By Colleen Meosky
48 games into the season, the Sabres only have 13 wins. Former head coach Ralph Krueger is arguably the worst in franchise history. Since his firing, Buffalo has witnessed a shift in the team’s culture. Krueger stifled talent and tried to force a system that wasn’t working. Under interim head coach Don Granato, the young players are developing and actually scoring. The Sabres have a newly found confidence, and they are embracing their identity as a talented but young group.
Rasmus Ristolainen checks his former, recently-traded teammate Taylor Hall into the boards with gusto during the April 22nd matchup.
Photo Credit: Bill Wippert/Getty Images
The lineup is dealing with several notable injuries, including starting goalie Linus Ullmark’s lower body issue and Jack Eichel’s herniated neck disc. While these are undoubtedly massive hits to the team and very unfortunate injuries, it has given the younger guys more ice time and opportunities to develop. Officially eliminated from the playoffs, the young core has decided to use this time to hone their skills and find their game in the NHL. First overall pick Rasmus Dahlin has become the regular ice time leader, and he’s exploring his abilities and is making successful, daring plays. After Saturday’s matchup against Boston, Dahlin has 10 points in the last 11 games. His roommate Casey Mittelstadt is also excelling with eight goals in 14 games, making him one of April’s best goal scorers throughout the league. Dylan Cozens, another centerman, has seven points in the last eight games in his rookie season.
GM Kevyn Adams has brought up three players from Rochester recently to make their NHL debuts. Winger Artuu Ruotsalainen now has nine games of experience and four goals to go with it. 21 year old defensemen Mattias Samuelsson earned two points in his fourth NHL game against the Bruins. Finally, the greatly anticipated debut of goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen took place on Saturday. UPL is the 22 year old goalie of the Rochester Americans and arguably Buffalo’s most exciting prospect in the AHL. Despite letting up a goal on the first shot he faced, Luukkonen displayed excellent mental toughness and athletic ability. He had 36 saves in the 6-4 victory, and two of the goals were rotten luck with the puck being deflected off of Rasmus Ristolainen’s stick. While he isn’t expected to be a regular in the lineup when Linus Ullmark returns, fans and teammates are certainly excited to watch him in the years to come.
Photo credit: Harry Scull Jr.