Saturday, August 4, 2018

Buffalo Sabres fantasy preview for 2018-19

Jack Eichel, C (NHL.com rank: 30) -- The 21-year-old is among the points (0.85, T-28th) and shots on goal (3.51; T-7th) per game leaders (minimum 200 games) since entering the NHL in 2015-16. Eichel missed a total of 37 games over those three seasons because of two ankle injuries but still had at least 20 power-play points in each. The Sabres should be vastly improved after acquiring goal-scoring left wing Jeff Skinner from the Carolina Hurricanes, selecting defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and signing goalie Carter Hutton. Eichel is ranked 13th among fantasy centers by NHL.com and has an even higher ceiling.

Rasmus Dahlin, D (71) -- The rookie is likely to play at least 20:00 per game and see significant power-play time, possibly on the first unit with Eichel, Skinner and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Dahlin comes with more fantasy hype than any rookie defenseman in more than a decade but could be a plus/minus liability in the Atlantic Division with teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers. That said, the fantasy reward would outweigh the risk if Dahlin becomes one of the most productive 18-year-old defensemen ever.
Jeff Skinner, LW* (92) -- The left wing gains significant value upon joining Buffalo, where he'll likely play with Eichel at even strength and on the power play. Skinner, 26, has at least 31 goals in three of his six full NHL seasons and a consistently heavy shot volume (at least 235 SOG in each of past five). He dipped in fantasy value (164th in Yahoo; 42nd in 2016-17) last season in mostly a third-line, second power-play role under former Hurricanes coach Bill Peters. But with a change of scenery and extra motivation in a contract year (potential 2019 unrestricted free agent), Skinner has renewed bounce-back potential after the trade.
Rasmus Ristolainen, D (118) -- The 23-year-old has exceeded 40 points and 21 PPP in each of the past three seasons on the first man-advantage unit with Eichel but has struggled at even strength (minus-25 last season; minus-102 in 346 NHL games). But Ristolainen (shoots right) should be the biggest beneficiary from Dahlin (left), whether or not they play on the same pair, after being stretched thin last season (26:30 per game; fourth in NHL). Ristolainen is among NHL.com's top 30 defensemen with bounce-back potential and added value in leagues that count hits (206 last season; 19th in NHL).
Sam Reinhart, C/LW/RW - RFA (128) -- If Eichel stays healthy, Dahlin and Hutton help the defense and Buffalo returns to its past power-play prowess (led NHL at 24.5 percent in 2016-17), Reinhart should build on his NHL career-high 50 points (25 goals, 25 assists) from last season. Reinhart's chemistry with Eichel is well-documented by his strong second half (37 points in final 38 games) last season and production when on the same line in prior seasons. If you're not comfortable investing in Eichel or Dahlin so early, Reinhart is a breakout candidate with a realistic chance at 60-65 points on a line with Eichel and Skinner.
Carter Hutton, G (137) -- The 32-year-old goaltender is poised for his heaviest workload yet with the Sabres; he cut into Jake Allen's starts last season and had the best save percentage in the NHL (.931; minimum 20 games). Hutton also ranked third in even-strength SV% (.936) behind Pekka Rinne (.939) and Antti Raanta (.937) and is Buffalo's clear No. 1 goalie and a potential mentor for 25-year-old Linus Ullmark. If Buffalo's offseason moves pay off, Hutton could return value as a sleeper outside the first 10 rounds of a 12-team draft.
Casey Mittelstadt, C (226) -- The Sabres traded center Ryan O'Reilly to the Blues on July 1, freeing up the second-line center spot for Mittelstadt. Patrik Berglund, 30, may be a safer candidate to claim that role to start, but Mittelstadt, 19, performed well in his NHL stint late last season (five points in six games) and is a sneaky rookie worth targeting in deeper fantasy leagues. He'll likely have an experienced right wing (Kyle Okposo, Jason Pominville) on his line and proved he's ready for the next step by scoring nearly a point per game (30 points in 34 games) as a freshman at University of Minnesota.
Other players with fantasy upside in late rounds or off waiver wire: Kyle Okposo, RW (240); Conor Sheary, LW/RW; Vladimir Sobotka, LW; Jason Pominville, RW*; Linus Ullmark, G**; Tage Thompson, C/RW
RFA - Current restricted free agent
*Potential 2019 unrestricted free agent
**Potential 2019 restricted free agent
INJ. - Injury concern entering 2018-19

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