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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Sabres' encouraging start, Penguins' challenge without Malkin

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Oct. 9 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which runs every Wednesday. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

Is this strong start that the Buffalo Sabres are having a sign of many good things to come? So far, a lot of energy across the board and showing a lot of promise, but will it be enough to keep this up throughout the season? -- @SPGavin0409

I'm reserving judgment on the Sabres. They burned me last season when I said during their 10-game winning streak from Nov. 8-27 that they should be a Stanley Cup Playoff team; they missed the playoffs by 22 points and won 33 of 82 games. But I wholeheartedly agree on the energy we've seen from the Sabres. Martin Biron talked about that on the latest episode of our new podcast, NHL @TheRink. You can subscribe and listen for free wherever you get your podcasts or by clicking this link.

Biron, the former NHL goalie turned Sabres studio analyst on MSG-Buffalo, mentioned how the Sabres are playing fast and loose. He meant loose in a good way. They're not disjointed and playing individual hockey. They're playing together and they seem to be playing on instincts confidently. I think a lot of that is a result of Ralph Krueger's coaching style. He encourages his team to play instinctual hockey, to believe, be confident and let it show on the ice. That's a lot of what I've seen from the Sabres in their first three games. And I say that even though they were outshot 44-18 in a 4-3 overtime loss at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday. The Sabres would have lost that game 7-0 last season. That they got one point out of it is telling. Sometimes you need your goalie to steal you a point, and that's exactly what Linus Ullmark (40 saves) did in Columbus. That's OK if it doesn't happen often. I'm still very much in wait-and-see mode on Buffalo, but if you're a Sabres fan, you have to be encouraged.

 

After his hot start, do you see Anthony Mantha as a 35-plus goal scorer? -- @Jamied9HC

I didn't need to see Mantha's hot start to know the Detroit Red Wings forward could be a 35-plus goal scorer. He scored 25 goals in 67 games last season. Extrapolate that over an 82-game season, and Mantha would have scored 30-31 goals. Now factor in the expected growth potential as a 25-year-old who is fully adjusted to the NHL, fully aware of what works for him, and I think it's fair to expect a bump in production provided he stays healthy. Mantha is 6-foot-5, 234 pounds and has a lot of skill. He's a version of the new power forward in the NHL. He doesn't care if you play physical against him, he may prefer it. He can play physical against you and use his skill to beat you in a myriad of ways. Mantha can become a restricted free agent after this season. The Red Wings better lock him up long term. His best is yet to come.

Video: DAL@DET: Mantha records first career four-goal game

 

Do you think it's going to hurt Kaapo Kakko's development on the New York Rangers' second line with Ryan Strome as his center, or should we expect to see him on the first line at some point? -- @AndrewLomanto

Hurt? No. Kakko is an 18-year-old developing player. Ice time in the NHL can't hurt him regardless of his linemates. The better question is, will it help Kakko's development that he's playing with Strome as his center? In fairness to Strome, that's debatable, but my reasoning has less to do with Strome's ability and more to do with the fact that he's a righty. Unless he's playing with Mika Zibanejad, I much prefer Kakko to have a left-handed center.  

Kakko is a lefty who plays right wing. If he's on the second line, the Rangers need to the puck to go through him, not Chris Kreider, who is on the left wing and is a dasher, a net-crasher. Kreider does his best work when he's not handling the puck often, but instead when it's quickly on and off his stick. Kakko is better when he has the puck on his stick, when he's holding it and looking to make plays that way. It would be easier to have a left-handed center to play the puck to Kakko because he could get it to the rookie quicker from his forehand, be it in a set position in the offensive zone or off the rush. Strome has to go to his backhand or turn his body completely to make a forehanded pass. If the Rangers plan to keep Kakko on the second line, I think they should use either Lias Andersson or Brett Howden as the center because both are lefties and they have the skill to get the puck to Kakko, move without it, get open or get to the net. 

I'm OK with Kakko playing with Zibanejad, a righty, if he were to get moved up to the top line. Zibanejad and left wing Artemi Panarin, also a righty, are greater threats with the puck on their sticks than Strome and Kreider. They wouldn't have to play the puck through Kakko. Zibanejad and Panarin would be drawing a lot of attention, leaving Kakko to the ability to freelance. More than anybody, Panarin would be the player on that line drawing the D to him, and he has the ability to find the seam and saucer passes through the middle to Kakko or Zibanejad. But that spot for now belongs to Pavel Buchnevich, and it's hard to argue for a change there yet. The Rangers' top line has 14 points (six goals, eight assists), including six on the power play.

 

Talk to me about the Vancouver Canucks' chances this season at a playoff spot. -- @scottgmcfarlane

I did not pick the Canucks to make the playoffs. My main concern, other than they've scored two goals in two games and are 0-2-0, is secondary scoring among the forwards. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat could combine for between 180-200 points, especially if Pettersson can get up to 70-plus, which is entirely reasonable. But will anyone else contribute? The Canucks have a lot of forwards who have similar attributes and similarly average expectations for production. I'm referring to J.T. Miller, Tanner Pearson, Brandon Sutter, Micheal Ferland, Tim Schaller, Jay Beagle, Josh Leivo and Adam Gaudette. That's a lot of straight line, north-south, meat-and-potatoes hockey. There's nothing wrong with having a lot of that, but even in the middle six of a lineup, you need to sprinkle in a little bit of skill, something to make the opponents think and worry. I don't know if the Canucks have enough of that, which is why I think they're still a step or two away. 

I do like that the Canucks could move Miller up to play with Pettersson and Boeser on the top line for their home opener against the Los Angeles Kings at Rogers Arena on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SNP). Miller is a strong wall player and puck-retriever, and that should help Pettersson and Boeser. But what is Miller's sustainability on the top line? He had some good moments with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but they never lasted. It could work in a short dosage, though, to get Boeser and Pettersson going. Neither has scored a goal yet. I worry that the scoring issues in the first two games will not go away.

Video: VAN@EDM: Markstrom pushes over to rob Chiasson

 

How tough will it be for the Pittsburgh Penguins to fight for the playoffs without Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad long term? -- @PuckBrasil1

They'll fight for it. That part won't be tough. But it could be difficult for them to keep pace in the Metropolitan Division without Malkin and Bjugstad. Losing them long term crushes Pittsburgh's center depth behind Sidney Crosby. Malkin is irreplaceable. I had him pegged for a monster season if he stayed healthy, in the range of 90-100 points. He was motivated. The Penguins will be an easier matchup for opponents without Malkin and Bjugstad. It's not so much that it's asking a lot of Jared McCann to move into the No. 2 center spot to play between Alex Galchenyuk and Brandon Tanev for now. Who knows, we could see Galchenyuk in the middle too. 

But it's more likely that Teddy Blueger must move into the No. 3 spot, and it could be a revolving door at No. 4. It's asking players to play above their spots on the depth chart and asking Crosby to take all the tough matchups, all the important face-offs. He can handle it, but there's no reason for an opposing coach to think twice about putting his best players up against Crosby's line without the fear of what Malkin will do to you in a more favorable matchup. And I say all this before I mention that the Metropolitan Division is strong top to bottom. There are no weak teams. It was already going to be a grind for the Penguins. Now it's going to be a slog.

 

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Listen: New episode of NHL @ The Rink

 

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