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Camp Preview: Where will new additions fit in the lineup?

Training camp will offer first looks at Johansson, Vesey, Miller, and Jokiharju

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Jason Botterill made it his mission this offseason to ensure that coach Ralph Kreuger had options.

The Sabres added proven goal scorers in forwards Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey and a pair of puck-moving defensemen in Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju. The additions should make for a competitive camp and provide Krueger with flexibility when the time comes to craft the opening-night lineup. 

Training camp will provide our first real insight into where these players might fit, although there have been breadcrumbs dropped throughout the offseason. Here's a look at what you might be able to expect in each case. 


Colin Miller 

The Sabres leveraged their cap space by acquiring Miller in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on June 28, adding another right shot to a group that already included Rasmus Ristolainen, Brandon Montour, Zach Bogosian and Casey Nelson. 

Miller brings playoff pedigree from his time spent in Boston and Vegas, but it's his possession numbers that stand out the most. His shot attempt percentage since entering the league in 2015-16 is 56.13, which leads all defensemen with at least 82 games played in that span. 

Krueger said that the Golden Knights' up-tempo style should bode well for Miller as he adjusts to a new system. 

"His energy that he brings, the experiences he's had now with Vegas, a team that plays on its toes, that likes to have an aggressive defensive style, really suits us," the coach said.

Miller set a career high with 19:39 of average ice time last season, which ranked fourth on the Golden Knights. He also averaged 2:23 on the power play, where his booming slap shot (he set an AHL record with a 105.5 mph shot during a skills challenge in 2015) could serve as an asset from the point. 

Whether it's special teams or even strength, it will be fun to watch and see where Miller settles into a crowded defense corps. 

 

Henri Jokiharju

Jokiharju, like Miller, produced impressive possession numbers, albeit in a far smaller sample size. The defenseman skated in 38 NHL games as a 19-year-old rookie and led the Blackhawks with a 54.10 shot attempt percentage while tallying 12 assists. 

He then won World Juniors gold on a Finland team that boasted Sabres prospects Oskari Laaksonen and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, followed by another gold medal at World Championships in May. 

"Henri is a young, mobile defenseman who has shown he can compete at the NHL level," Botterill said. "His international success last season only furthered his development and we are excited to add him to our current group of defensemen."

The question when it comes to Jokiharju is whether or not he makes the full-time jump to the NHL this fall. We've already discussed how crowded the right side of the Sabres defense corps is, and fellow prospect William Borgen will look to enter that picture as well coming off a strong first season in Rochester. 

With experience under his belt already, Jokiharju has high expectations. 

"I hope that I can play a whole season next year in Buffalo," he said. "Just put in lots of work right now during the summer so that I show up in good shape and just be ready to show everyone - coaching staff, players - that I'm ready to play in the NHL all year long."

 

Marcus Johansson 

Johansson brings two qualities that should be invaluable to the Sabres' forward group: versatility and experience. 

He's played most often on the left wing but has expressed a willingness to play on the right side or even center if needed. He's also made the playoffs in all but one of his nine NHL seasons, including a run to the Stanley Cup Final with Boston last spring in which he tallied 11 points (4+7) in 22 games.

That winning experience could make Johansson a valuable asset on the wing alongside a young center in Casey Mittelstadt, or he could look for chemistry on the top line alongside Jack Eichel. Though injuries limited him to a combined 87 games during the past two seasons, Johansson is only three years removed from his career-best 58-point campaign skating primarily alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov in 2016-17.

Based on his conversation with the media in July, it seems the 28-year-old is open to anything.

"I think talking to Ralph and Jason, I like what Buffalo's got going," Johansson said. "Talking to Ralph, he's got some really good ideas on how to play, and it's a really young and exciting team. I'm looking forward to it and once it came down to it, I was really happy I ended up going to Buffalo."

 

Jimmy Vesey

Vesey, like Johansson, brings an ability and willingness to play on either wing. The Sabres acquired him from the New York Rangers on July 1 with the hope he can add to their even-strength scoring totals.

Forty-three of Vesey's 50 NHL goals have come at even strength, including 16 in each of the past two seasons. That number would have ranked fourth on the Sabres last season, behind Jeff Skinner, Eichel, and Sam Reinhart. His even-strength prowess is largely a product of his willingness to go to the net-front.  

"We've always talked about bringing in more skill, especially to help our forward group, and that's why we felt it was important to make the deal for Vesey," Botterill said. "I think there's always a different combination of top six, bottom six. Right now, we certainly believe Jimmy can add to our group in the top nine."

Coincidentally, Vesey came to Buffalo already familiar with each of the team's top three centers in Eichel, Mittelstadt, and Evan Rodrigues.

"I think the thing that's attractive about Buffalo just looking at the roster is they're really building a strong group of centers and highly-skilled guys," he said. 

"For me, as a finisher, I think a center that's going to possess the puck and distribute it, I think that's attractive to me. If I'm able to hook up and get some chemistry with some of those guys it will make me better."

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