NHL.com continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.
BUFFALO -- Things are about to change for the better for the Buffalo Sabres.
The past two seasons were the worst in Sabres history, so it'd be easy to say things can't get worse, but the arrival of the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Boston University center Jack Eichel, has changed the attitude here.
Eichel's arrival, coupled with the eventual debut of forward Evander Kane, who didn't play for the Sabres after he was acquired in a trade from the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 11 (shoulder surgery); center Ryan O'Reilly, acquired from the Colorado Avalanche on June 26; and coach Dan Bylsma, has the Buffalo fan base hopeful the organizational rebuild will bring results on the ice.
The Sabres will have a young and talented group of forwards to try to lift an offense that scored an NHL-low 158 goals last season. The addition of Eichel, Kane and O'Reilly to Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons gives Buffalo a youthful core. If Sam Reinhart, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, makes the roster, it would make the Sabres that much younger and add another potential scorer.
Reinhart showed improvement at the development camp scrimmage in July.
"I thought he was outstanding," Sabres general manager Tim Murray said at the time. "I thought he was one of the best players on the ice. … His team won the game and his line was a big part of it, and I expected that. I expected him to come in here and say, without saying it, to us, to you, to the fans, 'Don't forget about me, I'm a big part of this organization going forward,' and I think that's what he did."
Youth may dominate on defense and in goal too. The Sabres added 24-year-old goalie Robin Lehner in a trade with the Ottawa Senators on June 26. Lehner is expected to be the No. 1 goalie, backed up by Chad Johnson.
Lehner showed potential in parts of five seasons with the Senators but was unable to unseat Craig Anderson as the starter and was overtaken by Andrew Hammond on the depth chart last season.
Lehner will need to provide stability and quality starts after the Sabres allowed 269 goals last season, 29th in the League. Like Kane, Lehner arrives in Buffalo coming off an injury and with a lot to prove.
He did not play after Feb. 16 because of a concussion.
"I've been working out and I've got a ways to go, but I'm ready to really push it so that I'm ready for the season," Lehner told the Ottawa Sun in late June. "… To have a good chance to compete for the No. 1 spot is something I've always wanted. It's going to be a nice challenge."
More will be asked of the younger defensemen. Rasmus Ristolainen, 20, and Zach Bogosian, 24, will play in top-four roles again. It's expected that 2010 first-round pick Mark Pysyk will be an everyday contributor, and 21-year-old Jake McCabe will have a chance to break into the lineup after he impressed Sabres coaches during the scrimmage.
"We look at them all week and you try to get evaluations of speed and skill, and what they can do, but this was a game situation, and I thought [McCabe] showed really well, I thought he played really well defensively," said Bylsma, who was hired May 28, more than six weeks after Ted Nolan was fired. "He showed some physicality, stepped up on a rush, was good defensively, but was also really good offensively and in the offensive zone controlling the play. … I thought he played really well and that's what we got to see in this game."
Josh Gorges will return from microfracture surgery on his knee. The Sabres added veteran Carlo Colaiacovo to a defense that includes Mike Weber, and signed free agents Matt Donovan, who played for the New York Islanders last season, and Bobby Sanguinetti, who played for the Vancouver Canucks, to compete for spots.
There is pressure on the younger players to step up on defense, but opportunities to earn more ice time are there. That doesn't mean the Sabres have stopped searching for help.
"We've looked at everybody that we feel are going to need waivers," Murray said after development camp. "We're still talking trades with teams. We're still talking about a couple guys that are still out there, but there's no hurry."