After four preseason games, we’ve been able to get a decent grasp on how both roster and non-roster players are faring.
This piece will take a look at each roster player’s performance, then will rank each non-roster player and summarize their performance in their game against Buffalo below.
Note: These are personal observations, feel free to disagree.
Roster Players (listed alphabetically in groups)
The “Excellent” Group
Ron Hainsey (1)– (Last Game: “Poor”)- I might get some flack for saying Hainsey was excellent, but his first and second games were a difference of night and day. In his first game, Hainsey was the worst defenceman on the ice, but in his second game he was extremely reliable. He was making good pinches and did a great job of getting the puck to someone who could move it if he couldn’t take it out of a scrum himself. He played the very simple, effective game that he’s known for.
Patrick Marleau (2)– (Last Game: “Excellent”): Marleau might have been best all around player in his game. He used his body to protect the puck but and defensive side of his game was really highlighted as well. He was getting back to the net to battle with players in front if there was no coverage and was able to get the puck out of the zone when there was pressure.
Mitch Marner (1)– (Last Game: “Excellent”)- Despite a turnover on the first goal, Marner looked great again and seems to be able to make the passes that nobody can see coming. He was once again one of the best players between either game.
Auston Matthews (2)– (Last Game: “Excellent”)- Matthews and Marleau continued to look good together and even looked to be building some chemistry with Ennis. Matthews was again driving the net for scoring chances and often controlled the play when he was on the ice.
John Tavares (1)– (Last Game: “Excellent”)- Tavares was great again, battling for space right in front of the net, driving the net to score and making some great passes to Marner.
The “Pretty Good” Group
Tyler Ennis (2)– (Last Game: “Okay”)- Tyler Ennis looked much more comfortable on the line with Auston Matthews and Patrick Marleau. He was carrying the puck and was involving himself in the play rather than waiting for the play to come to him and he made a great pass to Matthews for the second goal.
Zach Hyman (1)- (Last Game: “Okay”)- Hyman also had a better performance than his first game. Similar to Ennis, in the first game Hyman looked a bit out of place on his line and not overly involved. This game he was using his speed and engaging in battles. Hopefully he returns from the injury soon and as of now it seems like it’s fairly minor.
Nazem Kadri (1)– (Last Game: “Poor”)- Kadri was much better than the Lucan game. He was battling in the corners and had his head in the game this time. He still wasn’t contributing as much as he’s maybe expected to but it was definitely a bounce-back game.
The “Okay” Group
Connor Brown (1)– (Last Game: “Excellent”)- Brown seemed to have a bit of an off game. Not bad, just less involved. Players like Brown and Hyman are known as work horses and Brown seemed a bit invisible, considering he had a really strong performance in game one. Brown had a good third period where he started generating chances but one period isn’t enough.
Connor Carrick (1)– (Last Game: “Okay”)- Carrick could be in some trouble. He’s not playing poorly, but there are a whole lot of defencemen playing better than him right now. It doesn’t help that he was paired with Martin Marincin, but he’s had two mediocre performances and after seeing the play of Igor Ozhiganov and Justin Holl, mediocre won’t cut it.
Jake Gardiner (2)– (Last Game: N/A)- Gardiner hit the same notes as usual. Great offensively, but often making you question why he’s a defenceman instead of a forward. He didn’t tie up Jeff Skinner on his goal and was so badly out of position to give Sam Reinhart a clear chance in the third period that it was almost impressive. He was making great outlet passes and looked good with the puck but his play away from the puck left much to be desired.
Andreas Johnsson (2)– (Last Game: “Okay”)- Johnsson has been disappointing. For someone who generated so much excitement last year, he hasn’t contributed much and there are a lot of other wingers playing better. Johnsson is likely penciled in already, but if he needed to win a spot, he wouldn’t.
Kasperi Kapanen (2)– (Last Game: “Pretty Good”)- I thought Kapanen was actually better in game one. He’s starting to carry the puck more but he still doesn’t seem overly engaged in the game. Like Johnsson, he’s been a bit underwhelming.
Josh Leivo (1)– (Last Game: “Pretty Good”)- Like Brown, Leivo only really started playing in the third period. It’s unfortunate because in the third he used his body a lot more, was hard to knock off the puck and started generating chances with Brown. Leivo can play, he just needs to play a full sixty minutes.
Nikita Zaitsev (2)– (Last Game: “Pretty Good”)- Zaitsev was just okay. After a somewhat promising first game, he didn’t deliver against Buffalo. He got caught in the corners when the puck came out in front of the net and wasn’t as physical as last game. He did play a 2-on-1 very well to force a bad pass, but Zaitsev is still just lacking something from his game.
The “Poor” Group
Morgan Rielly (1)- (Last Game: “Pretty Good”)- A lot of people will probably disagree. Rielly made some great passes and rushed the puck, but he was also very careless. Especially early on, he was trying to be far too fancy with it and make moves on his own rather than simplifying his game a bit. He lost the puck on rushes and had a couple giveaways, then later put passes in to shin pads and couldn’t clear the zone in the final couple minutes when he got the chance to. Realistically, if Rielly was a non-roster player, I wouldn’t say he had a poor game. But with expectation bias of him being a number one defenceman on the team, it was a bit of a careless performance.
- Adam Brooks (2)- (Last Rank: 5)- After a pretty good performance in game one, Brooks looked excellent in his second game. He was great battling in corners and always seemed to come away with the puck. When he had the puck, he was comfortable and would make smart passes to give players time. Brooks’ whole line together looked good.
