Making the case: Who makes the Sabres opening roster?

September 25, 2018 - 5:58 pm

The Buffalo Sabres wrap up their preseason this week, with 9 days to the season opener at home against the Bruins. With plenty of roster turnover, there are plenty of jobs to be had by the youth at forward, and the veteran presence on defense has created a logjam at the bottom of the roster. Who has impressed enough to take a job from camp? Who was in the lineup last year that could get waived or sent down? Here are young 5 players that have a case for taking a job from training camp: 

Tage Thompson: 

The case for Thompson to start in Buffalo: 

Have you seen this man play so far? Granted, the second Toronto game was not a good performance. But Thompson has played so well that the team wanted to give him a look with Jack Eichel. Expect Thompson to have a top 9 role at minimum to begin the season. Thompson is a point per game through three preseason games, with 1 goal and 2 assists. 

The case for Thompson to start in Rochester: 

The way Thompson has played, he's all but locked in a job in Buffalo. Injury may be the only way he does not start with the big club. 

Alexander Nylander: 

The case for Nylander to start in Buffalo: 

Nylander has been playing with more intensity from the Prospects Challenge into the preseason, trying to land a spot on the opening day roster for the first time in his young career. Nylander has always had the skill, now he is combining it with an effort and a passion we haven't seen. Simply put, in two preseason games, he's earned a shot to start the year in Buffalo and may have a chance at a top 6 role with the injury to Conor Sheary. 

The case for Nylander to start in Rochester: 

If Nylander is not going to have a spot in the top 9, it would better suit him to be a top liner for the Amerks rather than a 4th liner for the Sabres. That's the only reason that can be seen where Nylander starts out in Rochester. He has plenty of competition from the likes of Thompson and C.J. Smith. The Sabres may only carry one extra forward, which makes cuts a bit tighter. 

C.J. Smith: 

The case for Smith to start in Buffalo: 

Smith has been solid throughtout training camp and preseason, with the versatility to play on the 4th line, which would help his case. Smith continues to show promise, right from the day he signed with Buffalo as a college free agent. Smith is 24, the time is now if he wants to be a solid NHLer. 

The case for Smith to start in Rochester: 

For one reason, Phil Housley loves Zemgus Girgensons, who is one of those players on the bubble. Furthermore, the instant impression of Thompson and the elevated play of Nylander has clouded the chances for Smith to make the roster. If Smith is in Rochester, he'll play on the top line for the Americans. 

Brendan Guhle: 

The case for Guhle to start in Buffalo: 

Guhle has NHL experience and looked very solid in his time with Casey Nelson last season. However, Guhle has not been that impressive heading into the season. If he can pick up his play this preseason, there is still a chance he can open the season with the Sabres. Perhaps the Sabres can see defense as a deep position now and deal a top 6 defender to open a spot up. However... 

The case for Guhle to start in Rochester: 

That spot should go to Lawrence Pilut over Guhle at the moment. Guhle has been the opposite of Nylander in a sense that Nylander has dominated lesser competition and impressed in the preseason whereas Guhle has underwhelmed. Guhle looked pedestrian against prospects and not like a player who has played in parts of two seasons with the Sabres. Guhle should start out in Rochester on the top pairing (likely with Pilut) and learn how to attack in more ways when he has the puck and wants to wheel. 

Lawrence Pilut: 

The case for Pilut to start in Buffalo: 

Pilut didn't look amazing in the prospects challenge, but he has stepped up in a big way in the preseason. Pilut is aggressive in the offensive zone, along with steady play defensively to add to it. Pilut came over from Sweden as the SHL's top defenseman for a shot to play in the NHL, and he looks like he deserves that shot. 

The case for Pilut to start in Rochester: 

Unfortunately for Pilut, despite his play, there are too many heads to count in the Sabres defensive depth chart to get Pilut into the top 6. Pilut will crack the NHL, but the Sabres have gotten a solid performance this preseason from Nathan Beaulieu, Casey Nelson and a healthy Zach Bogosian. Add in Rasmus Ristolainen, Rasmus Dahlin, Jake McCabe and Marco Scandella, and there is no room for Pilut (or Guhle) to make the roster on opening night. 

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