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Duffer: Taking a look at the potential forward lines

Will Eichel and Reinhart stay together? Where will Kyle Okposo fit? Brian Duff exhausts all of the possibilities on the eve of training camp.

by Brian Duff @duffersabres /

This piece was supposed to be a look at certain players that are top of mind for me on the eve of Sabres training camp, which opens on Thursday. Instead, it has turned into a game of who plays with whom, at what position, and who really has a chance to make this team, altering the look of - specifically - the lines up front.

And maybe that's the most encouraging thing of all.

Should Jack and Sam stay together? If so, who rides shotgun on the left wing? 

Will it be Evander Kane? With 20 goals in 65 games in his first season as a Sabre, Kane saw more than enough time with both Eichel and Reinhart to know their tendencies. But is Evander better suited on another line?

Alex Nylander? A difficult Prospects Challenge (for the entire team) could leave him with a hint of self-doubt, but it could also have him much more aware of the details he needs to be cognizant of and the pace at which he has to play.

Matt Moulson? Even casual observers of some pre-camp workouts have noted a different looking Moulson, one who turns 33 in November. Can he regain his scoring touch?

Zemgus Girgensons? While many see him as a third or fourth line center, he did see a significant amount of time on Eichel's left side a year ago.

Tyler Ennis? A left shot, yes, but more often a right winger when not playing center. Now the longest-tenured Sabre, Ennis may be the biggest wildcard in this lineup as he returns to full health.

Evan Rodrigues? A former Eichel linemate at BU, Rodrigues would seem to have long odds to reach this point this quickly into his pro career. He did have a nice showing in a limited NHL audition at years' end with two points in two games.

Then there's the question of who will play with Ryan O'Reilly. In his first year as a Sabre, O'Reilly led the team in points with 60. Is 64-point man and free agent prize Kyle Okposo a natural and obvious choice to play on his right side?

If that is indeed the case, my auto-default seems to put Evander Kane on the left with them. 

But again, this is the time of year to try to find some chemistry. And with O'Reilly (and Eichel) absent due to the World Cup, chemistry could be found accidentally by virtue of others having to fill the top two center positions for the next two weeks.

We remember talking about the Ennis and O'Reilly connection heading into last season. While it didn't work out the way the two had hoped, there's no reason it couldn't be experimented with again.
Otherwise, is there another big body that would compliment 90 and 21?

Hudson Fasching and Justin Bailey are right-shot right wingers at the early stages of their pro careers. This is a huge camp for both of them.

A healthy Zemgus Girgensons, now entering his fourth NHL season, could be very effective as a third-line center should he return to the form he displayed a couple seasons ago.

His previous successes with Moulson and Ennis could also make this a very easy decision for the coaching staff. Depending how the other lines above them play out, what other yet-to-be-identified players might also be a left-side fit for 28 and 63?

The incumbent - in the sense of tenure - of course is Nicolas Deslauriers, now 25 years old and with 169 games of NHL experience.

But can the 200-foot game and angry/determined forecheck game of William Carrier thrust his name into this conversation?

Video: NYR@BUF: Larsson cuts the Sabres' deficit in half

Last year the third line of Marcus Foligno - Johan Larsson - Brian Gionta combined for 32 goals along the way. I think in an ideal world, you would want closer to 50 goals from a trio that is averaging 13-15 minutes per night. 

So can they get there? The newly married "Moose" is now 25 and hoping to leap forward at this age like his brother Nick did before him.

While at age 24, I still believe Larsson can trend higher offensively. Can they be the third line again? How much better is this team if they essentially represent the fourth line?

Until we get well into the seven-game preseason schedule and until the World Cup concludes, it promises to be a bit of a guessing game as to how things will line up on opening night. But options are a good thing, aren't they? And it should make for a very interesting next couple of weeks.

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