined 117 points last season. Connolly only played in two games because of injury, but is a proven point producer.
That still leaves talented young players like Ales Kotalik (38 points in 66 games), Paul Gaustad (22 points in 54 games), Drew Stafford (27 points in 41 games) and Daniel Paille to find effective spots in the lineup.
Despite its offensive ability, Buffalo was a pretty pedestrian team on the power play, converting just 17.4 percent of its opportunities to rank No. 17 in the League. Yes, the loss of 57 points from that power play, in the form of the absence of Drury and Briere, will hurt. But the Sabres have enough talent left to stay among the top half of the League.
Vanek had 15 power-play goals last season and Afinogenov and Pominville proved to be quality set-up men. The speedy Derek Roy, earning more ice time this season, will also be dangerous in man-advantage situations.
Buffalo also was middle of the pack on the penalty kill, ranking No. 20 with an 81.4 percent success rate. Of the departed players, Drury was the only one to see significant time on the kill. So, players like Hecht, Roy and Pominville will continue to carry the load in shorthanded situations.
Up and Coming
Clarke MacArthur -- A prototypical Buffalo forward, MacArthur is a speedy, shifty forward with excellent on-ice vision and above-average finishing skills. In 19 games with Buffalo last season, he had three goals and fours assists.
Marek Zagrapan -- Another speedy center, Zagrapan dominated the QMJHL, scoring 67 goals and 169 points in two years with Chicoutimi. In 71 games with Rochester, the 20-year-old Slovak had 17 goals and 21 assists in 71 games as a first-year pro.
Nathan Gerbe -- A lack of size is about the only knock against Gerbe. Last season at Boston College, the 5-foot-5 Gerbe scored 25 goals and 47 points in 41 games, showing he has the offensive skills to keep up these fast-skating, hard-shooting Sabres. Gerbe, 20, will turn pro this season.
Mark Mancari -- The 22-year-old Mancari saw three games of action with Buffalo last season, further suggesting that he is on the cusp of gaining a full-time spot with the parent club. In two AHL seasons, Mancari has managed 41 goals 58 assists in 135 contests.
Drew Stafford – Buffalo’s first-round pick in 2004, Stafford had a first pro season for the ages. Summoned to the parent club faster than expected because of injuries, Stafford responded with 13 goals and 27 points in 41 games. That production complemented his numbers in Rochester, where he potted 44 points in 34 games. Now, the trick will be for the 21-year-old power forward to carry over that success into a new season, especially now that Stafford will assume a more prominent role thanks to all the big-ticket departures from the Sabres lineup.