The clock is ticking on the amount of time that the Sabres have left before their season opener on Thursday, but they have even less time when it comes to their roster. The deadline for NHL rosters to be whittled down to 23 men is Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Because of injuries and the situation revolving around Rasmus Ristolainen's contract, there are still a few different iterations of the Sabres roster that we could see come Thursday. Zach Bogosian (groin strain) and Dmitry Kulikov (lower-body bruise) both practiced in full on Tuesday, which helps shore up the defense, but the availability of Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo is less certain.
Watch: Dan Bylsma | Watch: Ryan O'Reilly
There are a few ways this can shake out, so let's break it down by position.
O'Reilly was on the ice for the special teams portion of practice on Tuesday, which is a good sign for his rehabilitation from the muscle spasms that cut his preseason debut short last week. According to Sabres coach Dan Bylsma, however, the nature of O'Reilly's injury means it will be a few days before he'll be able to take a faceoff.
Bylsma said that Okposo, meanwhile, has progressed well from a bruised knee and skated hard prior to practice, but wasn't ready to commit to having him in the lineup for opening night. The good news is that if either Okposo or O'Reilly needs to be placed on injured reserve, it would be retroactive to their injury dates and wouldn't require them to miss more than one game.
Video: Sabres in :90 (10/11/16)
As it stands, the Sabres have three forwards remaining who came into camp vying for a roster spot: Derek Grant, Alexander Nylander and Hudson Fasching.
Possibility 1: If both O'Reilly and Okposo begin the season in IR, it's possible that all three of Grant, Fasching and Nylander remain with one serving as the 13th forward.
Possibility 2: If one of O'Reilly or Okposo is able to play, the Sabres could still keep all three and scratch two (assuming they carry seven defensemen), but it's more likely they make a decision on who to send down. Grant's six-point preseason makes him a likely candidate to stay, leaving the two young forwards to choose from.
If Fasching was sent down, he'd report to Rochester. Nylander's situation is less clear - the Sabres can either send him to Rochester, which would give them the option of recalling him at a later time, they can send him back for another year in junior hockey in Mississauga or he can go play professionally in Sweden.
Possibility 3: If both O'Reilly and Okposo are ready to play on Thursday, one of Grant, Nylander or Fasching can remain and the Sabres will be set with 13 forwards.
Bylsma said he expects both Bogosian and Kulikov to play on Thursday, which leaves Ristolainen as the only uncertainty on defense. Ristolainen is currently a restricted free agent, but Bylsma said that he hasn't given up hope that a new contract can be agreed upon prior to opening night.
On Tuesday, the Sabres had seven defensemen on the ice: Bogosian, Kulikov, Jake McCabe, Josh Gorges, Cody Franson, Casey Nelson and Brendan Guhle. Bylsma said that the team will carry seven defensemen on their road trip in Western Canada, which begins on Sunday in Edmonton. If Ristolainen doesn't sign in time to play on Thursday, the Sabres appear set with those seven.
If Ristolainen does sign, the question of who sticks as the seventh defensemen remains. Guhle, a left shot, can play up to nine NHL games before the Sabres have to decide whether or not they want to send him back to junior hockey in Prince Albert. Once he's sent back, however, he's there for the remainder of the season, and Bylsma said that because of the finality of that decision (combined with his strong play recently), the Sabres will keep him as long as possible.
Nelson, a right shot, can be recalled from Rochester if he is sent down, but he may have made a compelling enough case in the preseason not only to stay on the roster, but to break into the top six and force a regular from last season into the seventh slot. Bylsma noted that possibility earlier in camp and lauded Nelson for his "commanding" presence on the ice.
Nelson skated on a pair with Kulikov in line rushes on Tuesday, with Guhle rotating in as the extra defenseman.
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
63 Tyler Ennis - 22 Johan Larsson - 82 Marcus Foligno
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 27 Derek Grant - 12 Brian Gionta
70 Alexander Nylander/52 Hudson Fasching - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 26 Matt Moulson
29 Jake McCabe - 47 Zach Bogosian
4 Josh Gorges - 6 Cody Franson
77 Dmitry Kulikov -34 Casey Nelson
45 Brendan Guhle
40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson