Industry Q&A: Keith Perera on the new Covert LT and ST

Industry Q&A: Keith Perera on the new Covert LT and ST

Industry Q&A: Keith Perera on the new Covert LT and ST

A while back Keith Perera took some time to chat with us about his job with Warrior and a few cool features of their stick line. With the new Covert ST and LT in stores now, Keith took a few more minutes to give an inside look at what makes these two new sticks so fantastic.

GS: Tell us about the new sticks, what remains the same from last year’s Covert line and what has been added?

KP: The Covert is all about speed and quick release. So we set out to make our sticks lighter, load easier and kick back stronger – improving on an already successful line.

Our new product has the “LT” designation for a reason. We wanted to make each stick the lightest we could possibly make it without sacrificing durability, and in some cases, making them more durable.

We have also added a “ST” model stick at the very high-end DT1 model to give Stronger players low kick with added twist resistance which then helps accuracy.

GS: The Covert was a very popular model last year – particularly with the various price point models. What do you think made the entire line so popular with players?

KP: Covert had a very distinct feel and kick. When a player got to try the product, they immediately felt the Dagger Taper load and release the puck with ease and speed. Covert also featured our newest blade designed with durability and weight in mind. We now have the lowest return rate in our history and it’s all due to those new blade features. They are lighter and stronger.

GS: How do you think the new features will add to the Covert’s popularity?

KP: Making the product lighter and increasing the recoil will really get more players to notice the Covert line. The biggest thing for us is weight – players we poll always tell us they want the stick to feel light and swing light. The very next thing they say is they don’t want the stick to break. It’s has always been a hockey paradox in the past (Light & Durable), but with some of our new strategic R&D partners in the Aerospace and Defense fields, it has become a reality.

GS: I know you don’t work with pros too often but did you get an idea of positive feedback those guys were giving on the Covert line last year?

KP: Great question, our momentum is really turning here. This off-season was our best ever! Players were hearing more from other players that our sticks were not breaking and were performing incredibly well. That R&D partner also allowed us to produce our lightest pro stick and it was really durable. Players were amazed! We added 30 new players to our stable and it was purely based on product. We did sign some big new names (Pacioretty, Clarkson) but we would have never had a chance with those guys if our product was not good. Money is fine, but product is KING

GS: How much of that feedback, if any, went into the design of the LT and ST models?

KP: Features like HiFusedST and new blade construction did come from needs from PRO. Pros bring very acute problems to our engineering team. Requests like “Make the stiffest blade ever” to the challenge of “keeping Chara’s blade from opening up” are things they get all the time from our players or our reps in the dressing rooms trying to dial-in a player’s spec. Sometimes these trickle down to our retail product (ex. TwinSpar, StrongArm, HiFusedST), but some features don’t. There aren’t that many “Charas” out there…imagine?!

GS: Should we expect to see a lot of NHLers using these models this season?

KP: You will see some major additions to our player stable. We’ve added players all over the league. Abdelkader, Franzen, Iginla are just to name a few. The other thing you’ll notice is that most of our players will be using our LT or ST graphic. This will also make the impression of our players larger since they are using one of 3 graphics available. In the past, we would have up to 5 graphics available to our pros and it really diluted our product presence in the NHL.

GS: When was the decision made to offer two different models (ST and LT) for this year?

KP: The decision was a tough one but came out of utility. We were finding our AAA testers loving the LT quick release Dagger construction but they were complaining that it was too “whippy or active” down low. We got that from pros too and we tested the HiFusedST construction with the same AAA players and they loved the quick release + Accuracy. We found that some players did not need all the Dagger Taper extra flex since they generated enough power and force themselves. What those stronger players needed was added twist resistance. That’s exactly what HiFusedST does, since the fuse point of the stick is near the player’s lower hand. It resists twist, thus giving the player low kick with more accuracy. Many players told us it felt like the old Easton SE16, which was very popular with better players a few years ago.

GS: Can you talk about a few more benefits of the LT?

KP: LT is all about making our sticks LighT. Since we were building “smarter sticks” (better engineered, more durable) we found new ways to pull excess weight out without affecting durability. It was an amazing discovery. Our lower priced models are incredibly light for the price. As a quick example, our $99 DT4LT weighed 40g lighter than a major competitors’ $110 stick… and is lighter than everyone’s $99 stick, by quite a bit.

