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Team Reset

Sabres aiming for turnaround under new coach Krueger

Hope additions of Vesey, Johansson, Miller help end playoff drought

by Heather Engel / NHL.com Correspondent

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:

The Buffalo Sabres hope a new coach will help them contend for a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Ralph Krueger was hired May 15 to replace Phil Housley, who was fired April 7 after two seasons. The Sabres missed the playoffs for the eighth straight season, the longest active drought in the NHL.

 

[RELATED: Complete Team Reset coverage]

 

Buffalo added depth to its lineup, acquiring defenseman Colin Miller in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights, forward Jimmy Vesey in a trade with the New York Rangers, and signing unrestricted free agent forward Marcus Johansson .

The Sabres hope those additions, as well as some of their prospects, can increase their offense; Buffalo was tied for 23rd in the NHL at 2.70 goals per game last season.

"We look at our young wingers and we view that as a source of strength within our organization," Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said. "I think there'll be competition for spots there."

Of the 221 goals the Sabres scored, 90 came from three forwards: Jeff Skinner scored 40 goals, Jack Eichel scored 28 and Sam Reinhart scored 22.

"Talking to Ralph, what our group is and what we're trying to eventually create here is having more balanced scoring throughout our four lines here," Botterill said, "and that's still something that we'll continue to look at and to see if we can continue to add to that group."

Here is what the Sabres look like today:

 

Key arrivals

Ralph Krueger, coach: He spent the past five years as chairman of Southampton Football Club, an English Premier League soccer team. Krueger, who turns 60 on Aug. 31, was 19-22-7 with the Edmonton Oilers in 2012-13. Krueger also coached Team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey 2016, where they lost 2-0 in the best-of-3 championship series to Team Canada. … Colin Miller, D: Acquired from the Golden Knights on June 28, the 26-year-old is another puck-mover and quality skater on a crowded right side. He had 29 points (three goals, 26 assists) in 65 games last season, including 13 power-play points, and three points (one goal, two assists) in six playoff games. Miller joins a defenseman group that likely will be without Zach Bogosian (hip surgery) for the start of the season. … Jimmy Vesey, F: Acquired from the Rangers on July 1, the 26-year-old tied his NHL career high with 17 goals and set his NHL high with 35 points in 81 games last season. Vesey has scored 43 of his 50 NHL goals at even strength, an area of need for Buffalo, and led New York with 14 game-winning goals in his three seasons. … Marcus Johansson, F: Signed to a two-year contract July 6, the 28-year-old had 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 58 games with the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins last season and an NHL career-high 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 22 playoff games during the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup Final. ... Henri Jokiharju, D: Acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Alexander Nylander on July 9, the 20-year-old, who was the No. 29 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, had 12 assists in 38 NHL games last season.

Video: STL@NYR: Vesey cleans up rebound for go-ahead goal

 

Key departure

Jason Pominville, F: The 36-year-old unrestricted free agent had 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) in 73 games last season. Botterill said he has been in contact with the forward, although it appears unlikely he will return.

 

On the cusp

Victor Olofsson, F: The forward, who will turn 24 on July 18, made his NHL debut and had four points (two goals, two assists) in six games near the end of last season. Olofsson led Rochester of the American Hockey League with 63 points (30 goals, 33 assists) in 66 games in his first season in North America and appears ready to make the jump to the NHL. …  C.J. Smith, F: The 24-year-old has proven he can contribute in the AHL, finishing second to Olofsson on Rochester with 58 points (28 goals, 30 assists) in 62 games. He scored two goals in 11 games with the Sabres last season.

Video: OTT@BUF: Olofsson rips one-timer past Daccord for PPG

 

What they still need

A top-six right wing. Reinhart will play on one of the top two lines, but a spot remains available. Thompson is expected to be in the mix. A left wing could be moved to the other side. Johansson has played mostly left wing in recent seasons but began his career as a center, an area of need. If the Sabres don't slot him there, they'll need another center.

 

Fantasy focus

After an immediate impact from defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (No. 1 pick in 2018 NHL Draft) and trades for defensemen Brandon Montour on Feb. 24 and Miller, Buffalo's outlook on defense looks deeper and brighter than recent seasons. The big question remains whether Rasmus Ristolainen can finally reach his fantasy ceiling with more support. He has four straight seasons of at least 41 points but was an NHL-worst minus-41 last season. -- Pete Jensen

 Video: BUF@BOS: Ristolainen whips wrister past Rask

 

Projected lineup

Jeff Skinner -- Jack Eichel -- Sam Reinhart

Victor Olofsson -- Casey Mittelstadt -- Tage Thompson

Jimmy Vesey -- Marcus Johansson -- Conor Sheary

Vladimir Sobotka -- Evan Rodrigues -- Kyle Okposo

Rasmus Dahlin -- Brandon Montour

Jake McCabe -- Rasmus Ristolainen

Marco Scandella -- Colin Miller

Carter Hutton

Linus Ullmark

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