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Team Reset

Sabres re-energize fan base with No. 1 pick Dahlin

Rookie defenseman, additions of Hutton, Sheary could spur return to playoffs

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, NHL.com is taking a look at where each team stands. Today, the Buffalo Sabres:

Rasmus Dahlin has inspired optimism in Buffalo.

The defenseman, selected by the Buffalo Sabres with the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, has sparked the entire organization.

 

[RELATED: Complete Team Reset coverage]

 

"There's a reason he's a first pick overall," said Chris Taylor, who coaches Rochester of the American Hockey League and ran Sabres development camp. "It's exciting for Buffalo. This time of year, I've never really seen this many people show up for a development camp. I'd look around when a shot went off the bar and in, people were clapping so I knew who shot the puck. It's fun. I think he's more excited than we are.

"His composure, his willingness, his love of the game, just everything on the ice. He's a special person."

There's more than just Dahlin for Sabres fans to be excited about. The organization feels it upgraded in net with the signing of Carter Hutton and added forward depth with trades for Conor Sheary, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson.

Video: Discussing the Sabres' offseason, adding Dahlin

After Buffalo missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a seventh straight season, things appear to be progressing in the right direction.

Here is what the Sabres look like today:

 

Key arrivals

Rasmus Dahlin, D: The Sabres believe Dahlin is a generational-type player who could step into a top-four role as an 18-year-old. Dahlin's vision and puck skills also should invigorate a power play that was 20th in the NHL last season (19.1 percent). … Conor Sheary, F: Acquired in a trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 27, the 26-year-old had 30 points (18 goals, 12 assists) in 79 games last season and was part of the Penguins' Stanley Cup championship teams in 2016 and 2017. … Carter Hutton, G: The 32-year-old signed a three-year contract worth $8.25 million July 1 as an unrestricted free agent. Among goalies to play at least 30 games last season, he led the NHL with a 2.09 goals-against average and .931 save percentage for the St. Louis Blues. … Patrik Berglund, F: Acquired in a trade from the Blues along with Sobotka and Thompson on July 1, the 30-year-old missed the first eight weeks of last season with a shoulder injury but scored 17 goals in 57 games. … Vladimir Sobotka, F: The 31-year-old scored an NHL career-high 11 goals in 81 games last season. … Tage Thompson, F: The 20-year-old was selected by St. Louis with the No. 26 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft. He had nine points (three goals, six assists) in 41 games as a rookie last season and could be ready for full-time NHL duty in 2018-19.

Video: The guys chat about the #1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin

 

Key departures

Ryan O'Reilly, F: The 27-year-old was traded to the Blues for Berglund, Sobotka, Thompson, a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. … Robin Lehner, G: After three seasons in Buffalo, he signed a one-year contract with the New York Islanders on July 3 as a UFA. … Chad Johnson, G: The 32-year-old signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract with the Blues on July 1. … Josh Gorges, D: The 33-year-old is a UFA after playing the past four seasons with the Sabres. … Benoit Pouliot, F: The 31-year-old is a UFA. He scored 13 goals in 74 games last season.

 

On the cusp

Casey Mittelstadt, F: The No. 8 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, Mittelstadt, 19, made his NHL debut last season and had five points (one goal, four assists) in six games. He's expected to have a major presence as a top-six forward this season. … Brendan Guhle, D: He likely is ready for full-time NHL duty after playing 62 games with Rochester in the American Hockey League the past three seasons. Guhle, who turns 21 on July 29, had five assists in 18 games with the Sabres last season. … Victor Olofsson, F: Selected by Buffalo in the seventh round (No. 181) in the 2014 NHL Draft, he led the Swedish Hockey League with 27 goals last season. Olofsson, who turns 23 on July 18, could start the season in the AHL but will be given a chance to make an impact with the Sabres this season.

Video: BUF@TBL: Mittelstadt nets PPG for first career tally

 

What they still need

The Sabres allowed 32.7 shots per game last season, 10th most in the NHL, but they allowed 280 goals, third most in the League, and their .916 save percentage at 5-on-5 was the fourth worst in the NHL. They'll need better goaltending to contend for the playoffs. The addition of Hutton should help; his .936 even-strength save percentage was third in the NHL among goalies to play at least 30 games, behind the Nashville Predators' Pekka Rinne (.939) and the Arizona Coyotes' Antti Raanta (.937).

 

Fantasy focus 

Dahlin is likely to average around 20 minutes per game and see significant power-play usage, possibly even on the first unit with top 15 fantasy center Jack Eichel. If the Sabres avoid significant injuries, return to their dominant power-play form from two seasons ago (led NHL at 24.5 percent) and see improved play from defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen as a result of Dahlin, the rookie could score 40-45 points and finish among the top 15 fantasy defensemen. A comparable No. 1 pick who thrived as an 18-year-old defenseman is Aaron Ekblad, who covered all six standard fantasy categories for the Florida Panthers in 2014-15, despite them missing the playoffs. There's plenty of risk in drafting Dahlin among the top 75 (especially in plus/minus), but he has enormous potential stacked with Eichel (third round in mock draft) if the Sabres become the most improved team in the NHL. -- Pete Jensen

Video: DET@BUF: Eichel leads the rush, buries early shot

 

Projected lineup

Conor Sheary -- Jack Eichel -- Sam Reinhart

Evan Rodrigues -- Casey Mittelstadt -- Kyle Okposo

Vladimir Sobotka -- Patrik Berglund -- Jason Pominville

Zemgus Girgensons -- Johan Larsson -- Scott Wilson

Rasmus Dahlin -- Rasmus Ristolainen

Marco Scandella -- Zach Bogosian

Brendan Guhle -- Jake McCabe

Carter Hutton

Linus Ullmark

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