Sabers season preview: Prospects counted on during youth movement

The 2022-23 NHL season starts on Oct. 7. With training camps opening soon, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Buffalo Sabres.

Coach: Don Granato (third season)

Last season: 32-39-11; fifth place in Atlantic Division; did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs

3 KEYS

1. Patience, patience, patience

Buffalo is continuing to preach patience heading into the season. It’s a team that will likely mark its progress in the development of its young players (and it’s a team full of them) as opposed to strictly in wins and losses. There is a lot to like about Buffalo’s future and the players that have been added. But for now, the Sabers and coach Don Granato are in the business of teaching and developing, with an eye to the long-term health and future after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past 11 seasons.

2. Net presence

The Sabers are relying on a tandem of 41-year-olds Craig Anderson and 27-year-old Eric Comrie while they wait for the full-time arrival of top goalie prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and eventually Devon Levy. Anderson went 17-12-2 in 31 games last season with a 3.12 goals-against average and .897 save percentage; Comrie, who signed a two-year contract as an unrestricted free agent July 13, went 10-5-1 with a 2.58 GAA and .920 save percentage in 19 games (16 starts) for the Winnipeg Jets, and is a player the Sabers believe has upside. Luukkonen, 23, is 3-8-2 with a 3.08 GAA and .913 save percentage in 13 NHL games, including nine with Buffalo last season.

3. Youth movement moving

The Sabers have arguably the top prospect pool in the NHL, with several players expected to break through in the next few seasons. If those players start to thrive earlier than expected, from defenseman Owen Power to forwards Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka to Luukkonen, plus young stars in the making such as defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and forwards Peyton Krebs and Dylan Cozens, the Sabers could accelerate their timeline and possibly even contend for a playoff berth. But it won’t be easy in the tough Atlantic Division.

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Making the cut

The Sabers are going to give several prospects every chance to make the roster out of training camp, which means there could be movement in the lineup. Players like Power, the 19-year-old who was the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, Quinn, 20, and Peterka, 20, are on the cusp and seem likely to join a group replete with young talent. Goalie is another position where the Sabers are going to give their prospects, notably Luukkonen, the opportunity to jump in front of their two veteran options.

Most intriguing addition

Power seems ready for his moment after two seasons at the University of Michigan. He joined the Sabers at the end of last season and had three points (two goals, one assist) in eight games. He’ll be able to learn in all situations this season, with an eye to an extremely promising future as a defensive anchor. He also has the benefit of being able to watch and learn from Dahlin, another No. 1 pick (2018 NHL Draft) on defense.

Biggest potential surprise

Although Quinn was a higher selection than Peterka in the 2020 NHL Draft (No. 8 vs. No. 34), it’s possible that Peterka could be better right now. Michael Peca, an assistant coach for Rochester in the American Hockey League, called Peterka a “unicorn” this summer for his unique talent and the type of player he could become. Peterka is coming off a season in which he led all AHL rookies in scoring with 68 points (28 goals, 40 assists) in 70 games.

Ready to break through

Cozens has 120 games of NHL experience and has 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists) over two seasons. At 21, Cozens has a lot of promise, which he put on display at the IIHF World Championship in May, where he was the third-leading scorer with 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 10 games for Canada. This could be his time to shine.

Fantasy sleeper

Quinn, RW (undrafted on average in fantasy) — He was voted the AHL’s top rookie last season and ranked third in points per game (1.36; 61 in 45 games for Rochester) among those to play at least 15 games, making him a fantasy rookie sleeper if he lands a top-six role with the Sabres. — Pete Jensen

PROJECTED LINEUP

Jeff SkinnerTage ThompsonVictor Olofsson

Peyton Krebs — Casey MittelstadtAlex Tuch

Rasmus Asplund — Dylan Cozens — Jack Quinn

JJ Peterka — Zemgus GirgensonsKyle Okposo

Matthias Samuelsson — Rasmus Dahlin

Owen Power — Ilya Lyubushkin

Jacob BrysonHenri Jokiharju

Craig Anderson

Eric Comrie

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