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Reinhart, Kane among X-factors for Sabres

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- The Buffalo Sabres' fortunes this season hinge upon getting a host of new players to work together and help them out of a hole that saw them finish last in the NHL each of the past two seasons.

Here are three X-factors that will impact whether the Sabres can climb out of the basement:

Their other No. 2 pick: Competition is going to be a big part of Sabres training camp at forward and on defense, but forward Sam Reinhart, who they selected in the first round (No. 2) at the 2014 NHL Draft, has gotten lost in the mix.

The additions of Jack Eichel, the No. 2 pick in 2015, and Ryan O'Reilly, who was acquired in a trade, have pushed Reinhart out of the spotlight at center. With Zemgus Girgensons returning from an ankle injury that ended his 2014-2015 season, the addition of veteran David Legwand, and the solid play of Johan Larsson last season, Reinhart is in for a big test in training camp.

"I'm a lot more confident with it this year than last, there's no question about that," Reinhart said during Sabres development camp in July. "If you watch any of those playoffs, there's no question that's where the game is nowadays. I've been working on [skating] all year, especially this summer."

With the number of players in camp who can play center, it is possible Reinhart could be moved to the wing if he makes the roster. Last season, Reinhart played right wing with Rochester in the final three games of the American Hockey League season.

If Reinhart, 19, doesn't make the Sabres out of training camp, he can be sent to Rochester this season rather than back to his junior team, Kootenay of the Western Hockey League. Reinhart performed well at development camp in July and during the Buffalo Sabres Prospect Challenge in September.

Eichel has gotten most of the headlines, but he and Reinhart have gotten the attention of veteran teammates.

"It's nice to see they have good attitudes. They're humble kids, but they're working hard," forward Tyler Ennis said. "It's nice to see they put in the effort in the summertime and they're really driven and want to make this team. It's going to be a fun camp and there's going to be a lot of competition."

Another new coach: For the fourth consecutive year, the Sabres will have a different coach leading them through training camp. Going from Lindy Ruff to Ron Rolston to Ted Nolan and now Dan Bylsma makes for plenty of changes, but Bylsma's brand of hockey brought a lot of success to the Pittsburgh Penguins over his five-and-a-half seasons, including the 2009 Stanley Cup.

It isn't all about strategy for Bylsma in Buffalo though. After two straight seasons of being the worst team in the NHL, there's some off-ice work he needs to do as well.

"I think from the short couple conversations I've had with him, the emphasis has more been on the mindset," defenseman Josh Gorges said. "What's the mentality of this team going to be? How do we go from what we were to where we need to be? That's first and foremost, and from my understanding when it comes to systems and game-planning, we're going to be a team that's going to skate, we're going to push the pace, we're going to try to make teams try to adapt to us. I don't think we're going to sit back to wait and see what kind of game is thrown in our face, but instead be a team that's going to go out and dictate."

Getting the culture fixed after years of losing is a good way to start, but when it comes to strategy and how the Sabres will go about winning, that won't be known until they hit the ice. After so many coaches and so many different systems, and now with so many new faces, the early going may see some struggles as everyone adapts to what Bylsma wants to do.

"We know that there's a lot that we need to put in place in terms of structure," Ennis said. "There's a lot we need to improve on in that area, but we're just getting started. We still have to go over a lot of special-teams stuff, obviously all three zones, so it's going to be an important camp for us to kind of get our feet under us and also bear down on the mental side of things and learning where we have to be and how we have to play."

Evander Kane's fit, health: Since the Sabres acquired Kane from the Winnipeg Jets in February after he reportedly had personality clashes with teammates, there have been questions as to how well he'll fit in Buffalo. Those questions don't concern his new teammates.

"It's another huge piece; it's another dimension," Gorges said of adding Kane. "Here's a guy that skate, he can shoot, he plays physical, he plays hard -- all the things that we want to preach as a team game. So he's just another piece to the puzzle that we're relying on, like we rely on everyone else, to kind of fit and form what's going to make us a good team."

Kane, 24, is a scorer (he had 30 goals in 2011-2012) who can play fast and physical. He dealt with injuries his last two seasons in Winnipeg, but had surgery in February to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder and is ready to play now. How Kane rebounds from surgery with a new team will go a long way to figuring out how far the Sabres can go.

"He's a power forward. He's a scorer, he plays hard, he's fast, he hits and he's competitive," Ennis said. "I'm excited to see what he can do out there."

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