GS: Can you give a more detailed breakdown of the Dagger technology and specifically the upgrades made with the Dagger T2?

KP: Dagger Taper is a wonderfully simple and effective technology for a hockey stick. The stick tapers to a point down very low in the stick and, in turn, that’s where the stick flexes. Pretty simple. This simple notion has resonated with players and they are feeling the benefits of this super low kick point. With this new line, we wanted to improve on the RECOIL of Dagger. Dagger loads and flexes very easily, but we wanted it to recoil back and return energy back to the puck. So we placed Uni-Directional fibers in the taper to help promote that kick-back effect. We also extended the internal structures from our blades into the taper area to help provide a more “connected” feel for the blade and taper to work together. Those two enhancements helped push Dagger Taper to the next level.

GS: A number of NHLers were using custom colored Coverts throughout the year last season. Is there an opportunity that various colors will be made available to the public with the new models or even the former Covert line?

KP: We are playing with the idea of offering these “Pro Graphic” build ability on our customizer, but nothing has been finalized as yet. Sorry!

GS: Should we expect to see a similar evolution to the Dynasty AX1 line? If so, can you provide any hints?

KP: I can’t speak to the Dynasty line as yet, but I can in a couple months. We just presented all the info on the new line to our sales force and after all our dealers have had a chance to see it and write orders for it we can talk about it.

GS: The Covert gloves were finally released and feel phenomenal (I’m a fan of a more snug fit glove). What has the reaction been to them – both from pros and amatuers?

KP: I’m not really close to our glove product (Chris J is our PM for protective) but from 3rd hand I know that people love the feel of them. I’m also a fan of the Covert…

GS: Last time you couldn’t offer much in terms of what we can expect next from Warrior. Are you able to offer any hints as to what we may see in the coming months?

KP: I wish I could, but I can’t get in to too much detail. All I can say is – 2014 is going to blow the doors off. We consciously took a step back 2yrs ago, refocused, reorganized and made our product better performing with durability. Now it’s time for us to really fly our brand flag…and if you saw how we did it when we started, you get the idea. So I’ll leave it at that.

Sabres should go back to red & black for Hasek

Sabres should go back to red & black for Hasek

Earlier this week the Anaheim Ducks went back to the start of their franchise and busted out Mighty Ducks retro jerseys for their game against Ottawa on Sunday.

Earlier this week the Anaheim Ducks went back to the start of their franchise and busted out Mighty Ducks retro jerseys for their game against Ottawa on Sunday.

The jerseys were worn as part of Anaheim’s 20-year anniversary celebration and the practice was widely embraced as a great idea by fans, players and media members alike. The Ducks went all out with the event, as well. In addition to the uniforms, they also went retro with the scoreboard, intros and TV graphics for the night.

Seeing all this got me thinking, why can’t the Sabres do something similar? I’m not saying a direct ripoff of the Ducks idea, but something out of the same playbook.

Considering the Sabres current home and road uniforms are practically identical to their original jerseys, going back to the original design for a night wouldn’t yield a drastically different look for the team on the ice. Because of that, the only true option for a throwback-type night would be to rewind to the red and black era. And what better night to turn the clock back to red and black than when the Sabres finally retire Dominik Hasek’s number?

Ted Black has already come out and said the Sabres will be retiring Hasek’s number in the very near future. I also believe there was some insinuation that Hasek may also end up with a statue out in the plaza. Obviously the Sabres have pretty big plans for the greatest goaltender in franchise history.

For my money, there’d be no other way to go than a statue and jersey retirement on the same night. His performance and legacy is right there with the French Connection and combining the two events would make for a very cool special night for Hasek and the fans. Taking it one step further by decking the team out in the red and black uniforms that were worn during Hasek’s prime would make it that much cooler.

Yes, Hasek did indeed wear blue and gold for a portion of his tenure in Buffalo but his greatest highlights along Perry Street came wearing the the divisive “goat head” uniforms. To not only honor him with his jersey retirement – and perhaps a statue unveiling too – but with the team in the colors worn during his greatest would make for a pretty cool theme night.

