Zack Kassian walked into Buffalo Sabres training camp without an entry-level contract. The Sabres broke off negotiations with their first-round pick (13th Overall) in 2009 after his arrest in Windsor, Ontario for a bar fight in celebration after he helped the Windsor Spitfires win the Memorial Cup championship in the OHL.
That was after he was suspended for 20 games after a dirty hit to the head of Barrie Colts’ forward Matt Kennedy in his first game with the Spitfires.
At the start of Sabres’ rookie camp, Kassian said that he has put the incidents behind him and that he was ready to focus solely on playing hockey. This mentality has helped him grab the attention of the coaches and the front office as he has resumed negotiations with the Sabres on a contract.
During the early stages of camp, Kassian has not disappointed.
In the first scrimmage of camp, Kassian nailed Tyler Myers early, shocking the crowd in attendance who applauded appreciatively. Later in the shootout portion of the scrimmage, Kassian undressed Patrick Lalime and put the puck top shelf on the backhand.
In the second scrimmage the day after, he scored again, snapping a 2-2 tie with a quick shot that beat Jhonas Enroth.
His performance in those two games was enough to warrant Kassian playing time in the Sabres’ upcoming exhibition games. Most junior players in NHL training camps are sent back to their teams before the preseason games, but Kassian is going to stick around.
Often compared to the Boston Bruins’ Milan Lucic, Kassian is a bruising forward (6’3”, 226) who is not afraid to fight, hit, and mix it up with the toughest players at any level of hockey.
Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting prior to the 2009 NHL Entry Draft said that “there were overage guys in the [OHL] who would not take him on.” On top of that, Kassian has slick hands and can score a bunch of goals.
In his OHL career split between the Peterborough Petes and the Windsor Spitfires, he has amassed 115 points in 157 games, 45 of those points goals. He also has 291 penalty minutes during that span.
In 2008-2009, he scored 63 points in 61 games with the Petes along with 136 penalty minutes, all career highs.
It is no secret that Kassian has made a very positive impression on Lindy Ruff and the coaching staff so far in camp. Good showings in the upcoming preseason games will put pressure on Darcy Regier and the front office to resume negotiations with Kassian and his agent on an entry-level contract, and will also force forwards such as Nathan Gerbe, Cody McCormick, and Drew Stafford to step up their games.
He brings a very unique element to a Sabres team, which is often criticized for being pushed around too often by tougher teams, especially in the playoffs.
Kassian has the ability to play in all types of roles, from a grinder on the fourth line, to a top line power forward.
Playing on a line with Tyler Ennis and Rob Niedermayer in the Sabres' first preseason game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kassian made a pretty pass to Ennis on a two-on-one for a goal. He also had a couple big hits: one on Christian Hanson early in the first period and another on Jesse Blacker that led directly to a goal by Rob Niedermayer.
Kassian’s versatility along with his style of play is a rare breed in the NHL, and the Sabres should give this very gifted forward a shot to be in the lineup October 8 against the Ottawa Senators.
Read more Buffalo Sabres news on BleacherReport.com
There has been some movement on the Sabres roster this offseason. It includes the addition of veteran presence Rob Niedermayer, and defensemen Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrisonn. Some spots on the Sabres are up for grabs for younger players.
Listed below are the players virtually set in stone to be on the roster by the season opener against Ottawa on October 8, barring further player movement on free agency and the trade front.
During the Sabres jersey unveiling, there were hints as to who holds a spot with the 2010-2011 Buffalo Sabres. In addition to the players mentioned above, Matt Ellis, Cody McCormick, Nathan Gerbe, Andrej Sekera, and Chris Butler were introduced with the rest of the team. At least to start, this is most likely the make-up of the team.
All told, it appears two forward and two defense spots are up for grabs. One starting spot is available for both positions. Here is an overview of who has a shot to make the lineup and who needs to make a big push in camp to hold a starting spot (alphabetical order).
Adam can be the dark horse candidate to make the roster with a bigger frame at 6’2” 203, and a scoring touch with 49 goals and 90 points in 56 games in the QMJHL. He signed a three-year, entry-level contract this spring, and don’t be surprised if you see Adam for at least a few games this season in a Sabres sweater.
Re-signed by the Sabres because of his unmatched work ethic, Ellis has been a reliable addition to the fourth line for the past couple seasons. Ellis however, will be challenged by rookies Gerbe and Mancari for a roster spot and the sheer numbers at forward for the Sabres could mean Ellis will be a veteran presence in Portland.
Out of all the young guns in camp, Gerbe has the best shot to make the starting lineup. His play in the playoff series against Boston with 1 goal and 2 points in two games, along with his natural goal-scoring ability, should translate into a starting roster spot. His lack of size is his only drawback, but he plays big in important games and is one of the fastest and most talented players in the Sabres’ system.
