In a few years, the Buffalo blueline will be run by players such as Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Jake McCabe and Mark Pysyk. The hope of course, is that the Sabres will be a playoff team by then, helped up front by names such as Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons and perhaps Connor McDavid. But in order to get that organic progression, the organization must ensure that those current youngsters don’t get squashed by pressure and expectations along the way.
To that end, GM Tim Murray went out on Wednesday and inked another experienced blueliner in Andre Benoit, a slick skater who is coming off a career year with the Colorado Avalanche. With Benoit, Josh Gorges, Tyler Myers and Andrej Meszaros, the Sabres blueline has filled up quickly. Along with all the youngsters mentioned at the top, there’s also 24-year-old Chad Ruhwedel and veteran Mike Weber under contract.
As ProHockeyTalk’s Joe Yerdon hypothesized, the Benoit signing likely means Ristolainen spends the bulk of 2014-15 in Rochester, honing his game in the American League. Zadorov, unless he has an incomparable training camp (which is certainly possible), would find himself back in the Ontario League with the London Knights. The big Russian would dominate the OHL, but he would also get a chance to play for his country again at the upcoming world juniors, where Sabres fans wouldn’t have to go far to see him play in Toronto.
Defense is a tough position for youngsters and it’s no surprise that so few teenagers make it on to NHL bluelines full-time. For every Seth Jones, Olli Maatta or Jacob Trouba, there are scores of others who need to build their games elsewhere first.
So Murray has given coach Ted Nolan some nice flexibility here. The plan in Buffalo has been to build the right way and not try to speed things up. At the draft combine, Murray told me that his first pick (which turned out to be Reinhart) wouldn’t have to play right way if the player wasn’t ready: junior was a perfectly good option. Whether that applies to Reinhart or not remains to be determined, but it’s a good bet that the kids on the blueline will really have to stand tall in the fall if they want to stay in Buffalo all season long.