There is a two-fold issue that would likely crop up. First is that the Sabres have done a pretty good job (non-matching fonts excluded) in keeping their jersey banners set in the team’s original colors and appearance; setting the night up in red and black could throw that off. Second, the fact that the team has gone back to the original crest serves as a benefit to wearing those uniforms on nights they choose to honor their legends. You also have the fans who hate the red and black uniforms, which adds an additional layer of push back for such an idea.

All that being said, both Pat LaFontaine and Danny Gare had their jerseys retired in 2006 when the team still wore red and black and there wasn’t much issue back then. Additionally, as stated above, Hasek’s greatest moments in a Sabres jersey were dominated by the red and black era, why not honor him in the very jerseys he wore during that heyday?

For those fans who despise the red and black jerseys and logos, bear in mind that not only was the team the most successful during that era but the Ducks throwbacks weren’t exactly the most widely loved uniform set out there either. With so much interest in embracing the past, there’s no reason to overlook the franchise’s greatest period of success.

When the chips are on the table it seems odd to not go all out for Hasek. The Ducks got nothing but good press for rolling the clocks back recently and if there’s something the Sabres desperately need it’s good press. Additionally, the Sabres have been somewhat underwhelming in the player honoring department lately and going all out for Hasek would be a nice move to work their way back to par.

I forget the precise timetable that the French Connection statue followed but I’d assume that by spring of 2015 the Sabres would be able to hold a joint unveiling and jersey retirement night for Hasek.

Bauer Hockey Equipment

Highlights of Bauer Hockey’s Spring 2014 product line up include:

BAUER SUPREME SKATE LINE:

Led by the BAUER SUPREME TOTALONE MX3, the new BAUER SUPREME line of skates continues to deliver new levels of skating efficiency with its light weight, anatomical fit and next-generation range of motion technologies. The BAUER SUPREME TOTALONE MX3 features a new FREE-FLEX tendon guard that allows for the maximum range of motion and a new injected one-piece stability lacing system designed for a BAUER SUPREME fit. It also has a 3FLEX TONGUE with CURV® composite inserts that let a player customize the flex and performance of the skate. Like a springboard, the CURV composite inserts respond as a player skates forward. The top five new BAUER SUPREME skates feature the TUUK LIGHTSPEED EDGE HOLDER that allows players to change out broken or dull steel in seconds.

BAUER NEXUS SKATE LINE:

The new BAUER NEXUS skate line combines state-of-the-art technologies with an authentic look and feel. The elite BAUER NEXUS 8000 features a new CURV composite quarter package and a three-piece felt tongue with a high-density metatarsal guard. Its HYDRAMAX 2 liner delivers ultimate comfort and abrasion protection. The top four BAUER NEXUS skates feature the TUUK LIGHTSPEED EDGE HOLDER that allows players to change out broken or dull steel in seconds.

BAUER RE-AKT 100 HELMET:

Available in stores this summer, this revolutionary helmet delivers next-generation protection and enhanced impact management. The RE-AKT 100 features the new SUSPEND-TECH 2 liner system with FLEXORB for superior impact absorption and better rotational management. SEVEN+ embedded in VTX Technology provides optimal impact management for both high and low linear energy impacts.

NEW FULL LINE OF PERFORMANCE APPAREL:

Bauer Hockey unveiled several new lines of apparel, including the first launch of its off-ice training apparel and women-specific base layer, as well as next-generation protective and base layer apparel. This new full line of performance apparel is led by the introduction of FLEXORB and 37.5, which deliver exclusive revolutionary technologies that advance player performance and protection. FLEXORB offers exceptional protective properties and flexibility and will debut in Bauer Hockey’s latest line of protective base layer. FLEXORB is strategically placed in vulnerable areas, such as the clavicle or lower rib area, to complement other equipment. Apparel with 37.5 technology, a state-of-the-art moisture management innovation, uses body heat to quickly evaporate water away from an athlete, allowing him or her to dry up to six times faster. 37.5 technology will debut across Bauer Hockey’s new elite performance apparel line, as well as in certain protective equipment.

