The Buffalo Sabres made a trade Friday that could have a positive fantasy impact on their entire lineup.
The Sabres acquired right wing Jason Pominville and stay-at-home defenseman Marco Scandella from the Wild for forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. The Wild and Sabres also traded 2018 NHL Draft picks. Pominville played his first nine NHL seasons with Buffalo before being traded to Minnesota on April 3, 2013.
Pominville, 34, has two years remaining on his contract with an average annual value of $5.6 million, according to CapFriendly.com. Such a high NHL salary-cap charge for a player past his prime was a big reason Minnesota traded him back to Buffalo. But the trade could have a threefold impact on the Sabres: it adds 5-on-5 forward depth, improves a weak defense and gives goaltender Robin Lehner some much-needed support.
Pominville, a right wing, scored 47 points (13 goals, 34 assists) in 78 games this season, with 40 of the points coming at even strength. That's the same even-strength point total as forwards Phil Kessel (Pittsburgh Penguins), Mitchell Marner (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Sean Monahan (Calgary Flames); each is a top-50 fantasy asset, according to NHL.com.
Video: OTT@MIN: Pominville tallies in 900th NHL game
Pominville's production this season was impressive considering he played mostly on the Wild's third line, saw little power-play time per game (1:07; seven power-play points) and shot a very low percentage (7.4 on 176 shots on goal). He ranked 218th in Yahoo based on standard-category production this season. He could prove to have equal or greater value as a deep sleeper late in 12- or 14-team drafts or off the waiver wire.
Although the Sabres got big boosts this season from center Jack Eichel's elite production upon his return from an early-season ankle injury and Evander Kane's bounce-back season, they still were tied for 24th with the Los Angeles Kings in goals per game (2.43).
Pominville will be third on the Sabres' right wing depth chart behind Kyle Okposo and Sam Reinhart, but new coach Phil Housley has room for some flexibility in his top six if he wants to include Pominville. Ryan O'Reilly can play center or left wing, and Reinhart can play center or right wing, meaning potential lines of O'Reilly-Eichel-Okposo and Kane-Reinhart-Pominville are not far-fetched. There's even an outside chance Pominville could play on the top line with Eichel.
Okposo missed the final six games of the season with an undisclosed illness but is expected to be ready for training camp.
If Housley opts to spread out Buffalo's top forwards, Kane and Pominville could play on the opposite wing of each other on Buffalo's third line. Either route could yield enough offense to make the Sabres much more competitive in the Atlantic Division.
Video: MIN@TBL: Scandella taps home loose puck in front
As for Buffalo's defense, the addition of Scandella is a huge upgrade for its top four. The left-shot defenseman could potentially be paired with Rasmus Ristolainen, a right-handed shooter, and help improve the 22-year-old's defensive play. Offense has been the strong point for Ristolainen, who is tied for fifth with Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Arizona Coyotes) among defensemen in PPP (46) over the past two seasons and helped the Sabres lead the NHL in power-play efficiency (24.5 percent), though they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Sabres acquired defenseman Nathan Beaulieu from the Montreal Canadiens on June 17, and their prized Russian defenseman prospect Victor Antipin agreed to a one-year, entry-level contract May 25. Antipin, 24, joins the Sabres after playing for Magnitogorsk Metallurg in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Lehner, 25, has a .921 save percentage through 80 games over two seasons with the Sabres despite them having the second-fewest points in the Eastern Conference (159) behind the New Jersey Devils (154) in that span. Lehner finished respectably at 172nd in Yahoo despite Buffalo allowing the most shots per game (34.3) in the NHL this season. He has 28 wins over the past two seasons.
That said, this trade certainly strengthens Lehner's fantasy sleeper candidacy if the Sabres get more defensive help from Scandella and offensive support from Pominville. If the Sabres were to take a big step forward and compete for a postseason spot, Lehner would have a heavy enough start volume to feasibly finish with 30 wins and among the top 15 at his position.