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31 in 31

Three questions facing Buffalo Sabres

Krueger impact, ending playoff drought among areas of focus

by Heather Engel / Independent Correspondent is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three important questions facing the Buffalo Sabres.


[Sabres 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]


1. What type of impact will Ralph Krueger have?

Krueger, who replaced Phil Housley as coach May 15, has his players fired up long before the Sabres open the season Oct. 3.

Forward Jeff Skinner said he was excited by Krueger's enthusiasm in their conversations and that it "can be infectious and it can sort of spread from him on down."

Krueger also has the Sabres believing in his on-ice plans, which include being aggressive pressuring the puck and using their speed.

"Talking to Ralph, he's got some really good ideas on how to play, and it's a really young and exciting team," said new forward Marcus Johansson, who signed a two-year contract July 6.

Krueger was 19-22-7 with the Edmonton Oilers in 2012-13, his only NHL season; coached Switzerland to an upset of Canada at the 2006 Torino Olympics; and helped Team Europe reach the championship series in the World Cup of Hockey 2016, which it lost to Team Canada.

"Dealing with that pressure together with the players and finding ways to perform under that pressure," Krueger said, "I think that's what the National Hockey League season is all about."

Video: 31 in 31: Buffalo Sabres 2019-20 season preview


2. Is there enough offensive depth?

Adding Johansson and forward Jimmy Vesey, acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers on July 1, addressed the need for secondary scoring. Vesey scored 17 goals in each of the past two seasons. Johansson was limited to 58 and 29 games the past two seasons but scored at least 17 goals in each of the previous three. 

They should complement forwards Skinner (40 goals), Jack Eichel (28) and Sam Reinhart (22) who scored 90 of the 221 goals (41 percent) the Sabres scored last season.

Buffalo will look for more from forward Casey Mittelstadt in his second full NHL season -- he had 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) -- and veteran forwards Kyle Okposo and Conor Sheary, who each scored 14 goals last season.


3. Can the Sabres finally qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

The Sabres haven't reached the playoffs since 2011, which is the longest active drought in the NHL. They've added valuable playoff experience with Johansson and defenseman Colin Miller, acquired in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on June 28; each has played in the Stanley Cup Final during the past two seasons (Miller with Vegas in 2018, Johansson with the Boston Bruins last season). Including Sheary, the Sabres have players who have reached the past four Cup Finals (he did so with the champion Penguins in 2016 and 2017). 

How those experienced additions mesh with a maturing core under Krueger will be a key for Buffalo.

Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: Skinner

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