BAUER NEXUS STICK LINE:

The new BAUER NEXUS stick line, with its TRU mid-kick flex, is ideal for the player looking for a balanced feel with a quick, effortless release. The BAUER NEXUS 8000 stick features a new POWER SENSE CORE blade that maximizes power and puck feel while enhancing balance and stability. It also includes a PURE SHOT blade profile that reduces the amount of blade deflection – the twisting or opening of the blade while shooting – improving blade control and accuracy. For added durability, the BAUER NEXUS 8000 includes eLASTech Technology, a proprietary resin system that reinforces composite materials and reduces the spread of micro-fractures.

For more information please visit us online at greatskate.com

On the Ice: Reebok RIBCOR

Reebok’s newest stick to hit the market is the much anticipated RIBCOR. A new development from the company that introduces new shaft technology that has never been seen before.

Reebok’s newest stick to hit the market is the much anticipated RIBCOR. A new development from the company that introduces new shaft technology that has never been seen before.

Reebok’s newest stick to hit the market is the much anticipated RIBCOR. A new development from the company that introduces new shaft technology that has never been seen before.

The RIBCOR has special ribbed ridges at the kick point of the stick designed to keep the carbon fibers in tension at all times. By doing so the stick not only becomes easier to load for shots, but produces much more kick because of it.

Reebok also introduced an interesting new set of texture zones along the upper portion of the shaft for this season. In addition to offering a full grip model, the non-grip stick’s texture zones provide a tactile area to offer a bit more feel during play. Add in the new SSX blade specifically built to stay stiff, rigid and strong and Reebok has built a slap shot machine not seen anywhere else on the market.

Out of the Box

One of the coolest things about the RIBCOR is the basic design features Reebok chose to utilize. It is a matte black stick with minimal silver or grey accents worked in. The RIBCOR logo and a few trim items are highlighted in a neon green, but it isn’t anything that’s overdone. It gives an attractive, low-profile look. The feel off the rack is great. It’s a well-balanced stick that is extremely lightweight. With or without gloves the texture zones stand out but aren’t over the top or distracting.

On the Ice

The RIBCOR responds very well from top to bottom. Reebok isn’t kidding around when they say the stick loads and kicks easier and stronger than most others on the market. The ribs do indeed increase the kick point of the stick and the results show right off the bat when taking slap shots.

The same can be said of the way the blade reacts. One teammate – coming from using an original CCM RBZ – was actually surprised at how much he had to compensate when taking passes and when shooting. It was the responsiveness of the blade that took him by surprise more than anything else. Much in the same way, he noted that the balance of the stick – while not perfect – was much more impressive than his RBZ.

Overall the strength of the stick was impressive as well. More than a few hacks and slashes found their way to the ribbed area of the RIBCOR during our game and it endured just fine. One added benefit of the pre-loaded ribs is that they help to strengthen that area of the shaft as well. Reebok actually built-out the taper in a different way than they have in the past for the RIBCOR and the added strength shows without limiting performance.

A few more ice times will certainly yield a few more goals and an even better feel for moving the puck with the new stick. But the RIBCOR is the type of stick that will wow you from your first spin in warm ups.

What hollow fits you best?

What hollow fits you best?

What hollow fits you best?

I’m guilty of something many hockey players are likely guilty of. When I come into Great Skate for a sharpening I hand my wheels over to a clerk, take my ticket and let them do their work on my skates. I don’t have a specific hollow size that I prefer and I simply deal with how my skates feel until the next time I need a sharpening.

This is the case for both my forward and goal skates, for what it’s worth.

When it comes to skate sharpening you should have a stronger opinion than myself. You should know what does and doesn’t work for you, what type of hollow would best suit your skills and, most importantly, you should have a high comfort level with how your skates are sharpened each and every time.

In the event that you need a refresher on some of the terminology on skate sharpening, here’s a few of the finer points.

  • Hollow refers to the semi-circle shape formed on the bottom of your skate blade. This is made deeper by a sharpening.
  • A hollow is measured by inches (and quarter inches too) with a deeper hollow being represented by lower numbers. For example, a 1” hollow won’t be as deep as a 1/2” hollow.
  • Deeper hollows typically increase your agility, edge work and ability to turn as the edges on your skates will cut deeper into the ice.
  • Shallow hollows won’t allow for as effective sharp turns due to your edges being far less sharp. However, you may feel like movement is easier since there will be less resistance. A shallow hollow allows for a little more speed.

