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Sabres add to organizational depth on Day 1 of free agency

Team adds a quartet of players who will add to competition this fall

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

After bolstering the team's forward depth with the acquisition of Jimmy Vesey from the New York Rangers, Sabres general manager Jason Botterill used the opening day of free agency to add players who he believes will contribute to the internal competition at camp this fall.  

The Sabres signed goalie Andrew Hammond, forward Curtis Lazar, and defenseman John Gilmour to one-year contracts. Forward Jean-Sebastien Dea was signed to a two-year deal. 

That doesn't mean Botterill is done looking to improve his roster, be it through free agency or the trade market. He referenced last summer's trade for Jeff Skinner, which was completed on Aug. 2, as evidence of the unpredictable nature of the job. 

"We still think having cap space is something of an asset to our organization right now and we'll continue to have conversations with different teams to see how that plays out," Botterill said. "But to say I know exactly when it's going to heat up, it's a difficult thing to project. 

"I never would have guessed that we would have picked up a player like Jeff Skinner in the middle of summer last year, but I think it's important that we stay in those dialogues throughout the league to see whenever that might materialize, whether it's later on this week, in a couple weeks or in the start of September."

In the meantime, here's a look at each of the four players the Sabres added via free agency on Monday and how they fit in the organization. 

 

Andrew Hammond, G - 1 year / $700,000 

Botterill's offseason to-do list included adding an organizational No. 3 in net behind Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark. In Hammond, the Sabres add a veteran goalie with 56 games of NHL experience who can start in Rochester and fill in for Buffalo when needed.

Hammond, 31, will also serve as a veteran presence for 20-year-old Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who is slated to begin his pro career in Rochester next season. Luukkonen underwent successful hip surgery in April with an estimated recovery time of six months. 

"Going into the talking period, this was something that we really wanted to focus in on and make sure we covered ourselves there," Botterill said. "Andrew, you look at his past success in the American Hockey League, but whenever he's gone up to the National Hockey League, he's also had success. 

"It just allowed us to get more strength throughout our organization in case we do run into injuries, it just gave us more depth. We're very excited about our young goaltending in both Luukkonen and Jonas (Johansson), but both of them have had injury issues. We wanted to make sure they weren't in a position where we had to push them into action, especially push them into NHL games."


Curtis Lazar, F - 1 year / $700,000

Lazar, 24, spent the majority of last season playing for Calgary's AHL affiliate in Stockton, where he tallied 41 points (20+21) in 57 contests and served as an alternate captain. He's played 246 NHL games in five seasons after being selected by Ottawa with the 17th pick in 2013. 

Botterill said he hopes to see Lazar compete for a spot in Buffalo come September.

"What we like about Curtis is something we talked a bit about with some of our other players, his ability to play both center and wing," Botterill said. 

"He has that versatility there. His ability to [kill penalties], his ability to push the pace, and then you look at his track record - he hasn't done it as a pro, but as a junior he was certainly known as a scorer too. We're looking for him to come in and to challenge for a roster spot."

 

John Gilmour, D - 1 year / $700,000

Gilmour, 26, was named to the AHL's First All-Star Team last season after finishing second among league defensemen in goals (20) and points (54) in 70 games with Hartford. He's played three pro seasons, including 33 NHL games with the New York Rangers. 

The Sabres had a link to Gilmour in assistant general manager Steve Greeley, who was in the Rangers' front office when they drafted the defenseman in 2013.

"What we like a lot about his game is certainly the threat with his big shot, but just his ability to skate, his ability to get up with the play," Botterill said. "[That's] how we want to play defense, closing out guys, making sure they don't have a lot of space out there."


Jean-Sebastien Dea - 2 years / $1.4 million

Dea, 25, joined the Pittsburgh Penguins organization in 2014, when Botterill worked as assistant general manager. He became a consistent contributor for their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, including a 50-point season (18+32) in 2017-18.

Dea split last season between Pittsburgh and New Jersey, appearing in a career-high 23 NHL games. He scored six points (4+2) in those contests. 

Botterill said that Dea, like his fellow signees, has an ability to push the pace on the ice. 

"If you do look at our acquisitions here today, all of them, that's one of their strengths they have is that they play with pace," Botterill said. 

"You look at J.S. Dea, you look at Lazar, obviously bringing Jimmy Vesey in, Gilmour - all these players can skate very well and play with pace. That's something we're trying to accomplish here."

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