Predicting Protected Lists: Buffalo Sabres
Despite heavily struggling in the past few seasons, the Buffalo Sabres still have plenty of high end players that require protection during the expansion draft. Losing someone of high influence is still unlikely though, which will obviously benefit Buffalo moving forward.
New general manger Jason Botterill finds himself in a unique situation. He is obtaining one of the most coveted gigs in hockey, albeit he has an unusually high amount of work on his plate for these next few months. On top of trying to turn Buffalo back into a contender, Botterill has to worry about the expansion draft and the potential ramifications that it will have on his team.
Luckily for the Sabres, Jack Eichel is exempt from being selected by Vegas. That opens up spot for them to protect another impact forward.
Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo are sure-fire bets to be protected.
Evander Kane is likely too, although he could be traded before the expansion draft happens. Kane’s fate is the biggest variable in Buffalo’s expansion draft plans.
Outside of O’Reilly, Okposo, and Kane, the Sabres will have four forward spots remaining. Marcus Foligno and Zegmus Girgensons are good guesses to get spots.
As for the other two, there is room for interpretation.
William Carrier, acquired in the deal that sent Ryan Miller to Buffalo in 2014, requires protection. Carrier played in NHL 41 games last season and tallied 8 points. He’s been solid at the AHL level but needs to translate that success to the NHL level.
Johan Larsson or Nick Deslauriers could both easily take a spot on the protection list over Carrier. It just depends on how Botterill thinks.
For the last forward spot, it comes down to Matt Moulson or Tyler Ennis. Both are on bad contracts, however it can be argued that Moulson has more of a value due to off-ice factors.
For defense, things are a little clearer.
Dmitry Kulikov and Cody Franson are both unrestricted free agents and probably wouldn’t get protection from Buffalo due to that.
That leaves only three NHL mainstays — Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, and Zach Bogosian — to fill up the spots.
In goal, Robin Lehner will undoubtedly be protected.
In the end, the Sabres protection list could look like this:
Forwards: Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo, Evander Kane, Marcus Foligno, Zegmus Girgensons, William Carrier, Matt Moulson
Defense: Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Zach Bogosian
Goalie: Robin Lehner
In terms of players that could be selected, Johan Larsson, Nick Deslauriers, William Carrier (if unprotected), and Linus Ullmark are all options for Vegas.
Next team: Calgary Flames