BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — With 18-year-old rookie Zach Benson in the lineup on opening night, the Sabres once again enter a season with the NHL’s youngest roster.
Buffalo’s average age (25.3) is lower than it was a year ago (26.1), according to Elite Prospects, with 19-year-old Matt Savoie also counted in the figure while currently on injured reserve. Columbus has the second-lowest average age (25.6) at the season’s start.
The Sabres got younger in the net, with 21-year-old Devon Levi replacing Craig Anderson, who was the oldest player in the NHL last season at 41. And 24-year-old Ukka-Pekka Luukkonen is one of the Sabres’ two backup goalies after beginning last season in Rochester.
Despite their youth, with 12 opening night starters age 26 or under, the Sabres have only the sixth-least experienced team in the league, with an average of 7.2 years.
“Young is getting old,” Don Granato recalled telling the Sabres toward the end of last season. “Meaning I’m sick of hearing we are young and whatnot.”
“These guys have gained a lot of NHL experience in game numbers,” Granato added. And I think we need to look at that. They’ve been given, and I shouldn’t say given, because they’ve earned it, but opportunity to grow and develop as players faster. We put a real premium on developing, immersing, and experiences to grow faster. So I don’t feel like even though we are young, we’ve gained a lot of experience that we now need to know we are executing on gaining that experience.”
Benson, at age 18 years, five months, on Thursday night became the youngest Sabres skater since Pierre Turgeon in 1987, and youngest Sabres player since goaltender Martin Biron made his debut in 1995.
Levi, who turns 22 in December, is Buffalo’s youngest opening night goalie since Tom Barrasso in 1986.
Benson and Levi, who started seven games late last season, are the only rookies in the Sabres lineup for the first game. Last year, Buffalo had three rookies, Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka on the wings, and defenseman Owen Power, while Luukkonen joined the ranks midseason.
“We have that ability to bring a young player in like Benson because he is surrounded by more experience than our younger guys were a year ago. I think we’re in a better position to handle a younger guy now than we are a season ago when we had three younger guys, Power, Peterka and Quinn. We are better suited now with only one entry-level guy at this point.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.