BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – As the Sabres begin training camp, here are four storylines to keep an eye leading into the regular season.
1) What kind of team can we expect from head coach Ralph Krueger?
As the 2019 season begins, Krueger will be the fifth head coach owners Terry and Kim Pegula have hired since purchasing the team in 2011.
Will the revolving door of coaches and philosophies come to an end and will Krueger be the guy to right the Sabres ship?
Blue & Gold faithful can only hope so.
Since his hiring in May, there’s been a buzz around the Sabres’ new bench boss. His energy and passion are infectious and it’s clear that after several years away from the game as a soccer executive in England, the desire to be a winning and successful coach in the NHL burns bright.
I think the way we saw the team play during the Prospects Challenge will be how the big club plays when the puck drops on their 50th Anniversary Season: with pace, physicality and a level of aggressiveness with and without the puck.
It should be an exciting brand of hockey – and a more competitive one at that.
2) What’s next the Sabres and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen?
This has been the headliner since the season ended with a thud in April.
Ristolainen is back and on the Sabres preliminary roster, which isn’t a total surprise considering he’s still under contract.
However, the blue liner was vocal about the losses taking a toll on him in his young career and speculation continued to swirl that he could be on the move following his pointed words to MTVSports in his home country of Finland.
Can Krueger unlock Ristolainen’s potential?
This question has continually been asked throughout Ristolainen’s career — and this might be the last time it’s asked with him in a Blue & Gold sweater.
Let’s not forget, while plus/minus doesn’t tell the full story, since he entered the league in 2013 as the 8th overall pick, Ristolainen has posted a minus-143 — the worst by any player over that span. Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson is second on that list at minus-97.
3) Can Casey Mittelstadt be the 2nd line center the Sabres need?
We know Jack Eichel is the man who runs things on the Sabres’ top line, but depth down the middle has been a constant issue for the Blue & Gold.
Thrown right into the fire last year, Mittelstadt struggled throughout his first season as the Sabres second line center in part due to being a rookie in the NHL and due to circumstances beyond his control — like the constant line-shuffling and lack of playmakers he was routinely deployed with.
We’ve seen Mittelstadt push the pace, facilitate, create and dazzle when he touches the puck. But, after scoring just 25 points (12 G, 13A) last season, the pressure and the expectations for the 20-year-old couldn’t be higher heading into a pivotal year for the franchise.
Jason Botterill worked throughout the offseason to add players would could contribute and help usher in a winning era of hockey in the Queen City.
Jimmy Vesey has shown an ability to get the dirty areas and battle in front of the net for loose pucks and Marcus Johansson, who was signed following a run to the Stanley Cup with the Bruins, is a plug-and-play veteran that can provide value anywhere in the lineup.
Can Victor Olofsson push for a spot on the wing? Will Rasmus Asplund crack the roster as the third or fourth line pivot?
Who slots where and what the best line combinations are that Krueger and his staff come up with will be interesting to see, along with how the competition for roster spots brings out the best on those battling for a spot with the big club.