There is every reason to be excited about the Buffalo Sabres. Like the city, this is a team that is seeing a revitalization with better days ahead. It’s too simplistic to look back only at the draft weekend to assess how the Sabres have positioned themselves to take significant steps forward.
General manager Tim Murray is not hesitant to take bold action, as he has shown, but he takes a measured approach and when the opportunity presents itself, he acts.
The most difficult players to acquire are those who can form the core of team and be the difference makers. Evander Kane qualifies and certainly his acquisition in February began a series of moves to add those types of players and build a formidable team – an elite type winger who is capable of scoring 30-plus goals on a regular basis.
Fast forward to Friday morning of the 2015 NHL Draft and now the focus turns to a goalie to tend to the fortunes of the team.
It doesn’t matter how many top end players a team has, without steady, dependable goaltending, the results will never be maximized. Nobody knows Robin Lehner better than Tim Murray and when you have confidence in a young goalie to be the backbone of your team, the decision becomes as close to a no-brainer as one possibly can be.
Now the attention turns to selecting a franchise center as a significant part of the future. Jack Eichel is all of that and more and I have no doubt he will have an impact on the Buffalo Sabres organization as great as any player selected in the draft.
While not winning the lottery can be a disappointment, Jack is as far from a consolation prize as one can be. The grace, skill and power he brings is unique and coach Dan Bylsma knows all too well the talents of uniquely gifted players and will prove to be a catalyst for Jack and the entire team to reach its potential.
While others may sit and admire their work and certainly there was every reason to sit back and be satisfied, there was still much brewing around the Sabres and the acquisition of Ryan O’Reilly certainly blew the lid off the festivities at the draft.
Ryan is a player who makes every player around him better and enhances the potential success of a team. You can’t easily find players like this and his impact will be immediate on the young, the experienced and the entire organization. His influence will help indoctrinate Eichel, take pressure off Kane, ease some of the burden on Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis and add to the leadership of captain Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges.
It will allow Sam Reinhart to grow into a role rather than being thrust into one before he is ready and allow Zemgus Girgensons to do as much as he’s capable of without being overextended.
You can’t be a championship team without strength up the middle of the ice, a strong blue line (and certainly Rasmus Ristolainen shows he is capable of leading that group), dynamic skill in your forward group and a goaltender who can carry his game and clean up mistakes around him.
Those significant pieces are in place and while there is still growth ahead – and the inevitable growing pains that will show up from time-to-time – the excitement should be palpable if you are a fan of the Sabres.
You hear often from many about how to build a team and what has transpired under Tim Murray’s tenure is action – significant, meaningful action that should begin a path towards better days, seasons and ultimately challenging for Stanley Cup championships.
The adage, “actions speak louder than words” couldn’t be more apropos.