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Sharpen Up: Week of July 8, 2019

All the Sabres news you need to know this week

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak /

Summer's here and so is the new league year. The Sabres added six players last weekend via signings and trades and brought back a pair of restricted free agents last week. 

Here's what you need to know.


Johansson joins the organization

General manager Jason Botterill brought in forward Marcus Johansson with a two-year $9-million contract ($4.5 AAV) on Saturday

Johansson split time between the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins in 2018-19, where he recorded 30 points (13+17) in 58 combined games. He added a career-high 11 points (4+7) in 22 playoff games for the Bruins during their Stanley Cup Final run.

A nine-year NHL veteran, Johansson has recorded 334 points (120+214) in 588 career games and added 41 points (13+28) in 94 career playoff contests. He has appeared in the playoffs in all but one of his NHL seasons since being drafted by the Washington Capitals in the first round (24th overall) of the 2009 NHL Draft.

We'll hear from him during a conference call this morning. Stay tuned for a recap of that. 

Sabres trade for Vesey

Buffalo kicked off last Monday with a trade, acquiring winger Jimmy Vesey from the New York Rangers in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

From our recap of his conference call… 

Vesey has seen an evolution in his game since coming into the NHL. He took pride in the fact that he began to see minutes on the penalty kill last season, a role he felt was a credit to his maturity on the ice and increased knowledge of the defensive zone. His average ice time of 16:03 was a career high.

Yet, at the end of the day, Vesey still describes himself the same way he would during his decorated collegiate career at Harvard.

"I think I'd still consider myself a goal scorer," he said during a conference call on Monday. "I think that's my trademark."

After acquiring Vesey from the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick on Monday, Sabres general manager Jason Botterill listed the winger's speed, size, and two-way game as positive attributes that made him an attractive asset for Buffalo. 

What stood out the most, though, was Vesey's consistent ability to score at even strength since entering the league three seasons ago. Forty-three of his 50 career goals have come at even strength, including 16 in each of the past two seasons. His 31 even-strength points last season ranked third on the Rangers. 

That ability to fill the net made Vesey a fit for a team looking to establish balance throughout its lineup. 

"We've always talked about bringing in more skill, especially to help our forward group, and that's why we felt it was important to make the deal for Vesey today," Botterill said. "I think there's always a different combination of top six, bottom six. Right now, we certainly believe Jimmy can add to our group in the top nine."

Vesey attributed his consistent production at even strength to his willingness to go to the net, an area Botterill said he and his staff have been aiming to improve. 

"I think just part of my game and part of my style is a little bit of a blue-collar element," Vesey said. "Something I think I've had part of my game my whole life is I get to the front of the net and that's where the goals are scored mostly. 

"I like to get on the inside, get to the front of the net and I think a good portion of my goals have been scored right in the small radius in front of the net. When things are going bad that's something I fall back on, trying to get to the front of the net."

You can read more here. 

Girgensons and Smith return

The team re-signed forward Zemgus Girgensons to a one-year contract with an AAV of $1.6 million on Friday.

Last season, Girgensons played 72 games for the Sabres and recorded 18 points (5+13), all of which came at even strength. His 18 even-strength points marked Girgensons' highest total since he recorded a career-high 23 even-strength points in 2014-15.

They also inked winger C.J. Smith to a two-year contract with an AAV of $700,000. 

Smith recorded 58 points (28+30) in 62 games for the Rochester Americans (AHL) in 2018-19, ranking second on the team in goals and points and third in assists. He also contributed four game-winning goals and led all Amerks skaters with a plus-26 rating.

Signed by Buffalo as a free agent in March 2017, Smith scored his first two NHL goals during the 2018-19 season. The Des Moines, Iowa native has recorded three points (2+1) in 13 career NHL games and 102 points (45+57) in 119 career AHL contests.

Four other restricted free agents (Remi Elie, Jake McCabe, Evan Rodrigues and Linus Ullmark) have filed for salary arbitration.  

Salary arbitration hearings will be held from July 20 through Aug. 4. A player can sign a contract with his current team any time before an arbitrator's ruling. Last offseason, 40 of the 44 players who filed for arbitration signed a contract before his scheduled hearing. 

Lazar, Gilmour, Hammond, Dea sign contracts

From our July 1 recap…

After bolstering the team's forward depth with the acquisition of Jimmy Vesey from the New York Rangers, Sabres general manager Jason Botterill used the opening day of free agency to add players who he believes will contribute to the internal competition at camp this fall.  

The Sabres signed goalie Andrew Hammond, forward Curtis Lazar, and defenseman John Gilmour to one-year contracts. Forward Jean-Sebastien Dea was signed to a two-year deal. 

That doesn't mean Botterill is done looking to improve his roster, be it through free agency or the trade market. He referenced last summer's trade for Jeff Skinner, which was completed on Aug. 2, as evidence of the unpredictable nature of the job. 

"We still think having cap space is something of an asset to our organization right now and we'll continue to have conversations with different teams to see how that plays out," Botterill said. "But to say I know exactly when it's going to heat up, it's a difficult thing to project. 

"I never would have guessed that we would have picked up a player like Jeff Skinner in the middle of summer last year, but I think it's important that we stay in those dialogues throughout the league to see whenever that might materialize, whether it's later on this week, in a couple weeks or in the start of September."

For more on what each player brings, read the full story here

Update on Cozens

Dylan Cozens, Buffalo's top pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, underwent successful surgery on his injured left thumb earlier this week. His expected recovery time is approximately two to three months.

He sustained the injury on June 29 during development camp. 

Sharpen Up will return next Monday. In the meantime, stay tuned to for news and updates throughout the week. 

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