The Buffalo Sabres coaching staff has some tough decisions to make in the next few days. They’ll set the 23-man roster for the regular season by Monday.
One spot on the defense looks like it’ll go to rookie Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo’s top draft pick this year (eighth overall). The 18-year-old from Finland played in five of the team’s seven preseason games, logging at least 19 minutes of ice time in all but one.
Sabres coach Ron Rolston was asked after practice Saturday morning if Ristolainen had done enough to make the team.
“I would say, yeah. He was probably one of our better defensemen last night [against the Carolina Hurricanes],” Rolston said.
Injuries have already cropped up, sidelining four Sabres so far and muddling some of the roster decisions.
Defenseman Nikita Zadorov injured his hand in the team’s preseason finale in Carolina on Friday. Rolston said on Saturday that the team’s other first-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft (16th overall) needed stitches to repair a cut on his left hand. He’ll miss approximately two weeks.
The team is currently carrying nine defensemen. The Sabres do not have to keep Zadorov while he is injured and could send him back to juniors. However, Rolston said there might be value in having him continue to work with an NHL team.
“We don’t have to keep him. Will we keep him? We have to discuss that,” Rolston said. “It’s two weeks. We could have him here and he could be working out on the ice because it’s not obviously lower body, so we still have to determine that.”
Marcus Foligno is still expected to recover from an upper-body strain he sustained in Toronto on Sunday in time for the team’s season opener in Detroit on Wednesday.
Rolston said that Armia, who broke his hand in the exhibition game against Columbus last Wednesday, has his hand in a cast and that surgery was not required.
The center position is still one that’s pretty wide open for the Sabres. Cody Hodgson is locked in on the top line with left wing Thomas Vanek. Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko played all seven preseason games in the middle albeit with a wide variety of linemates. Cody McCormick has pivoted the fourth line for the past few exhibition games.
Tyler Ennis, who started training camp at left wing moved back to center last Sunday and has been playing there ever since. Rolston, however, wouldn’t totally commit to sticking with Ennis in the middle and that the coaching staff is still evaluating the position.
“He could be. I mean right now, I would say probably, but you never know. Yes, right now,” Rolston said.
Johan Larsson is another center hoping to make the team. He did not play in Carolina on Friday and according to Rolston, that’s why he did not skate on a line Saturday morning. He was working on the fourth line with John Scott and Patrick Kaleta earlier in the week, but has seen both practice time and game action with most of the wings on the roster.
“He didn’t play last night so he wasn’t on a line,” Rolston said on Saturday. “And those are guys we have to decide who’s on the roster. And he’s fighting for a spot.”
Kevin Porter, typically a center, has played some left wing recently. He skated in Carolina with McCormick and Kaleta. It’s another spot that will require a decision by the coaching staff.
“I think [Porter’s] camp got better as it went on. It was a little slow to start with but I’ve liked how it finished,” Rolston said. “He’s a competitor. He’s a smart player. He’ll give you everything he’s got. We moved over on the wing last night and he offers speed to our team and allows Cody some more looks in the middle and see where that’s at.”
Rolston confirmed that forward Luke Adam has been sent down to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League pending waivers.
Adam did not make the trip to play in the team’s last preseason game in Carolina and was not at practice on Saturday.
“He’ll have a chance to continue to work on his game and continue to chase his dreams of playing here,” Rolston said Friday morning. “He has the potential, but just where we’re at right now, there were some guys in front of him, especially with the youth that we have.”
Rolston also said that he expects to name a full-time captain sometime this week before the season opener. He rotated the “C” throughout the preseason. Thomas Vanek, Christian Ehrhoff and Steve Ott have each worn it twice.
Ott most recently served as captain on Friday with Vanek and Ehrhoff wearing the “A’s”. Cody Hodgson had the opportunity to captain the game last Sunday against Toronto.
26 Thomas Vanek – 19 Cody Hodgson – 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott – 63 Tyler Ennis – 23 Ville Leino
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 65 Brian Flynn
12 Kevin Porter / 32 John Scott – 8 Cody McCormick – 36 Patrick Kaleta
22 Johan Larsson
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