Not only were the Sabres so poor last year, that they did get the 1st overall pick in the draft, they've also been fortunate to see other kids in their system move closer to an everyday spot, they signed some key free agents to help shore up some soft spots and they were making trades, like it was nobody's business.
The trades probably had the bigger impact on the club, key deals with the Penguins, Blues and Hurricanes saw some key names come to town and as you'll see below, this truly is a much different team on paper.
When the summer is all said and done, the big question will be whether or not the management team has taken this last place team from 2018 and transformed it into something much better and that can possibly make a run for the playoffs. Playing in the Metropolitan Division is already pretty difficult, overhauling the roster to have so many new faces could need a period of adjustment and there are so many other unforeseeable events that can occur in the long regular season as well. I would say that the odds are stacked against the Sabres this year, but they'll definitely be making some strides in the right direction.
Table last updated on August 13th
Most Intriguing or Breakout Player
Everyone is going to be so enamored with Rasmus Dahlin, and rightfully so, that they will likely overlook a kid like Casey Mittlestadt, who is poised for big things in his NHL career.
The kid dazzled us all at the World Juniors, playing for the US, while not really putting up amazing numbers in college, which gives me the feeling that once he can establish himself firmly with some top end players, his talent will make everyone he plays with better and his numbers will be shooting up to the stars.
First Round Picks
The Sabres are close to having one, according to these projections, and if you felt so inclined, you could probably take the gamble on Jack Eichel nice and early, because he does have the talent to get there, his health has been a bit of a wild card in the early part of his career. He was just under a point-per-game last year and with some more help around him, maybe he can get there.
Other Pool Worthy Forwards
The some more excitement probably comes from the pool worthy new faces that the Sabres have acquired at the forward position, the likes of Jeff Skinner, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund and Conor Sheary should all add a bit more flair to this side. They join players already there, like Kyle Okposo, Evan Rodrigues and Jason Pominville, creating quite a formidable side and believe it or not, there's still more to come (see free agents below).
Other Pool Worthy Defensemen
On defense, it's looking quite promising there as well. They've already had Rasmus Ristolainen in place for some time and he's really hitting his stride now, but he'll be helped out with the wonder kid from the draft, Rasmus Dahlin and they should also get some good minutes from Marco Scandella as well. Even the guys on the bubble have some upside, maybe if the Sabres start to play out of their skin, those guys will be worthy by the end of the year too.
It's a brand new tandem in the Sabres crease this season and this could be the shakiest ground on the team. Carter Hutton was added as a free agent and he has been close to being a number one and he'll get a good shot at it this year with the Sabres, but the team is also quite high on 25-year old keeper Linus Ullmark too. I would say that Hutton will likely have the reins out of the gate, but keep an eye on Ullmark, he could surprise many with a late season push for the job.
Team to Pick From Late?
I probably won't recommend buying heavily into the Sabres at the draft this year, just because there are a lot of unknowns to this team. It's pretty high risk with some uncertain rewards, which makes them better qualified to pluck players from at the Waiver Draft in the mid-season swaps.
Unsigned Players and Salary Cap
There is still a big name not on the list, restricted free agent forward Sam Reinhart, who has yet to see a new deal out of his entry-level contract, which expired in July. Reinhart was a big part of the offense last season and the discussion is likely whether or not to bridge him, which could be the biggest reason why the deal isn't done yet. I am showing the team with a $5.4 million cap buffer with their current 23-man roster, so there is money there, but the Sabres might need most of it.
One of the fringe defenders on the team, Jake McCabe, saw his 2018 regular season end early to shoulder surgery in February and his timetable was upwards of six months. Thankfully, that would be about now, giving him some time to prepare for training camp and the regular season. He should be a roster player this year, so just keep an eye out for any setbacks.