This camp may be Mancari’s last chance to finally come up to the big club full-time. With a big body (6’3” 225) and scoring ability (74 points in 74 games last season in the AHL), there is a good chance Mancari can at least grab the 13th forward spot.
He needs to use his body to his advantage on a consistent basis as he has done in the AHL to set himself apart from the likes of McCormick who does not have a real scoring touch. With a one-year deal signed this summer, and this being his sixth training camp, this may be his last shot.
Another big man at 6’3” could see playing time on the fourth line and could grab the last forward spot. Challenging Zdeno Chara in Game 5 of the series against the Bruins could only help his chances of claiming a roster spot.
The 33-year old Parrish is at Sabres training camp on a tryout basis to try to revive his career. The six-time 20 goal scorer has to have a great camp to have any shot of holding off Gerbe and the other young forwards for a spot with the Sabres. At the very least, Parrish could serve as forward depth in Portland.
Butler had a down year this past season although his offensive production was up from his rookie year (21 points in 59 games compared to 6 points in 47 games his rookie season). His plus/minus plummeted from a plus-11 to a minus-15 and defense matters first to Lindy Ruff. Butler needs to regain his form before another defensemen vaults him on the depth chart.
“Powerplay quarterback” could be the title given to Gragnani who has anchored the powerplay in the minors very effectively with 146 points in 220 games, along with 15 powerplay goals. His offensive prowess may vault Gragnani into the starting lineup based solely upon the Sabres powerplay difficulties. However, it has become more difficult for Gragnani to start as he will miss four to six weeks with a grade-two knee sprain.
Sekera ended up in coach Lindy Ruff’s doghouse along with Chris Butler at the end of last season but did play in all six playoff games while Butler did not after rotating with his teammate to end the year. With the Sabres searching for a powerplay quarterback in their system, Sekera needs to find his offensive game he had in juniors to firmly entrench himself in the top six defense corps.
With a one-year contract and a multitude of defensemen in the Sabres system, Weber needs to make a push in camp. This past year in the AHL, Weber was a plus-18 while racking up 153 penalty minutes. The Sabres could really use his physical presence in the lineup. Weber has stated that he has no plans to play in the AHL this year and that may mean a tough decision for the coaches come the end of camp.
I believe that Weber will claim the last starting defenseman spot. As for the seventh defenseman, it is pretty much a toss-up between Butler and Sekera, a battle in which I believe Sekera will eventually win because he is more versatile and can also play forward. All of the defenseman I mentioned will have to go through waivers before playing in Portland, so the Sabres could potentially lose some of these players. Lindy Ruff announced to the media that the Sabres will start the season with eight defensemen.
In terms of forward, Gerbe is far and away the best in terms of skill set, and he scores goals. Drew Stafford should be careful with some talented forwards in camp such as Adam and Zack Kassian, who is currently without a contract.
Kassian has showed his toughness in the first scrimmage by nailing Tyler Myers in the corner who went down hard, and then following that by scoring a beautiful shootout goal after the scrimmage, beating Patrick Lalime cleanly on the backhand.
McCormick should finish ahead of Ellis on the depth chart as he brings more size, but he will get a run for his money from Mark Mancari.
Read more Buffalo Sabres news on BleacherReport.com
Who are the top 20 Buffalo Sabres of all time?
Obviously, there are going to be disagreements, but this is who I believe should be on the list at this point.
There were difficult decisions on who to leave off of the list and how to rank them in order. Feel free to share your thoughts and comments.
Thank you and enjoy!
This is Part Two of a two-part series dealing with Darcy Regier's player acquisitions over his tenure as the Buffalo Sabres' General Manager.
This article is a list of Darcy Regier's worst player acquisitions during his tenure as the Buffalo Sabres' General Manager. Late-round draft picks are excluded from this "worst list" for obvious reasons, as many of them are long-shots to make the NHL in the first place.
The Buffalo Sabres have been an up-and-down team for a few years, but whenever they're down, they always seem to recover.
Of course everyone remembers those dynamic Chris Drury and Daniel Briere years, but when those two were signed away many wondered how Buffalo would recover. Could they get the team back to a competitive level? What would the response from the fans be to the losses of those two stars?
The Sabres were able to replace those stars with younger, high-ceiling options, they're top-10 in the league in attendance (and the 14th-biggest draw on the road), and having an All-World goalie certainly helps.
While everyone pays attention to the Pittsburghs and Washingtons, the Sabres should be a fun team to watch this year. They're also a fun team to make 10 bold (and not so bold) predictions about.
