'Tis the season to see what the youngins have to offer
NHL teams have four recall moves post trade deadline, save for an emergency. Teams in the playoff mix, whether assured of a spot or battling for one, ususally make injury-related moves during the final stretch of a playoff push and later on when seeding is fixed, said teams might give a top prospect and/or a recent free agent signee a cup of coffee with the club.
For the Buffalo Sabres, along with a number of other teams, 'tis the seaon to get a good look at the development of their top prospects and see what they can do at the NHL-level on an extended stay.
Winger Alexander Nylander is first up for Buffalo. The 2016 eighth-ovearll pick has spent three seasons with the Rocheser Americans in what turned out to be a long development curve. Nylander entered the pro ranks as an 18 yr. old and struggled, in part because of his youth and in part because of injuries. Although the 2018-19 season hasn't been a breakout at the AHL-level for him, he did get hot at the right time with a four-game goal-streak and got the call to Buffalo. After working through some jitters and adjustments in his first three games, seemingly getting better with each game, Nylander had two primary assists in a win against the St. Louis Blues and followed it up with a pure snipe for his first goal of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Those strong performances got him the opportunity to ride shotgun with Buffalo's leading scorer, captain Jack Eichel, on the top line.
With the Sabres all but mathematically eliminated from the post season, head coach Phil Housley recently had a thrown-in-the-towel line juggle at practice that scattered his top three players amongst the top-nine group of forwards. Eichel is centering Nylander and left wing Conor Sheary while Buffalo's leading goal-scorer, Jeff Skinner, is on a line with center Evan Rodrigues and right wing Jason Pominville. Right wing Sam Reinhart, who complete the top-line, was moved down with rookie center Casey Mittlestadt and veteran forward Vladimir Sobotka on the left.
Housley didn't change the fourth line of center Johan Larsson with wingers Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo.
The coach spoke of Nylander after practice yesterday telling the gathered media, "We're going to give him an opportunity with Jack and see what he can do. He brings a skill-set. He can use his speed, he creates offensively down low and I really like the release of his shot.
"It will be an interesting combination."
Nylander's goal came after he found some open ice in the slot and used a quick release to bury a feed from Sobotka.
Housley kept his d-pairings intact at practice featuring rookie Rasmus Dahlin and Brandon Montour, Zach Bogosian with Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella with Casey Nelson. Buffalo's goalie for tonight's matchup in Montreal hasn't been officially disclosed but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Linus Ullmark between the pipes for the Sabres.
The Rochester Americans, who are in a playoff push that has them battlining for top-three seeding in the AHL's Eastern Conference, have three players that might get some playing time in Buffalo this season. Winger Victor Olofsson leads the team goals (25) and points (54) and has six points (4+2) in his last six games. Although he's not considered a rookie, the 23 yr. old is in his first North American pro season and has an envious shot, especially his a one-timer on the half-wall.
Another player that might get a good look is rookie center Rasmus Asplund. After an extremely slow start where he was adjusting to the North American game, Asplund has heated up. The 21 yr. old, two-way center has 10 points (4+6) in his last seven games and is a plus-2.
And, lest we spend too much time on forwards, defenseman Will Borgen has been turning heads with his hard-nose defensive style of play.
The Sabres got a good look at a couple of players this season including versatile forward C.J. Smith, who's in his second AHL season and who looks as if he's ready to make the jump, and defenseman Lawrence Pilut, a free agent signee last year. Pilut was part of a wave of Swedes, which includes Dahlin, Olofsson and Asplund, to hit the organization for their first North American pro season. He looked as if he was ready make the jump but has been struggling a bit since being returned to the Amerks.
With the season done it's time to focus upon the future, again, in Buffalo and the four prospects mentioned--Nylander, Olofsson, Asplund and Borgen--represent a wave of youngins that represent a big part of that.