As Jason Botterill begins his era as the Buffalo Sabres GM, a key goal on his checklist will be building organizational depth. A deep Sabres team will lead to a deeper Rochester Americans team, allowing younger players to develop in a winning environment. While drafting well is the most important piece in building strong rosters in the NHL and AHL, savvy signings in free agency will help build a deeper lineup for the Sabres.
Here are five players that could help bolster the Sabres lineup and can contribute in a supporting role:
Kris Versteeg/Winger/Calgary Flames/69 GP- 15 goals- 22 assists
Versteeg began the year not fully expecting to play in the NHL after signing a one year deal with SC Bern of the Swiss league. After failing a physical, Versteeg’s contract was voided but soon after Edmonton gave him a tryout at training camp where he proved he could still play in the National Hockey League. Instead of signing with Edmonton, Versteeg signed with the Calgary Flames providing solid production as a bottom six forward. Versteeg is an experienced player, someone that can add some veteran leadership to a young team while adding speed and scoring in the bottom of the lineup. He was apart of the 2010 and 2015 Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup winning team’s, so his experience in the playoffs will be a huge value for a team learning how to win consistently in the NHL. Versteeg won’t break the bank either. Although he should see a slight bump in his salary, after making $950,000 in 2016, he should add solid value on a short term contract.
Sam Gagner/Center/Columbus Blue Jackets/81 GP- 18 goals- 32 assists
Gagner is coming off a year where he scored a career high 50 points, while playing in a limited role for Columbus. His 1.42 points per 60 minutes were ranked fourth on the Blue Jackets and his 54.16% corsi for ranked only second to Brandon Saad. Gagner is a very skilled player that had struggled to truly find his game during his career but last season showed that he still has the potential to be a very solid contributor for any team. In a larger role, as a third line center possibly, Gagner could be a real threat for the Sabres. Adding Gagner not only helps boost a Sabres secondary offense but also allows a player like Johan Larsson to play as a 4th line center, a role that likely fits his game. Gagner will be looking for a raise after making only $650,000 last year. A two year deal around $2,500,000-3,000,000 should be where Gagner’s next contract will end up.
Brendan Smith/Defenseman/NY Rangers/51 GP- 3 goals- 6 assists
Smith was traded this past deadline, from the Red Wings to the Rangers, for a second and a third, providing solid depth to the Rangers blue line. While Smith won’t add a plethora of offensive, he’s a good skater and good defender. He’s a player that you can slot on your third pairing and won’t hurt you. The Sabres added Victor Antipin this past week and Brendan Guhle will, in all likelihood, make the team next year, so adding a player like Smith will take some defensive pressure off of the more offensive defensemen. Most importantly Smith is a relatively competent defensemen, something the Sabres sorely lacked last season. Smith could possibly get a one year or two year prove it deal for around $1,500,000 to $2,000,000.
Derek Ryan/Center/Carolina Hurricanes/67 GP- 11 goals- 18 assists
Ryan is a journeyman, having gone from the WHL, CIS, Austrian League, Swedish League, then back to North America in the AHL before finally cracking the NHL last season. He’s is a low risk, high reward type player with the reward being a solid bottom six contributor. Ryan could move up and down the lineup, filling in when injuries start to pile up. He’ll add some skill and good skating ability to the bottom of the Sabres lineup and will fill in wherever needed. Ryan will likely see a one year deal for around $900,000, a type of signing that can go a long way as the season progresses.
Lauri Korpikoski/Left Wing/Columbus Blue Jackets/69 GP- 8 goals- 12 assists
Korpikoski is another low risk signing but will add solid depth as a fourth liner. He’s not going to contribute much offensively, adding around 20 points a year, but he’ll man the PK and play a very good defensive role. An underrated player in the sense that he will do the little things right but is not going to be flashy. A one year deal around $1,000,000 will be a minor move that solidifies the Sabres lineup.
The Sabres will have all their options open next season but adding at least one of these players will help build some depth in Botterill’s first season as GM.
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Stats provided by eliteprospects.com, stats.hockeyanalysis.com, and puckalytics.com.