In this series we build the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres roster one by one leading up to the season opener on October 3.
29 yrs. old
6'3" 210 lbs.
2008, 2nd round (55th-overall, MIN)
Career Stats: 518 games | 38 goals | 86 assists | 124 points | -38
One can almost feel the angst and anger emanating from Sabreland with the placing of left-handed defenseman Marco Scandella in this slot on the third pairing. Something like this will be met by a large contingent that are upset just seeing his name in print as part of the Buffalo Sabres and will just rail on him ad infinitum while another group that will bust out charts and colorful graphics to back their opinion that he shouldn't be on the team. Maybe any team.
Make no mistake, Scandella had a rough 2018-19 season. Everything from an offensive or possession standpoint went south last season for the former second-round pick and he, like other defensemen on the Sabres, looked as if he was just plain lost much of the time. Some of that might be traced back to coaching where former head coach Phil Housley produced a train wreck on defense. Housley was trying to bring his Nashville system to a Buffalo team that had nowhere near the high-end personnel the Predators had and the only full-time Sabre last season to rise above the malaise on the blueline was Rasmus Dahlin who, as a first-overall pick with a franchise label attached to him, has the talent to rise above almost anything. Even as an 18-yr. old.
As for Scandella, his only saving grace last season was his work on the penalty kill as he was part of a group that lifted the Buffalo PK to top-five status mid-season before finishing 12th-overall with a 80.9% kill rate. The unit showed significant year-over-year improvement as they'd finished 22nd the prior season with a 77.9% kill rate.
Overall, new head coach Ralph Krueger has a giant reclamation project this season as he'll try to make good with a team full of players that probably won't be here next season. Buffalo has a total of nine pending unrestricted free agents this season and two of those are Scandella and Zach Bogosian, a couple of veteran defensemen who were expected to stabilize the defense while the youngins developed. Unfortunately is hasn't gone as planned.
Scandella has regressed since Buffalo general manager Jason Botterill acquired him (and forward Jason Pominville) from the Minnesota Wild in 2017, which happened to coincide with the two seasons Housley coached the team. What Krueger will be able to salvage remains to be seen but if his work with Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey is any indication, there's hope. He's known to coach to a player's strengths and get them working as a team. His Team Europe was the surprise of the tournament as they made it to the finals only to be felled by a loaded Team Canada.
When it comes to the roster, Krueger told reporters at Harborcenter on Monday that "it's important you try to see what's here naturally and what's already present" and stated that he feels there's "a lot," which bodes well for players like Scandella (as well as a few others.)
Heading into camp Scandella has a few things going for him. First, he's one of three healthy left-handed defensemen headed into camp which will help him if Buffalo leans towards the lefty/righty combination. Second, it looks as if he'll be given every opportunity to compete for ice-time as Krueger seems to be headed into camp with a clean slate on everybody. And finally, injuries to Bogosian and second-year pro Lawrence Pilut (also a lefty) will have a direct influence on the defense corps, although Scandella's not fully in the clear as we should expect a strong push from another second-year pro in Henri Jokiharju for a roster spot.
Whereas Pilut will be out until at least mid-October after undergoing shoulder surgery, Bogosian may or may not be ready for opening night. The 29 yr. old Bogosian had elective hip surgery and is coming off a 65 game season for the Sabres where he played very well. However, health is always the big question for him as that was the first time he's hit the 65-games played mark since 2011-12. If Bogosian does come back in time for the opener, one can easily see Scandella on the outs and in the press box unless he has a strong camp.
Krueger stated on Monday that he'll lay out the processes "clearly" and that there will be a "very open communication" of what needs to be done at camp. After that "it will be up to the players to answer those questions." For a nine-year veteran like Scandella, knowing what needs to be done should come pretty easy but executing within those systems might be a totally different story. That said it will give us a pretty good indication of where he is in terms of his career and whether or not last year's train wreck was more about coaching or personnel.
Building the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Jeff Skinner
/ C, Jack Eichel
/ RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Jimmy Vesey
/ C, Casey Mittelstadt
/ RW, Marcus Johansson
LW, Victor Olofsson
/ C, Evan Rodrigues
/ RW, Conor Sheary
LHD, Rasmus Dahlin
/ RHD, Brandon Montour
LHD, Jake McCabe
/ RHD, Rasmus Ristolainen
LHD, Marco Scandella
G, Carter Hutton