Everything else is about feel. If you feel comfortable on the ice, you’ll perform better. For example, some goalies prefer a shallow hollow sometimes bordering on dull. I’m definitely one of those goalies. After I get my skates sharpened I’m typically heading right to the bench before warm ups to dull my blades a bit on the dasher.

This is a nifty trick if you don’t use it already. If your skates fee too sharp run them on the corner of the plastic runner and dasher board at the bench door. The plastic will help dull the blade down.

As for my forward skates, I like more of an edge but even then I’m far more accustomed to a slightly shallower hollow. This is likely to my upbringing as a goalie and my comfort in being able to pivot on the foot that I’m applying weight to without the threat of turning my ankle.

However, you may prefer having the ability to make sharp turns and dig hard into the ice. Or perhaps you like the idea of a gliding stride with a little less resistance. Once you know where you like to be, you can ask for a more efficient sharpening based on your skills.

Also understand that you may want to get your skates sharpened every other ice time while some guys prefer one sharpening every two months. Like with the size of a hollow, frequency of sharpenings also varies on a case-by-case basis. Even if you only get your skates sharpened now and then, a skate sharpening card from Great Skate is a great purchase.

Goal scoring creeping up compared to previous seasons

Goal scoring creeping up compared to previous seasons

Goal scoring creeping up compared to previous seasons

Believe it or not, goal scoring is up in the NHL through the first few weeks.

Through 57 games this season, NHL games are averaging 5.65 goals per game as opposed to the 5.46 that was averaged over the course of the shortened 2012-13 season. While not a significant increase, it is still noticeable enough to take note of.

I’ve attributed it to a couple specific factors. One, the new goaltending rules are likely having a slight effect on the play of goalies around the league. While the impact of the new pads and stick paddles may have only contributed to a goal here or there, I’m sure there will be a slight uptick this year thanks to them.

The second factor is that it seems that the referees have been enforcing penalties at a slightly higher rate than they have in the past couple years. While the numbers are again indicating a small uptick, the difference between last year’s numbers (3.33) and this year (3.61) is significant enough over a full season to make a difference. Between the additional power play opportunities and smaller pads, there is a clear opportunity for more goals to be scored.

Other new rules such as the shallower nets have also been instituted to help promote goal scoring, but the power play opportunities strike me as the most telling.

As was seen in 2005-06 with the crackdown on obstruction and stick infractions, goal scoring skyrocketed along with power play opportunities. The same can been seen here, on a smaller scale, in the 13-14 season. So long as the referees maintain their strict stance on penalties, the trend should continue to rise.

The best part of this is that these changes do not negatively impact the integrity of the game. While fans of the teams being called for more penalties may be up in arms, this is nothing more than a stricter enforcement of previously standing rules.

My lone worry is that the goal scoring difference will plateau or even regress back to the average it has been at the past few years. Slightly altering goalie equipment removing depth from the nets doesn’t change the way this awesome game is played. When serious changes start coming – like a ringette line, bigger nets and other more significant gimmicks – is when fans will really start to have a problem.

NHL fans are very particular and have a specific reality they like to see maintained. Drastic changes to that reality would be taken much like Wayne and Garth adjust to their TV set basement in Wayne’s World. Not well.

It’s exciting seeing a few more higher scoring games to help placate those who are desperate for more scoring. My personal preference is a game that finishes anywhere from 3-2 to 4-3 as you typically get the best of everything. There is enough goal scoring in a five-to-seven goal game that keeps everyone interested for the duration while also allowing for strong goaltending. Very high scoring games often come at the expense of the goalie and general team defense. And just because there are nine goals scored, the entertainment value can be limited.

That hasn’t been the case this season and I’m hopeful that the current trend will continue. Should that be the case perhaps we’ll go a season or two without needing to discuss some of the out-of-the-box ideas drummed up in the name of goal scoring.

On the Ice: Warrior Dynasty AX1, revisited

Dynasty AX1 Hockey Stick

Dynasty AX1 Composite Hockey Stick

A while back we made the Warrior Dynasty our first on-ice review. Now, six months later, I want to revisit some of the thoughts I shared after the first few times I used the stick and add onto what was previously a glowing review.

