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Bylsma excited but measured about new-look Sabres

by Dan Rosen

As much as Buffalo Sabres coach Dan Bylsma wants to keep a calm approach and his comments measured in the media, he can't help but use words like dramatic and big-time to describe what his boss was able to do for him and his new team on June 26.

"To have the ability to draft a player in Jack Eichel, that's a big day for your organization, that alone," Bylsma said during a phone interview. "To get a top-flight player in Ryan O'Reilly to your team, that's a big day. To get a young goaltender [Robin Lehner] and add him to your team, that's a significant day for the Buffalo Sabres. It all came on draft day. It's a dramatic day."

Drama wasn't what Tim Murray, the Sabres straight-talking general manager, was going for; it was a byproduct of what he did.


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Jack Eichel, the second pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, was the center of attention on the first day of Buffalo Sabres development camp. READ MORE ›

He had assets, including high draft picks, young players and prospects, and he used them to speed up the Sabres rebuild, giving Bylsma a team that this season better be able to play meaningful hockey in March and maybe even April too.

On the same day Murray selected Eichel with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, he also acquired Lehner, O'Reilly and forwards Jamie McGinn and David Legwand through trades. He traded picks No. 21 and 31, defenseman Nikita Zadorov and forwards Mikhail Grigorenko and JT Compher.

"When you say Eichel and O'Reilly and Lehner and McGinn and Legwand, and then you mix in Evander Kane, who hasn't played for the Sabres yet so he'll be new to the team, you're talking about very, very significant additions to your team," Bylsma said. "It's big-time."

All of a sudden the Sabres roster looks good enough to compete, so much so that it's not outlandish to think Buffalo can win in the neighborhood of 35-40 games this season after winning only 23 last season.

The top three centers should be O'Reilly, Eichel and Sam Reinhart (No. 2 pick in 2014), provided O'Reilly plays in the middle and not on the wing.

Kane, Tyler Ennis, Matt Moulson, Zemgus Girgensons, Marcus Foligno and Brian Gionta should round out the top nine.

Gionta is 36 and Moulson is 31; the seven other players that could be in Buffalo's group of top-nine forwards are 25 or younger. Eichel and Reinhart are teenagers.

McGinn, who could be on the fourth line, had 38 points with the Colorado Avalanche two seasons ago.

The defense still could use some help, but Josh Gorges, Zach Bogosian and Rasmus Ristolainen is a good start for a team that is still technically rebuilding.

Murray is confident Lehner is ready to be a full-time No. 1 goalie. He has a lot to prove, but he's 23 years old and this is his first chance to be the unquestioned No. 1.

"You have to draft well in order to make good trades," Murray said. "And if you can get guys that are 22, 23 or 24, they speed up the process if they're the right guys."

But let's rewind back to Bylsma's measured comments and calm demeanor, because that's what he and Murray are trying to do. For all the additions, the expectations within the front office and coaching staff have not changed.

"My cliché is we're trying to improve a little bit every day," Murray said. "We believe we've improved. But we know it's a new coaching staff, there's a lot of new players, there's going to be a lot of meshing and jelling that has to go on here."

Talk of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs is not on Bylsma's or Murray's radar, at least not yet. The minimum number of wins it took to make the playoffs last season was 43.

"We have to develop into a good team," Bylsma said. "We have to develop the pieces now that are a little more evident and in place to become a good team. It's not there yet.

"Jack Eichel is the perfect example. He's an excellent player. The anticipation is that he's an extremely good player in the National Hockey League, but he's not there yet. He's got to develop his game and he has to develop as a player. He's got work to do to become a good NHL player.

"It's exciting to add Ryan O'Reilly, and it's exciting to look at our lineup with the possibilities of having a top line winger in Kane, but we're not there yet. We're developing. But I do think after the draft weekend, I think people are saying the Buffalo Sabres just got a whole lot better."


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