Note: This article is part of a top-ten countdown of the Buffalo Sabres‘ top prospects. In order to be considered a prospect, the player has to be eligible for the Calder Trophy this season, which means they cannot have played more than 25 games in the NHL in any season prior. This removes Corey Tropp, Luke Adam, Jhonas Enroth and Cody Hodgson from contention.

When the Buffalo Sabres entered the 2011 NHL Draft, the lingering taste in their mouths from the seven-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs did not sit well. What many blamed for the loss was the lack of top-tier goal scoring talent.

With the 16th pick in the Round 1 of the draft, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier sought to change that goal scoring problem by selecting Joel Armia out of the Finnish pro league. A winger with size and skating ability, Armia has been pegged by many as possibly the best goal scorer in the 2011 draft class.

Despite all of this talent, Armia may be somewhat of an enigma to Sabres fans. Armia has played in the Finnish pro league for Assat Pori since being drafted, meaning, aside from the occasional YouTube highlight, not many in North America have been able to watch him play.

Here is what Sabres fans need to know about Armia:

First, checking HockeyDB will not give you an accurate portrayal of Armia‘s abilities. In his third year with Assat Pori, Armia has scored 45 goals in 124 games, which certainly does not scream superstar. However, it is worth noting that Armia is 19 years old and playing with much older players, both in age and in body composition. A few years of NHL-level strength training and competition will do wonders for Armia.

Second, the kid is talented. He was seen as one of the best players, if not the best, on the Finnish World Junior Championship team the past two years, including the tournament held in Buffalo. That team also included Minnesota Wild blue chip prospect Mikael Granlund, so that’s the type of talent he has played with.

Third, he can score. 18 goals may not seem like a lot, but it ranked 11th in 2010-2011 and 16th in 2011-2012 in the league. He also has been compared to Jeff Carter, who was a big part of the Los Angeles Kings winning the Stanley Cup last year.

Look for Armia to be stateside this year, with his requisite military service ending after this season. Where he ends up will likely depend on the health of Corey Tropp and the plan for Patrick Kaleta, but he will certainly have a shot at becoming a part of the Sabres NHL club come next September.

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Earlier in September, Buffalo Sabres fans saw the opening of Alumni Plaza outside of the First Niagara Center with an impressive statue honoring the hallowed French Connection.

It goes without saying that the line of Rick Martin, Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert was one of the most impressive in NHL history, never mind Sabres history. Each player finished their Sabres career with at least 200 goals and better than a point per game.

Gilbert Perreault was easily the most talented of the three, with his smooth skating and soft hands leading the way for the Sabres for the better part of two decades. Perreault is the franchise leader in both goals (512) and assists (814). Those marks are likely to stand for many years to come. 

Perreault was also the first Sabre to have his number retired, with No. 11 raised to the rafters of the Memorial Auditorium in 1990.

Perreault was recognized on the NHL level as well with his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990. He currently sits 25th on the all-time list for assists, 31st for points and 37th for goals.

Rick Martin, like Perreault, essentially played his entire career with the Sabres, except for four games over two seasons for the Los Angeles Kings. Martin was the Sabres’ first sniper, scoring 40-plus goals in five different seasons and twice scoring 52.

Martin benefited from the vision and skill of Perreault and Robert, but was an excellent player himself. After his death in 2011, the Sabres painted two No. 7’s behind each goal to honor Martin. Martin’s No. 7 was retired by the Sabres in 1995.

Rene Robert was the least tenured Sabre of the three, having played five full seasons for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Rockies (now the New Jersey Devils) and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Yet his arrival in 1972 sparked the creation of the French Connection and launched one of the most exciting eras in Sabres history.

Robert was more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, but was adept at both, notching a 60-assist season and two 40-goal seasons. Robert is one of only five Sabres to score 100 points in a season, together with Perreault, Pierre Turgeon, Alexander Mogilny and Pat LaFontaine.

So, with the French Connection memorialized in Alumni Plaza, who will be the next group to join them?

While statues will certainly not be the norm, look for nods to Scotty Bowman, Punch Imlach, Pat LaFontaine, Dominik Hasek, Alexander Mogilny, Dale Hawerchuk, Dave Andreychuk and Phil Housley.

Once hockey starts again, Alumni Plaza will be a great place for Sabres fans to honor their greats, before and after the game.

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When the Buffalo Sabres signed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff last summer, expectations were high for both him and the team.  However, Ehrhoff and the Sabres failed miserably at living up to those hopes.  So should fans expect a bounce-back year from the German blueliner and his teammates?

One thing they should count on is Ehrhoff being in midseason form when play does resume.

He’s been lacing them up for Krefeld in Germany’s premiere Deutsche Eishockey Liga since mid-September.  It’s familiar territory for the 30-year-old, as he started his pro career with the same team in 1999.