- Jeremy Bracco (2)– (Last Rank: 1)- Bracco was very good again, controlling the puck down low and getting himself in to good scoring chances. Despite his size he was effective battling in front of the net too and had a great tip on his goal.
- Pierre Engvall (1)– (Last Rank: 9)- It was quite a turn around game for Engvall. There’s good reason to be optimistic with him because even though he had a rough performance in game one, he was involved in the play. He made mistakes, but he wasn’t invisible like some. Engvall looked much more comfortable carrying the puck, used his speed and size and was the first guy in on the forecheck which didn’t happen much in game one. All around, Engvall looked great.
- Dmytro Timashov (1)– (Last Rank: 6)- Timashov was another player who looked way better. He was taking his time with the puck, used his speed, was great forechecking and made some awesome passes.
- Trevor Moore (2)– (Last Rank: 4)- Moore could maybe have been higher on here. Like Brooks, he was making very smart passes especially once the team was set up in the offensive zone. He showed his speed and was very engaged with the play throughout the game.
- Emerson Clark (2)– (Last Rank: 3)- Clark was fun to watch again. He was great at taking a hit to make a play and forcing turnovers in Buffalo’s end. Clark isn’t afraid to go in to the corners and battle and was very good again in game two.
- Par Lindholm– (Last Rank: 2)- Lindholm’s performance wasn’t quite where it was in game one, but he still played fairly well. He wasn’t as noticeable on the defensive side of the puck as last game but I’d argue he was still the most well-rounded player on his line.
- Josh Jooris (1)– (Last Rank: 7)- Jooris works extremely hard. He’s not going to be the one carrying the puck in and splitting the defence, but he gives a ton of effort and is great for getting into battles and winning the puck to a teammate.
- Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (1)– (Last Rank: N/A)- SDA had a nice first game. It was clear he was adjusting but he got a great shot and was involved in the play.
- Carl Grundstrom (2)– (Last Rank: 11)- Grundstrom gave a bit more in this game, but he was still outplayed by the majority wingers battling for spots. Grundstrom finally showed more of a net-front presence and began battling in front but still really didn’t control play at any point in the game.
- Chris Mueller (1)- (Last Rank: 13)- Mueller had an interesting goal and credit to him for following the puck and scoring on a lazy play from Sabres’ defence and carelessness by Linus Ullmark.
- Colin Greening (1)- (Last Rank: N/A)- Greening made a great pass over to Engvall. Overall I thought he had a decent game, just didn’t contribute a ton other than the pass.
- Adam Cracknell (2)– (Last Rank: 8)- Last game he was a bit more physical and fun to watch. This game he was more invisible.
- Igor Ozhiganov (2)– (Last Rank: 2)- It’s a close one between Holl, Rosen and Ozhiganov for the best performance among non-roster defencemen. But seeing as though whoever makes the team likely plays on the third pair, it may make more sense to go for defensive reliability rather than offensive capability. Ozhiganov was excellent again in his own zone. He was responsible with the puck and can move it well and also used his size to rub players off the puck. He plays so simple but it works so well.
- Justin Holl (2)– (Last Rank: 4)- Holl showed more of an offensive side in his second game. He was jumping up into the play and getting pucks through traffic. He did still have some defensive lapses not clearing the front of the net and leaving players alone in front. Overall though he was one of the better non-roster players between either game.
- Calle Rosen (2)– (Last Rank: 3)- Though I don’t know Rosen should immediately hop on to the roster, he did play well. His passing was great and he was able to move around the ice with the puck pretty easily. He hasn’t been outstanding defensively, but he’s been better than most.
- Timothy Liljegren (1)– (Last Rank: 6)- Liljegren looked pretty good in this one but he’s still a little ways off from the NHL. He did great jumping in to the play and getting shots but was weak on the puck and had a couple giveaways.
- Rasmus Sandin (1)– (Last Rank: 5)- Sandin was fun to watch. Again, he did look like an 18-year-old with some carelessness, but he doesn’t lack confidence. It’ll be exciting to watch him develop in the coming years.
- Andrew Nielsen (2)– (Last Rank: N/A)- Nielsen didn’t play a ton and other than the fight he wasn’t overly noticeable for better or worse. If you’re a struggling defenceman looking to get his footing back, then that’s a fine game. Not so much if you’re a player in the minors looking to get the coach’s attention.
- Martin Marincin (1)– (Last Rank: 7)- Last game I said Marincin didn’t play poorly. For this one it’s a different story. He got caught flat-footed on the Thompson goal and sometimes it seems like he’s trying to play pinball with the puck. He gets it on his stick then puts it nowhere quickly. He was caught out of position several times and didn’t do anything to really make up for it. I don’t necessarily want Marincin out of the entire organization like some, but it wasn’t his best game.
Same as last time, there’s no point in ranking goalies based on the small sample size. That being said, Frederik Andersen played well in his game and Calvin Pickard was great in the second part of the game. Once again, the fact that Pickard was only given a period strongly hints to the fact that he’s not being seriously considered for the backup role.
The two outliers were Curtis McElhinney and Garret Sparks. McElhinney was excellent and has to be the top backup goalie in the league at making timely saves. He stopped all 20 shots and made some great saves in the final two minutes. Sparks was pretty shaky and allowed three goals on 12 shots. He looked bad on the first goal and committed too early on the second goal. The third goal was a great chance and a nice shot. I doubt Sparks gets cut this early because of it but he does need to have a much better showing and should hope that McElhinney slips up— because he’s been rock solid so far.