2022-23 Lightning Opponent Preview: Buffalo Sabers

We continue our series by looking at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s opponents this season. Next, the Buffalo Sabers. The team has been making strides lately to make themselves more competitive and have a talent pool that is stacked. As a result, they will be much more difficult for teams in the Atlantic Division to face, as their defense could become one of the most feared in the league. Let’s take a look at their roster for this season.

Sabers have a lot of firepower

The Sabers wasted no time in offering Tage Thompson, the team’s leading scorer last season, a seven-year, $50 million contract, which will begin next season. As the St. Louis Blues’ first-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, he played one season there before being traded to Buffalo as part of the Ryan O’Reilly deal on July 1. 2018. Since then he has played 182 games. and scored 94 points. He had a stellar season last year as he turned the team’s power play into a constant threat.

Adding to the offense are two veterans, Kyle Okposo, who can be a regular 20-point scorer, and Jeff Skinner, who tied his career-high 63 points last season. Alex Tuch, the 26-year-old forward who came to Buffalo in the Jack Eichel trade, is one of the few offensive players with Stanley Cup Playoff experience, which he gained with the Golden Knights of Vegas.

Alex Tuch of the Buffalo Sabers has Stanley Cup experience (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One of the emerging offensive stars who can learn from veteran players is Dylan Cozens, who, at just 21, has fantastic puck moves and great skating ability. 23-year-old Sabers center Casey Mittelstadt has helped the team increase their power-play production. Last season, he missed several games. If he can stay healthyhe is a reliable playmaker.

The defense leads the sabers

Although Owen Power may attract media attention, Rasmus Dahlin is quietly emerging as the team’s best defensive player. Spending his entire young career with the Sabers, he played 277 games and scored 160 points. The 22-year-old Swede was the first overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Dahlin will be aided this season by the aptly named 6-foot-6, 213-pound Power. Also drafted as the No. 1 overall pick (2021), there are high expectations and quite a bit of hype following this youngster. He started eight games with the Sabers last season and scored two goals, one assist and a plus-3 differential. Henri Jokiharju is another young defender who has proven his worth on the penalty kill and on the power play. Once this unit gels, it will be a physical force on ice.

Coach Don Granato can turn Sabers into a contender

Don Granato finally has a team he can call his after taking over from Ralph Krueger in March 2020. His guidance and patience with young players can help make the team a contender and eventual playoff team in future seasons. Buffalo fans should be thrilled to see this team play.

Related: The Sabers top 6 are getting crowded

NHL pundits rank the Sabers’ field of prospects first in the NHL, or at least just behind. The team has some promising talent, like 18-year-old Matt Savoie, who was the first pick in this year’s draft, and center Noah Ostlund, who is also 18 and was selected 16th. Winger Jack Quinn played two games with the Sabers last season and had one goal and one assist.

Don Granato Jason Christie Buffalo Sabers
Buffalo Sabers head coach Don Granato develops his young players (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Granato has a young but hungry team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade. They need to solidify their starting goaltender. Free agent signing Eric Comrie gives Buffalo a goaltender who had a 2.58 goals-against average (GAA) and .920 save percentage (SV%) with the Winnipeg Jets last season. They also retain Craig Anderson, 41, who started 31 games last season, Malcolm Subban and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, whose .917 SV% last season was impressive in limited action.

How lightning opposes sabers

Last season, the Sabers finished fifth in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning have played four games against them, with their last game being on the road in February. If they can weather the storm without Zach Bogosian and Anthony Cirelli, they should be able to beat the Sabres, although the games are unlikely to be blowout wins.

At this point, the Lightning have better, more experienced players than the Sabres. However, with Buffalo’s rebuild finally looking set to pay off in the next few years, they won’t be an easy team to win against going forward. They have players just waiting for their chance to prove themselves. An impressive win over the 2022 Eastern Conference champions and two-time Stanley Cup winners is a perfect way to prove they’ve arrived.

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Robert M. Larson