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Fantasy Preview: Buffalo Sabres

Scott Cullen

9/17/2013 12:51:05 PM

Expectations aren't high in Buffalo this season, but that can work in favour of the fantasy owner who is looking to find value.

Top Picks: LW Thomas Vanek has scored 250 goals since 2005-2006, eighth-most in the NHL in that span, so he has to be accorded the respect of an elite scoring winger. The issue is that his supporting cast isn't ideal, which could make it difficult to put up numbers in his contract year. Last year's supporting cast wasn't ideal, either, and Vanek still had a career-best 1.08 points per game. At the very least, he's a quality No. 2 left winger.

Since 2007-2008, Ryan Miller has played in 371 games, ranking second among active goaltenders (behind only Henrik Lundqvist) and playing that much provides some value because, even on bad teams, goaltenders that play 65-70 games are going to accrue some wins.

In that time, Miller has a .917 save percentage, which puts him in the Top 10, but his last three seasons (.916, .916 and .915) put him at slightly above an average starter. Essentially, his 2009-2010 season, when he had a .929 save percentage, is an outlier, but Miller is still worthy of a No. 2 goaltending post in fantasy.

Christian Ehrhoff hasn't scored in Buffalo like he did in Vancouver, particularly on the power play, and that doesn't figure to change dramatically, but he's the Sabres' number one scoring option on the blueline and good enough to fill a No. 3 spot on defence in most fantasy leagues.

Value Plays: The path to a scoring centre role hasn't been the smoothest for 23-year-old Cody Hodgson, but he did score at a career-best rate (0.71 ppg) last season, while playing a career-high 18:24 per game. If he's getting first line minutes, there is a chance for decent production. Big minutes in Buffalo bring the risk of a negative plus-minus, but as No. 4 fantasy centre with upside, Hodgson has value.

Tyler Ennis has a slightly longer track record than Hodgson and took some plus-minus lumps (minus-14 in 47 GP) last season, but he's a small, skilled forward who has had some productive stretches. As a low-risk play for potential in the later rounds, Ennis could provide a payoff.

Sometimes, when players don't produce the biggest goal and assist numbers, they can be overlooked, but value can be found in other categories too. In leagues that reward penalty minutes, Steve Ott is a beast -- one of six players to record at least 70 goals and 500 penalty minutes in that time. However, Ott is also a hit machine, with 968 hits over the last four seasons. Even with modest offensive numbers, Ott's contributions in other categories make him worthwhile in many leagues.

Sleepers/Breakthrough: Drew Stafford is a bit of a fantasy heartbreaker, coming off a career-worst season, but he's a three-time 20-goal scorer who has size, skill and gets decent ice time. He'll surely be better than he was in the 2013 season, but it's admittedly difficult to pull the trigger on a player with his up-and-down history.

A big-bodied forward who exceeded all expectations when he scored 13 points in 14 games with the Sabres in 2011-2012, Marcus Foligno came back to reality last season, scoring 18 points in 47 games, which is more befitting his crash-and-bang style of play. Nevertheless, if Foligno gets an opportunity with a scoring line, he does have a chance to provide some value because he adds a physical dimension (ie. lots of hits) in addition to occasional scoring.

It's not that long ago (2009-2010) that D Tyler Myers scored 48 points as a rookie defenceman, but his production has fallen off since, down to eight points in 39 games last season. Based on last season, there's no reason to consider him for fantasy but, knowing that the Sabres should be playing him 22 minutes a night, there will be an opportunity for the 23-year-old to get his career back on track.

If Ville Leino stays healthy, there's a chance that he can be productive. His contract virtually dictates that he will play, but it's nearly impossible to recommend him given 31 points in 79 games over two seasons with the Sabres.

Rookies: Strangely enough, for a rebuilding team, there aren't necessarily a lot of rookies knocking on the door, but C Mikhail Grigorenko is one to watch. He played only 10:14 per game in 25 games with the Sabres last season, managing five points, but he's a big, skilled center who has 139 points in 92 QMJHL games over the last two seasons. It's conceivable that he could land a role centering a scoring line (maybe moving Ennis to wing?) and then his scoring totals could be enough to warrant interest.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.