In case you missed the original review, here’s a refresher course for you.

The looks and “out of the box” impressions of this stick haven’t changed since I first acquired it. The simple graphics look great and the Velvet Touch grip is a pefect mix of tacky and smooth that fits the type of finish I like to have on a stick.

In fact, the Velvet Touch may actually be superior to other options simply because it’s the best of both worlds. It has the Goldilocks effect in that it offers some resistance and tug during play but it isn’t a super sticky grip that will get in the way, either. As I’ve used the stick more and more, the finish has worn a bit, but since it wasn’t a traditional grip finish, the performance and feel of the stick hasn’t changed with wear.

After my first few ice times I had really grown to love the stick. It was durable (taking a number of two-hand hacks) and lightweight. The adjustment I needed to make to the thinner blade took a game or two, but now I don’t even notice a difference from what I was using previously.

It didn’t take long to start potting goals with the new stick and the end of my winter season was choc-full of goals and assists off the blade of my new stick. A short while into the summer I began using an RBZ Stage 2 but I wasn’t enjoying as much success with it as I was the Dynasty. AS I opened yet another winter schedule, I reverted back to the Warrior and found my stickhandling, shooting and passing improved greatly by switching sticks.

Perhaps it was mental, but I felt a much stronger kick from the Dynasty than I had with the sticks I had played with over the summer. What is still impressive to this day is that my passing with the Dynasty is so crisp. I’m able to lay flat backhand saucer passes with ease and I get a great snap on forehand passes when I’m attempting to fit the puck into a tight space.

I have to think the Strongarm and AXYSYM technology are to thank for the feel I get using this stick. Not only do my wrist shots fire off the stick, but I have solid power in all facets of shooting and passing.

Even though this stick was shuffled to second string for a short period of time in the summer, it saw plenty of action and is no worse for wear because of it. Warrior has been making serious strides to add reinforcements where they’re needed most to their new sticks and this is a testament to that new technology. This stick is an impressive model and is still available on the shelves – alongside Warrior’s newest Covert line – today.

What They’re Wearing: Ryan Miller

What They’re Wearing: Ryan Miller

What They’re Wearing: Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres

There is going to be a big spotlight on Ryan Miller for most of the 2013-14 season. As he enters the final year of his contract with the Sabres many are wondering whether he will be convinced to re-sign, if he will be traded at the deadline or if he’ll simply play out the deal and sign with a new team in free agency.

While there will be plenty of talk about his play in Buffalo, one thing you may or may not have noticed is that he has completely switched his gear. After a number of years using Reebok equipment, Miller has gone to a Vaughn set up for the 2013-14 season.

Perhaps he is thinking of switching things up after a couple of playoff-less seasons in Buffalo. Maybe Vaughn was able to better construct the type of pad he wanted to wear moving forward. It’s anyone’s guess and here’s a look at what Miller is wearing this season.

Mask: Warwick custom – Dating back to his time at Michigan State (and probably earlier), Miller has worn a custom Warwick mask. It’s a small custom mask shop that primarily builds for pros and college players. But they have recently started doing work for Vaughn. Look for some of their design features in the new Vaughn mask line.

Blocker: CCM EFlex (blocker) and Vaughn T5500 (glove) – Ryan Miller broke his thumb during the 2005-06 season and subsequently switched to a Reebok (then RBK) blocker. The Lefevre design has a one-piece cuff that offers  comfortable, full-coverage protection that many other models don’t feature. Miller may actually be wearing the Vintage version of the EFlex, but the lack of graphics makes it hard to tell. I feel like it has become something of a comfort level with Miller as he’s worn a different model blocker (don’t be fooled by graphics) than his catch glove and pads since that 05-06 season. Miller’s new glove appears to be a T5500 model from Vaughn. Miller is known to be particular about his gear and it’s certainly possible that this is more of a custom build than what you’d find with a stock 5500. What’s for sure is the two-piece cuff and T-pocket appears to have all the qualities of the 5500.

Pads: Vaughn Velocity V5 – The most obvious change for Miller comes with his leg pads. Not only the manufacturer but that fact that his new Vaughn pads appear to be relatively stock. One thing many people didn’t know is that Miller’s Reebok Larceny’s were a fully custom pad that was built with the Larceny graphic. His previous pads were actually a custom build with traits from different Vaughn and CCM pads from previous years. These new pads have a flat face (as opposed to having shin rolls) and a more modern build than the traditional construction of his previous pads.

