When Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams addresses the media this morning, questions about injured captain Jack Eichel’s uncertain status will dominate the season-opening news conference.
Did Eichel pass his training camp physical Wednesday? Will the ultra-talented center have surgery to repair his herniated disc? Does he have a future in Buffalo?
Throughout the offseason, the Sabres remained tight-lipped about Eichel’s neck injury and any plans they have to grant his wish and trade him. But camp has started – the first sessions are today at KeyBank Center – and they must provide more clarity.
Believe it or not, there are other interesting storylines besides Eichel to follow throughout Don Granato’s first camp as the permanent coach.
The rebuilding team has a four-man goalie competition, some intriguing young talent and openings at forward and defense.
Here are some things to watch before the season starts Oct. 14.
Which goalies will secure spots?
The top four goalies in camp – prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and journeymen Craig Anderson, Aaron Dell and Dustin Tokarski – combined to win NHL six games last season. Tokarski, having played 13 times, earned the most action of the group.
The Sabres’ goaltending, at least on paper, looks very weak.
While Luukkonen, 22, is one of hockey’s top prospects, he’s a neophyte in North America. The Finn has played only 52 pro games, including four NHL contests last season.
Given Luukkonen’s inexperience and the Sabres’ rebuild – expectations are perhaps as low as they’ve ever been – he might be assigned to the minors, at least early on.
Anderson, 40, could have the inside track for the No. 1 job. The American is beginning his 19th season and has played 652 games. For much of his career, he was the Ottawa Senators’ backbone.
Despite toiling on the Washington Capitals’ taxi squad most of last season, he looked sharp in limited action.
Dell, 32, was a standout backup for the San Jose Sharks early in his career. After signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, the New Jersey Devils claimed him on waivers, and he compiled a 4.14 goals-against average and an .857 save percentage in seven appearances.
Still, Dell’s exploits over his first four years outweigh his struggles last season.
Tokarski, 32, performed well for the Sabres last year, becoming one of their feel-good stories as he played his first NHL games since 2016. His recent success and familiarity might help him snag the No. 2 job.
Who are the leaders?
The Sabres are no longer Eichel’s team, even if he plays another game for them someday. There’s speculation he could be stripped of the captaincy.
Clearly, the young talent that buoyed the Sabres after Granato took over – defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, 21, and center Casey Mittelstadt, 22, for example – will assume bigger leadership roles.
Center Dylan Cozens, 20, showcased strong leadership traits as a rookie last season, sometimes trying to ignite the Sabres by fighting. Cozens, who seized more opportunities as the year progressed, could serve as the first- or second-line center.
The Sabres have respected veterans Cozens and others can lean on. Winger Kyle Okposo, 33, has often been the team’s strongest voice during Eichel’s captaincy.
For some of the cheap offseason acquisitions, joining the Sabres presents an opportunity to jumpstart their careers.
After three solid years, defenseman Will Butcher, who recorded 44 points as a rookie in 2017-18, lost his spot in New Jersey last season. In Buffalo, he could skate on the second pair and man a point on the power play.
Considering the dearth of talent up front, Vinnie Hinostroza, who scored a career-high 16 goals in 2018-19, might earn a spot on a scoring line and the power play.
Old friend Mark Pysyk, who began his career in Buffalo, returned for a chance to play defense regularly after moonlighting as a forward. Given the inexperience on the blue line, he should enjoy regular duty.