Prior to tonight's tilt with the rebuilding Buffalo Sabres, I swapped three questions with Die By the Blade chief Andrew Boron. Panthers fans can certainly commiserate with a team in rebuild mode, and I asked how they were holding up and how much super prospect Jack Eichel has helped, among other queries. Without further ado:
Jack Eichel is proving to be all that he was predicted to be. He appears to be ready to play and obviously contribute at the NHL level and could easily win the Calder this season. This is despite the fact that the Sabres are in an acknowledged rebuild. Is there still sufficient "Eichel-mania" to keep the hometown crowd excited despite the losses to start the season?
After what we've been through the past two seasons, not just with the consecutive 30th place finishes but the endless and draining debates on the ethics of tanking, Eichelmania will be enough to not only sustain Sabres fans but re-energize a fanbase that has simply been waiting for time to pass and #2 draft picks to mature. In three games, Eichel has two highlight reel goals and has been one of Buffalo's best two forwards, along with Evander Kane. It's still too early to anoint him as the next Towes/Modano/Getzlaf, but three games in, he's showing us why he's capable of being in that conversation.
The attention that Eichel has received has taken focus away from two other big offensive additions the Sabres made, each of whom came with some off-ice notoriety in Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly. How have they adjusted to the team and how has their play been?
While Evander Kane's flashy personality didn't seem like a great fit with Western New York's blue-collar personality at first, his play style is exactly what Sabres fans have been craving for years. A forward who not only works hard, but has elite speed, shot, and physical play? After Eichel, Kane has been the most exciting, and productive, Sabres forward this season. O'Reilly got off to a rough start in his first two games, but played exceptionally well in the win over Columbus, showing off just how well he does all the little things in addition to his ability to score and set up his teammates. Both of them will fit in just fine here in Buffalo, and give the Sabres secondary scoring options in their top six that have been missing for years.
With all the noted additions on the offensive side of the puck, what has been done to address the defense, and what are your expectations for that part of the roster as the season progresses?
The defense was always going to be a work in progress, especially after including Nikita Zadrov in the trade for Ryan O'Reilly. The Sabres signed Cody Franson to a very reasonable contract to help the power play (4-for-12 so far) and a bunch of fringe players like Matt Donovan and Carlo Colaiacovo to fill out the team's depth. But the clear path for the Buffalo blueline is for their young, talented core to continue to improve and take more responsibility. Rasmus Ristolainen is expected to grow over the next year into the Sabres Ekblad, and both Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe showed plenty of promise last year in the AHL. Heck, even Zach Bogosian, who's been around the league forever, is only 25. They might not be quite ready to shoulder the load this year, but if the Sabres plan comes together, these guys are all a big part of it.