Stick: Reebok Pro – Miller has stuck with his sticks from previous seasons. The sturdy Reebok Pro wood stick. This is a solid stick that is popular throughout the league. I doubt he switches things up this year from a model that he’s been using for so long.

Let the kids play

Sabres prepared to Start the NHL Season Tomorrow night

Sabres prepared to Start the NHL Season Tomorrow night

The youth movement is on at First Niagara Center. Bolstered by two-straight drafts with a pair of first round selections, the Buffalo Sabres boast one of the NHL’s deepest and most talented prospect pools. And there’s a chance many will see time with the big club right away.

Mikhail Grigorenko, who already played a portion of an NHL season, leads the group as a former lottery candidate and perhaps the most impressive offensive weapon the Sabres own in the entire organization (outside of Thomas Vanek). Girgorenko’s development is a big part of where he ends up in the grand plans of the Sabres, however. He struggled through his first campaign with the team and will need more ice time with skilled linemates in order to progress as a player this year.

Along with Girgorenko’s fellow 2012 first rounder Zemgus Girgensons, Joel Armia (2011 first round) represents two more significant pieces to the offensive future of the organization. A big, talented winger, Armia will look awfully good patrolling the wing with Grigorenko or another top center to his side. Girgensons has proven to be a do-anything center who has also spent time on the wing. He’s a tenacious talent who serves equally well on the power play as on the penalty kill. He seems to have some Chris Drury or Michael Peca intangibles as an effective two-way forward with leadership potential.

In addition to Armia, Girgensons and Grigorenko, the Sabres also have the likes of Johan Larsson, Daniel Catenacci and a handful of other promising prospects set to begin the year in Rochester.

The 2013 first round yielded Darcy Regier a pair of cornerstone defenders to go along with another top talent in Mark Pysyk (2010 first round). Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov have both earned positive reviews throughout camp and the preseason and with Ristolainen already under contract, there seems to be a good chance at least one starts the year in Buffalo.

Based on the direction that Regier seems to be thinking about taking, it might be worthwhile to roll out a majority of Buffalo’s top prospects to start the 2013-14 season. One challenge is finding the space.

On the backend players like Henrik Talliner, Mike Weber and Jamie McBain will all command playing time and finding a way to fit Ristolainen into that mix could be difficult.

Pysyk will almost certainly be amongst Buffalo’s top six when the puck drops on opening night. He showed well last season and seems to have secured a position on the right side of one of Buffalo’s top pairs. Should Ristolainen find a spot, he’d join Pysyk and Tyler Myers as three of Buffalo’s top youthful defenders. Although Myers’ struggles have been an issue in recent seasons, adding that trio with Christian Ehrhoff creates a significant, solid core.

There is a little more wiggle room up front with Buffalo’s four big guns. While Cody Hodgson, Thomas Vanek and other veterans obviously get written into the lineup with pen, there is space for the likes of Larsson and Girgensons to fit in.

I personally like both Larsson and Girgensons together in a third line, two-way role. They both excel at both ends of the ice, they play physically and could eventually grow into a shutdown scoring line. Think of something in the mold of Patrice Bergeron.  While sticking Steve Ott with them would provide more than enough sandpaper, finding an adequate right winger may make more sense. Exactly who fills that role, however may be tough to pinpoint.

While it would be doubtful to see Grigorenko and Armia sitck together for the duration of the year, giving them an opportunity right off the bat would almost be like seeing your future unfold directly before your eyes. Splitting the pair may provide more wiggle room for each to make the roster.

Ultimately, Armia will likely land in the AHL in order to further adjust to the North American game, although don’t be surprised when you see him called up by midseason.  Even with Armia sent to Rochester, here’s a set of lines which I’d like to see the Sabres open the year with should youth be a primary concern (bear in mind that some of these sets my not make the most sense):

Vanek – Hodgson – Stafford

Ennis – Grigorenko – Leino

Ott – Larsson – Girgensons

Foligno – Porter – Kaleta

Scott (extra forward)