With training camp entering its third and final phase, the Sabres were down to one group for practice at KeyBank Center on Monday morning.
Fourteen players were assigned to camp with the Rochester Americans on Sunday. Forward J.S. Dea, who was assigned to Rochester on Monday, will join them pending waivers. Arttu Ruotsalainen was assigned to Ilves in Finland, where he led Liiga forwards in average ice time a year ago.
Krueger met personally with each of the players who were sent down and delivered an honest assessment of what needs to be done for them to return to Buffalo. Meanwhile, the 26 players who took the ice for practice on Monday all remain in the mix for opening night.
"Everybody who's here right now is certainly going to be needed in the organization, whether it's leadership in Rochester or it's here, pushing the lineup that's playing to be good," Krueger said.
"We're going to continue to keep the internal competition alive with the decisions we make. Players that are being sent to Rochester right now, for me, there's no ends here. It's just a different pathway to being a part of this group."
Here's a positional breakdown of the team's camp roster with two preseason games remaining.
Johan Larsson (upper body) and Conor Sheary (lower body) were both absent from practice and are considered day-to-day. Scott Wilson also remained absent after sustaining a lower-body injury in Toronto on Friday.
That left 16 healthy players on the ice Monday. Here's how the Sabres lined up:
68 Victor Olofsson / 42 Dylan Cozens - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 90 Marcus Johansson - 21 Kyle Okposo
13 Jimmy Vesey - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 73 Evan Rodrigues
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 17 Vladimir Sobotka - 72 Tage Thompson
81 Remi Elie - 74 Rasmus Asplund - 27 Curtis Lazar
Olofsson earned a look on the top line after a two-goal outing against Toronto on Saturday, the second of which came on assists from Eichel and Reinhart. Krueger referred to the 24-year-old winger as "permanently dangerous" after the win.
Reinhart spoke glowingly about Olofsson's ability on Monday.
"In my eyes, he's been ready for a long time," he said. "It's been great to see the way he's come in and kind of carry on what he brought at the end of last year, because we all know in this locker room the type of guy and the type of player he is.
"You can't say enough about the guy as a player as well. Every opportunity I get when I'm on the ice with him, I'm well-aware. I think we've done a good job of kind of reading off each other and kind of learning each other's abilities."
The rest of the forward group paints a picture of the versatility the Sabres currently have up front. Marcus Johansson remained at center after impressing Krueger with him performance down the middle against the Maple Leafs. That allowed Evan Rodrigues to play the wing alongside Casey Mittelstadt.
With Monday's practice focusing heavily on defensive play, Krueger left the door open for changes to be made on Tuesday. But he spoke positively regarding Rodrigues' ability and willingness to play throughout the lineup.
"We can move him around in the lineup and, without any show of emotion, he'll take the role that you asked of him, whether it was power play the one day, penalty kill the other night, right side, center," Krueger said. "He just goes out and does his job.
"You need some players that can move up and down the lineup and also laterally through the lineup. Evan certainly shows tools that will allow him to do that."
Dylan Cozens also took a few repetitions alongside Eichel and Reinhart after appearing in both of this weekend's games against the Maple Leafs.
"We're really pleased with Dylan's evolution here," Krueger said. "Again, allowing him to learn and grow. We'll be making some hard decisions here end of the week. For now, this is the group and he's still in it.
"… We love the way he's involving himself in the group and looking for his opportunity here. Let's let him continue to push the group for now. But he's definitely here to continue to learn and grow right now."
Zach Bogosian (offseason hip surgery), Brandon Montour (hand), and Lawrence Pilut (shoulder) are all expected to miss the remainder of camp as they recover from injuries. Matt Hunwick, though listed on the camp roster, is expected to miss the entire season due to a neck condition.
Rasmus Ristolainen was also absent from practice due to an illness, leaving the team with eight healthy defensemen. They lined up like this:
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 8 Casey Nelson
19 Jake McCabe - 33 Colin Miler
6 Marco Scandella - 10 Henri Jokiharju
58 John Gilmour - 3 William Borgen
Though Ristolainen is considered day-to-day, the absence of Bogosian and Montour likely leaves a spot for the taking on the right side of the opening-night lineup. Borgen, Jokiharju, and Nelson are all right-handed candidates, though Krueger emphasized the idea that every player remaining on the roster could be needed at some point throughout the 82-game season.
The numbers back that up. The Sabres have dressed 13 defensemen in each of the past two seasons.
"I'm just getting up and looking at the players we have and working with this group wholeheartedly," Krueger said. "I still see everybody in the mix from my perspective. Until it's a day where we have to make decisions, I like to give everybody an equal chance and not look at them as branded in the practices.
"Really, to tell you right now, I haven't sat there and said, him against him and this and this. What we need to do starting on Thursday is really feel the group that has the highest chance to win in Pittsburgh and work towards that."
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is out until November as he recovers from hip surgery, leaving the Sabres with the tandem who will split the net for Buffalo during the regular season: Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark.
Hutton and Ullmark have made two starts each during the preseason. They could get another full game each with two exhibition contests remaining, at home against Columbus on Wednesday and in Pittsburgh on Saturday.