Line ’em up: Eichel and Kane start out to­gether

Com­bi­na­tions con­sis­tent in early go­ing of camp

The Buffalo News - - NFL SUNDAY - By John Vogl

Lindy Ruff prob­a­bly would have split up the French Con­nec­tion af­ter a few bad pe­ri­ods. Dan Bylsma might never have even put Gil­bert Per­reault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert to­gether.

It re­mains to be seen how Phil Hous­ley jug­gles and as­sem­bles his for­ward lines, but the Sabres’ new coach is off to an in­trigu­ing start.

“We’re try­ing to get our guys used to some sort of lines, but I’m sure there’s go­ing to be changes,” Hous­ley said in Har­borCen­ter. “Hope­fully, we can find a com­bi­na­tion or two that works and give them the best op­por­tu­nity to suc­ceed.”

Dur­ing the open­ing two days of train­ing camp, Buf­falo es­sen­tially stuck with the same for­ward units. Here’s a line-by-line look at what Hous­ley has put to­gether so far.

Evan­der Kane-Jack Eichel-Jason Pom­inville: Eichel and Kane are the Sabres’ most pro­lific scor­ers. Their speed and size can make de­fend­ers quake.

Bylsma hes­i­tated to put them to­gether be­cause both like to carry the puck. Hous­ley hopes to spend more time in the of­fen­sive zone, so fewer break­outs would mean less jock­ey­ing for the puck at cen­ter ice. Eichel should do the ma­jor­ity of the lug­ging any­how. He’s one of the most ef­fec­tive in the NHL at car­ry­ing the puck across the blue line. Kane has a ten­dency to loft a shot at the goal­tender as soon as he crosses the line, stop­ping play. When the puck keeps mov­ing, he’s the Sabres’ top sniper.

Pom­inville is clearly the re­spon­si­ble player on the unit. When Eichel and Kane free­wheel, they’ll be con­fi­dent Pom­inville is in the right spot for one-timers. He also brings a de­fen­sive pres­ence.

Zem­gus Gir­gen­sons-Ryan O’Reilly-Kyle Ok­poso: Gir­gen­sons couldn’t have asked for a bet­ter op­por­tu­nity to show what he can do. He seems to re­al­ize it. He’s been driv­ing the net hard, in­clud­ing a big-time hit Satur­day on de­fense­man Tay­lor Fe­dun.

Gir­gen­sons has a been an of­fen­sive dis­ap­point­ment the last two sea­sons (14 goals and 20 as­sists in 146 games), but the 23-year-old is get­ting an early chance to shine.

O’Reilly and Ok­poso were line­mates last year and work well to­gether.

Benoit Pouliot-Sam Rein­hart-Ste­vie Moses: One of the big ques­tions in train­ing camp is whether Rein­hart will re­main in the mid­dle. He has

the smarts to con­trib­ute at both ends.

Pouliot is a bonafide fin­isher with a ca­reer shoot­ing per­cent­age of 13.2 per­cent. Rein­hart might be the Sabres’ best passer, so the combo makes sense.

The place­ment of Moses is a sur­prise be­cause he’s on an Amer­i­can Hockey League con­tract with Rochester. He was a scorer in the Kon­ti­nen­tal Hockey League dur­ing the last three sea­sons. If it trans­lates to the pre­sea­son, he could earn an NHL deal.

• Matt Moul­son-Jo­han Lars­son-Hud­son Fasching: Three of the Sabres’ top prospects play right wing – Fasching, Justin Bai­ley and Nick Bap­tiste – so it bodes well for Fasching that he’s the one skat­ing with es­tab­lished NHLers. Fasching made the Sabres’ open­ing-night ros­ter last sea­son be­fore a groin in­jury de­railed his rookie year.

Lars­son’s sea­son ended Dec. 31 af­ter he dis­lo­cated his el­bow and wrist. He was mak­ing strides as a two-way cen­ter, and this is a solid spot to show the new regime he can de­fend.

Moul­son was used al­most ex­clu­sively on the power play last year, and he re­sponded by scor­ing 11 of his 14 goals with the man-ad­van­tage. It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see how much five-on-five time he gets un­der Hous­ley.

Seth Grif­fith-Ja­cob Josef­sonNick Bap­tiste: All three have hopes of mak­ing the Sabres. If not, this could be the Amerks’ top line.

Bap­tiste had his mo­ments dur­ing the Sabres’ Prospects Chal­lenge, but he didn’t dom­i­nate. He has speed and a knack for scor­ing, but he’ll have to show it.

Josef­son has been a fourth-line reg­u­lar for New Jer­sey dur­ing the last seven years, putting up 18 goals and 60 points in 276 games. He hasn’t played in the AHL since 2012-13, but he recorded 10 goals and 25 points in 38 games with Al­bany.

The 24-year-old Grif­fith flipflopped be­tween Toronto and Florida last sea­son. He had no goals and five as­sists in 24 NHL games, but he was a mi­nor-league star with 10 goals and 44 points in 38 games for the Toronto Mar­lies.

Ni­co­las Des­lau­ri­ers-Kevin Porter-Justin Bai­ley: Bai­ley was the best for­ward dur­ing the Prospects Chal­lenge. There’s room in Buf­falo for two right wingers if Rein­hart stays at cen­ter, and Bai­ley will chal­lenge for a spot.

Al­though fight­ing is head­ing to­ward ex­tinc­tion, there are times it’s a ne­ces­sity. The Sabres don’t have many guys who can drop the gloves. Des­lau­ri­ers’ pugilis­tic prow­ess gives him a shot at be­ing the 13th for­ward who dresses against tough teams.

Porter is back for his sec­ond gor­ound with the Sabres’ or­ga­ni­za­tion. It wouldn’t be a sur­prise if he was the Amerks’ cap­tain again.

• C.J. Smith-Evan Ro­driguesCliff Pu: Ro­drigues played 30 games with the Sabres af­ter Lars­son went down. His con­tract is a two-way deal, al­low­ing the team to pay him less in Rochester, so the 24-year-old could go to the Amerks for more sea­son­ing as a go-to guy.

Smith joined the Sabres out of col­lege at the end of last sea­son and played twice. He’s ex­pected to get needed time in the mi­nors.

Pu was another stand­out dur­ing the Prospects Chal­lenge. As a 19-year-old, his only op­tions are Buf­falo or Lon­don of the On­tario Hockey League. He’ll start his pro ca­reer in 2018-19.

• Va­clav Karabacek-Kyle Criscuolo-Eric Cor­nel: Criscuolo signed a two-year, two-way deal af­ter an im­pres­sive start to his pro ca­reer. The Har­vard prod­uct had 17 goals and 41 points in 76 games for Detroit’s mi­nor­league team, then added five goals and nine points in 19 play­off games.

Cor­nel, a sec­ond-round pick in 2014, had five goals and 14 points in 67 games for the Amerks as a rookie. Karabacek is also a sec­ond-year pro. He had three goals and eight points in 23 games with Rochester.

The for­wards will cer­tainly move around through­out camp and the reg­u­lar sea­son, but Hous­ley likes how they’ve started.

“They’ve been re­ally bring­ing a lot of en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm,” the coach said Satur­day. “That’s what we asked of them as an ex­pec­ta­tion head­ing into camp. I think they’re hav­ing fun out there. It’s a new style of game that I think they’re go­ing to en­joy.”

Mark Mul­ville/Buf­falo News

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