1. Someone scores 30 goals this year
Thomas Vanek had 28, Derek Roy 26, and Jason Pominville 24, but no one on Buffalo scored 30. The magic 3-0 may be an understatement however. Vanek has scored 40 twice in his career, and last year was his standard "down year" (having never scored 40 in consecutive seasons). Who am I to mess with a pattern?
2. Chris Butler goes from minus-15 to even (at least)
Butler's minus-15 was the worst on the team last year, and a far cry from his plus-11 the year before. So what gives? Butler figured himself out offensively last year with 20 assists (and just one goal), meaning that the University of Denver product can now put both sides of his game together in the same year.
3. Patrick Kaletta scores 10 goals and sits in the box for 100 minutes
Ten goals doesn't seem like a stretch for Kaletta because he scored that many last year. In fact, it almost seems too low, but 20 goals and 200 penalty minutes are both too high, and 15 and 100 don't go together as well as 10 and 100. Penalty minute-wise he's been 11 minutes off the century mark in each of the past two seasons, so he could easily push that milestone too. Next year? Twenty and 200!
4. Ryan Miller repeats as the Vezina winner
If Miller were to do this, he'd be the first man not named Brodeur or Hasek to win it in back-to-back years since Patrick Roy did in 1988-89 and 1989-90. Last year wasn't even the beginning folks. He was good before that too. Don't expect this to slow down.
5. Thomas Vanek scores 80 points
Last year Buffalo didn't even have a 70-point scorer (Roy led the team with 69), so that would be a good starting point. Both Vanek and Roy are good candidates, and both have done it before (2006-07 for Vanek, 07-08 for Roy), but Vanek seems like the better candidate. Why? I don't know. He only had 53 last year and 64 in each of the previous seasons, but he'll get 80. I hope.
6. Tyler Myers scores 15 goals
Last year's Calder winner had an outstanding debut as he was just one point away from top-10 in defensemen scoring. Although I don't think he reaches that height this year production-wise (he scored 41 just one in junior, with last year being just the second time he crossed that plateau in his career), he's got a booming point shot that will lead to plenty of goals. Keep in mind only five defensemen scored 15 goals last year and 10 the year before, so it's certainly a premier class of offensive defenseman he would join if he did it.
7. Tim Connolly doesn't miss any time due to injury
He played 82 games in back-to-back years with the Islanders and Sabres (2000-2002) and 81 the year before that, but since then it's been a mish-mash of 64, 2, 48, 48, and last year's 73. Maybe he misses time with a suspension because he makes fun of Sean Avery's girlfriend or something, or gets a cold (Cold's DON'T count as injuries for this), but he doesn't get hurt. Hopefully.
8. Nathan Gerbe should be a Calder Trophy finalist, but won't be
While you're paying attention to Edmonton (Hall, Eberle, Svensson), Boston (Seguin), and Toronto (Kadri) to name a few, don't forget about Gerbe. He's performed offensively at every level he's played at, he had five points in 10 games last year for the Sabres, and had two points in two playoff games too. Unfortunately because he's played 10 games for the Sabres in each of the past two years, he becomes ineligible. Thanks Sergei Makarov...way to ruin it for everyone.
9. Buffalo sends four players to the All-Star game; the most of any team
My predictions: Miller, Vanek, Roy, and Myers. I know what you're thinking: Way to go off the board. Well...thank you. I try.
10. Buffalo finishes second in the East
The losses of Henrik Tallinder and Tony Lydman hurt, but they'll cope. Myers, Craig Rivet, Jordan Leopold, Steve Montador, and Shaone Morrisonn will help bring the young guys along.
The Buffalo Sabres hang a picture of the Stanley Cup in their locker room as their goal for the year. Not strange? What if it were to paint a cowboy hat on it and play "Hell Bent for Buffalo" after every win while making sacrifices to Brett Hull? And you thought it was going to be a tame "stretch".
Bryan Thiel never thought he could include Aaron Pritchett and Sergei Makarov in the same article. He is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report and is featured over at Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game! E-mail BT at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter at BryanThiel_88.
Read more Buffalo Sabres news on BleacherReport.com
This is Part One of a two-part series dealing with Darcy Regier's player acquisitions over his tenure as the Buffalo Sabres' General Manager.
Many people criticize Buffalo Sabres' General Manager Darcy Regier for his mismanagement of players and bad trades. I decided I would take the top ten best aquisitions by Regier, and the top worst so that fans can decide for themselves if the positives outweigh the negatives or vice versa. Excluded from this "best list" are first-round picks such as Thomas Vanek, Tyler Myers, and Tyler Ennis as they are sure to be big-time players in the NHL. This list focuses more on the value aquisitions that Regier has made since 1997, his first year as general manager.