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30 in 30

Buffalo Sabres fantasy outlook

First power-play unit has high ceiling; Robin Lehner could be draft bargain

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / NHL.com Fantasy Insider

As part of NHL.com's 30 in 30 series, our fantasy hockey staff is breaking down each team's fantasy landscape. From most valuable assets to underrated options, impact prospects and more, this guide should help fantasy owners prioritize players for drafts.

Starting at the top: Jack Eichel, C; Ryan O'Reilly, C/LW/RW

Eichel and O'Reilly each is in the top 50 overall conversation, ranked 45th and 55th, respectively, in NHL.com's top 200. Eichel was second in goals (24), second in points (56), third in power-play points (21) and first in shots on goal (238) among rookies, and tri-eligible O'Reilly led the Sabres with 60 points despite missing 11 games because of injury. Either Eichel or O'Reilly will be fortunate enough to center offseason acquisition Kyle Okposo, who signed a seven-year contract with the Sabres on July 1, but all three should be together on Buffalo's first power-play unit. Each is a threat for 60 or more points this season, and Eichel could reach 70 with more consistency.

Sabres 30 in 30: Season outlook | Top prospects | Burning questions, reasons for optimism | Fantasy: Top 200

Video: NSH@BUF: Eichel slams one-timer on feed from O'Reilly

Undervalued: Rasmus Ristolainen, D

The Sabres were one of nine teams in 2015-16 with three players (Eichel, O'Reilly, Ristolainen) who had 20 or more PPP, and they have added a fourth (Okposo) who reached that mark last season (23 with the New York Islanders). Ristolainen, a restricted free agent, scored 41 points (21 on power play) and had 202 SOG and should anchor the first power-play unit again with the aforementioned forwards. Ristolainen, 92nd in NHL.com's rankings, could be drafted on average outside the top 100 in many leagues, but the 21-year-old could be poised for a leap into the realm of 50-60 points with a better rating (minus-21 last season) if his even-strength play improves with more talent around him.

Overvalued: Evander Kane, LW

Kane covers points, penalty minutes and SOG like few players in the NHL and is capable of being the Sabres' top-line left wing, but his health, category weaknesses and off-ice issues bring too many concerns to have him among the top 100 players as in years past. The 25-year-old, limited to 65 games last season because of injuries and a discipline issue, had only six PPP and has never had double digits in that category in a single season. He also had a minus-14 rating, the worst of his NHL career, and has not played more than 65 games since 2011-12.

Video: BUF@DET: Reinhart's one-timer trims deficit to one

Sleeper: Sam Reinhart, C

The 20-year-old scored 42 points (23 goals, 19 assists) last season and played on Eichel's line in O'Reilly's absence; they became the fourth set of rookie teammates to each score 20 goals since 2007-08 (Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators, in 2014-15; Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning, in 2013-14; Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks, in 2007-08). For Reinhart to have a full-fledged breakout season, he needs to lock down a top-six, first power-play role and reap the benefits of playing with the Sabres' top forwards. His best stretch came from Feb. 4-March 28, when he had 20 points and 57 SOG in 25 games, but a chunk of those games came with O'Reilly out of the mix. Reinhart is worth taking as early as the 12th or 13th round of a 12-team, standard-category draft and should be valued among the top 100 keeper assets in the game.

Bounce-back: Tyler Ennis, C/LW/RW

Ennis missed nearly three-quarters of last season (11 points in 23 games) because of various injuries but has had a full offseason to recover from a concussion. He had back-to-back 20-goal, 20-assist seasons for offensively challenged Sabres teams in 2013-14 and 2014-15, and could fill a top-six left wing slot alongside Eichel or O'Reilly if healthy. He also is a candidate to compete with Reinhart, Kane and Matt Moulson for the fifth spot on Buffalo's first power-play unit, considering he had improving PPP totals in three straight seasons before last season (14 in 2012-13; 16 in 2013-14; 17 in 2014-15). Like O'Reilly, Ennis was eligible for all three forward positions in Yahoo last season. Don't be surprised if he tops 50 points for the first time of his NHL career.

Video: BUF@PHI: Ennis tallies on backhand shot while falling

Impact prospect: Alexander Nylander, LW

The Sabres don't have a clear-cut prospect waiting in the wings for a fantasy-relevant role this season. Nylander, the eighth pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, has long-term potential but could spend this season with Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League. If the Sabres are not able to sign 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey by Aug. 15, he will become an unrestricted free agent. That potential development, together with Kane's recent arrest and Ennis' health concerns, could force the Sabres to expedite the OHL Rookie of the Year's development in Year One. Obviously, if the Sabres sign Vesey, whose rights they acquired in a trade with the Nashville Predators, he instantly would become their prospect worth watching for fantasy purposes.

Goalie outlook

With all the goalie movement around the League this offseason, the Sabres have decided to stick with Robin Lehner as their No. 1 option. Thus, he's a huge draft bargain if available in later rounds and worth drafting as the third goalie on a fantasy roster in the hope his sleeper potential materializes. Lehner, 25, was injured in the season opener and did not return until Jan. 15, but the Sabres' offensive upgrades bode well for his goal support, which was lacking last season. He won five of 21 games in his first season with Buffalo but had a .924 save percentage and one shutout. Lehner easily should set a new NHL career high in games played (previous: 36 in 2013-14 with Ottawa) and could end up being one of the steals at the position if he remains healthy and the Sabres make the jump into contention. Buffalo's reinforcements for Lehner are slim after losing goalie Chad Johnson, who signed as a free agent with the Calgary Flames. Anders Nilsson and Linus Ullmark will compete for the backup job.

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