Bad luck was also part of his struggles last year, as he missed 16 games due to injury. 

Although his production was down, his impact in the Sabres’ lineup was still huge.  They went 3-10-3 without him.

Here we’ll examine four different reasons why Ehrhoff will improve on his disappointing 2011-12 campaign.

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It’s safe to say every Buffalo Sabres fan has their own opinion about the contract general manager Darcy Regier gave Ville Leino last offseason.

Whenever you see a six-year, $27 million deal in the NHL, it attracts a lot of attention. 

When it comes to dollars and cents (and maybe sense), Leino did not live up to his billing last season. There is no debate about that. Ask him and he’ll probably tell you himself that he was not pleased with how his season went. 

His rollercoaster ride can be summed up pretty succinctly. He scored in the Sabres’ first game, then scored a goal and had two assists in the next 21 games. After finding a groove and scoring five points in his next seven outings, he injured his ankle and missed the next 11 games. He was held scoreless in his first seven games back from injury, and then was steady from that point on.

There were many quasi-excuses made for Leino over the course of the season, with the main one being he was not comfortable making the transition to center and couldn’t pick up coach Lindy Ruff’s system as a result. 

We’ll come back to that notion in a minute, but on a high level it looks like Regier got robbed on the side of the highway by Leino

It’s a given that Leino, per his performance last season, is not worth the $4.5 million per year price tag. But the other related question is whether or not he is a positive force on the ice for the Sabres.

That’s where you need to look a bit closer; where appearances on a score sheet do not necessarily tell the entire story. 

Leino is all about puck possession. If you talk to a sample of NHL general managers and coaches, his name would certainly be one of the first to come up if the conversation turned to the best puck-possessing forwards in the game. 

One of the biggest issues Leino had in his first few months as a Sabre was getting used to a role that was not suited for his possessing style. Centers in Lindy Ruff’s system are not given many opportunities to possess the puck low in the offensive zone, Leino‘s strong suit. Instead, Ruff likes his centers to be in the slot and to rotate down when necessary.

This obviously impacted Leino in the sense that he was taken out of his comfort zone. But, as many Sabres fans have argued, when you’re paid $4.5 million a year, the expectation is that you are a good enough hockey player to adapt to a new system. 

That thought is completely true, but it should also be pointed out that when Leino was eventually given the same system he had in Philadelphia, he started playing some really good hockey. His shallow zone turnovers disappeared. He created ice for Jason Pominville and Derek Roy. His defensive zone coverage was superb. 

So, yes, Leino did not perform to his contract last season, no one can argue he did, and he may never be a true $4.5 million guy. But the reality is that if he plays like he did down the stretch last season, he may be an extremely valuable piece to the Sabres moving forward. 

Moving forward, Leino would be an excellent linemate for Mikhail Grigorenko, who continues to dazzle in the QMJHL. Despite the Sabres’ scouting director Kevin Devine’s recent comments that it will be “difficult” for Grigorenko to make the team, anything can happen. Leino‘s style of play would be a perfect complement to Grigorenko‘s, with their other linemate possibly being the newly-acquired Steve Ott

Look for a bounce-back year from Leino. Any expectations of 60-plus points may be a pipe dream, but strong two-way play and a ferocious forecheck should be expected in a second or third-line role.

No, it’s not a $4.5 million role, but eventually Sabres fans are going to have to look past that aspect and concentrate on the positives he brings to the ice. 

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Note: This article is part of a top-ten countdown of the Buffalo Sabres‘ top prospects. In order to be considered a prospect, the player has to be eligible for the Calder Trophy this season, which means they cannot have played more than 25 games in the NHL in any season prior. This removes Corey Tropp, Luke Adam, Jhonas Enroth and Cody Hodgson from contention.

When the Buffalo Sabres took Brayden McNabb in the third-round of the 2009 draft, they seemed to be following a pattern.

After the selection of 6’8″ Tyler Myers in 2008, the selection of 6’4″ McNabb seemed to show the Sabres wanted to get bigger on the back end. But, like Myers, McNabb’s size certainly has not held him back offensively.

In his four seasons with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL, McNabb scored 50 goals and had 175 total points in 258 games, including a 72-point season in 2010-11. McNabb was also the Ice’s captain during his final season.  

That success carried over to the AHL with the Rochester Americans, where McNabb posted 30 points in 45 games during his rookie campaign. His production earned him a prolonged stint with the Sabres in December, where he scored 8 points in 25 games.

More important than his point production was his comfort level in his own zone and his physical play, something that the Sabres sorely needed at that time. 

With the lockout dragging on, McNabb has started this season with the Amerks in the AHL, where he has impressed with six points in 10 games and a plus-minus rating of plus-four. 

McNabb has a bright future with the Sabres, with the dream of having him and Myers on the same defensive pairing could cause opposing forwards to have nightmares. 

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