Web 1280x720

The Buffalo Sabres return the bulk of a forward group that engineered the NHL’s third-ranked scoring offense last season, headlined by a quartet of 30-plus-goal scorers in Tage Thompson, Alex Tuch, Jeff Skinner, and Dylan Cozens.

The Sabres had 12 forwards appear in 50 or more games last season, all of whom are back in the fold for 2023-24. Captain Kyle Okposo and alternate captain Zemgus Girgensons signed new one-year contracts to remain in Buffalo, as did restricted free agent Tyson Jost.

The one exception to the consistency up front will be the temporary absence of Jack Quinn, who underwent surgery to repair an injured Achilles tendon in June with a recovery timeline of four to six months. Quinn played 75 games as a rookie last season and had 37 points (14+23).

But just as Quinn and JJ Peterka used training camp to earn NHL roster spots last fall, the coming weeks will see a crop of young players looking to make the jump – including a trio of first-round picks who made their AHL debuts last season in Jiri Kulich, Isak Rosen, and Matt Savoie.

Here are three storylines to follow at forward in training camp.

1. An early look at line combinations

The trio of Jeff Skinner, Tage Thompson, and Alex Tuch emerged as one of the NHL’s premier top lines last season. The Sabres outscored opponents 42-32 and earned a 54.6-percent share of shot attempts when those three shared the ice at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick.

But coach Don Granato will have flexibility when it comes to crafting his lineup, as evidenced by the final 10 games of last season. Casey Mittelstadt stepped in at center between Skinner and Tuch with Thompson absent due to injury and produced the best stretch of his young career, posting a team-high 16 points (5+11) in that span. The Sabres outscored opponents 11-5 with Skinner, Mittelstadt, and Tuch sharing the ice at 5-on-5.

Those results spoke to what Granato and general manager Kevyn Adams had hoped to build in their forward group: a versatile unit in which players could move up and down, or in many cases from the wing to center, as needed. Peyton Krebs settled into a hardnosed role on a trusted checking line between Girgensons and Okposo but possesses the ability to slide onto a skill line. Mittelstadt can center his own line or play on the wing alongside JJ Peterka and Dylan Cozens.

We’ll see various line combinations over the course of 82 games. But training camp, and seven preseason games, offers a first look at the possibilities.

Sabres Fan Fest, presented by Coca-Cola Zero Sugar

2. Career-year candidates

The Sabres had six forwards (Thompson, Tuch, Skinner, Cozens, Mittelstadt, and Krebs) establish new career highs in points last season, excluding rookies Quinn and Peterka.

All six are candidates to once again surpass their previous benchmarks – Thompson and Cozens have already spoken about their hunger to hit the 50- and 40-goal benchmarks, respectively – but the list for potential breakouts extends beyond that group.

Peterka is an obvious candidate, with one year in the NHL already under his belt as he enters his 21-year-old season. Another is Jordan Greenway, entering his first full season with the Sabres after being acquired from the Wild at last year’s deadline.

Buffalo acquired Greenway, a 6-foot-6 power forward, in part because of a vote of confidence from Granato, his coach with the U.S. National Team Development Program. Granato had watched film of Greenway in Minnesota and believed he had untapped potential in the NHL, which Greenway offered a glimpse of late. He scored four goals in 17 games with the Sabres, doubling his 47-game total with the Wild.

“Any time you can find a way to produce and get those kinds of rewards, it’s great,” he said after the season. “I definitely think that for me there’s still a lot more for me to do. Right now, that’s really my only focus going into the summer.”

Matt Savoie mic'd up vs. Montreal

3. The next generation

The Sabres iced the NHL’s youngest roster last season, yet the pipeline remains full of young players competing to take the next step whether it be on the opening night roster or via a recall at some point this season.

The list is headlined by Kulich and Rosen, who – like Quinn and Peterka before them – enjoyed productive rookie seasons in Rochester and improved as the year wore on. Both players started their camps in promising fashion with standout performances at the Prospects Challenge.

Savoie will be in the mix along with WHL linemate and fellow first-round pick Zach Benson, who is entering his first pro camp. Both players would return to WHL Wenatchee in the event they do not make the Sabres’ roster due to the transfer agreement between the NHL and CHL.

There’s also a quartet of AHL veterans whose performances with Rochester could warrant a leap to the NHL. Amerks coach Seth Appert has grouped Brandon Biro, Brett Murray, Lukas Rousek, Linus Weissbach as players who likely would have earned games in Buffalo last season had injuries to the NHL roster necessitated it. (Rousek appeared in two games for the Sabres and had a goal and an assist.)

The coming weeks will offer a chance for all of the aforementioned players to show their readiness at the NHL level.