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More Youth, Less Size
January 22, 2011 - Matt Spielman
With the recent call-up of forward Paul Byron from Portland, the Sabres have added more youth and less size to their NHL roster.
Byron stands 5 foot 9 inches and weighs a paltry 144 pounds while Buffalo already features 5-foot, 5-inch Nathan Gerbe at 178 pounds and 5-foot, 7-inch Tyler Ennis at 157 pounds on the big-league roster. At 21, 23 and 21 years old, respectively, the Sabres front office is going to have to surround these players with size in the next few years if it thinks these three will make viable National Hockey League players.
It's not necessarily a bad thing to have small players on the team as recent NHL success has shown. Gerbe and Ennis, in my opinion, have been the Sabres best forwards for the past week or so. Daniel Briere, Pavel Datsyuk and Patrick Kane have all flourished in the past few years and none of them are more than 6 feet tall. The key is to surround these players with productive big men. Philadelphia has Jeff Carter, Detroit has Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen, Chicago has Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews. Thomas Vanek should be that player for the Sabres, but his play has been largely inconsistent since 2008. The question remains: is that because the Sabres haven't provided him with a true No. 1 center or does Vanek bring down his linemates?
Earlier this season Derek Roy looked like he may be developing into that center, but his season-ending injury will leave that question unanswered leading into another offseason of uncertainty. Tim Connolly has been given every chance to become that center and hasn't produced. Rumors have circulated that owner-in-waiting Terry Pegula would love to make a big personnel splash when he takes over the team with Calgary's Jarome Iginla a possible player of interest. Regardless of how they obtain a top-line center, the bottom line is the Sabres must obtain one.
Mike Grier, Jochen Hecht and Rob Niedermayer are the only Sabres forwards over the age of 30 while their only defenders above that threshold are Jordan Leopold and Craig Rivet. Of that group, Grier, Niedermayer and Rivet will be coming off of the books this summer. That will free up enough money for Buffalo to identify it's top No. 1 center priority and make a play for him. Ideally that player will be the team's new captain, provide Vanek will a legitimate star in the middle, drop Roy down to the second line where he should flourish and provide leadership both on and off the ice for the Sabres' budding group of small, young and probably, most importantly, inexpensive forwards.
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Buffalo Sabres' Nathan Gerbe (42) scores on a shot under pressure from New York Islanders' Jack Hillen (38) during the third period in Buffalo on Friday. The Islanders won 5-2. AP photo