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What stats say the Sabres should do about....everyone? Part 3

The Buffalo Sabres have new life. With the firing of Darcy Regier and hiring of Tim Murray, every player is being evaluated. Murray says he already has an idea of what he thinks of each player. Do you know what you'd like to see the Sabres do with each guy?

Well, what do the stats say? In Part 3 of 4, we explore what the numbers (and skill sets, contracts and intangibles) hint about what the Sabres should and will do with their young defenseman.


Mark Pysyk

What the stats say:

Considering Pysyk had only played a hand full of games in the NHL before this season and is only 22-years-old, it's pretty impressive that he's been able to step into No. 2 D-man minutes. He's been paired with Buffalo's top defenseman Christian Ehrhoff most and has performed fairly well.

Pysyk has faced the second toughest Quality of Competition (only to Ehrhoff) and a very low number of Offensive Zone starts for a rookie at 43.3, yet he's posted a +5.6 Relative Corsi (Plus-Minus of shot attempts compared to teammates) – second again to only Ehrhoff.

You might say the German defender is carrying his rookie partner, but last season while playing most with fringe D-man Adam Pardy, Pysyk had a very strong +7.4 Relative Corsi.

In terms of scoring, you won't see him putting up Erik Karlsson numbers any time soon, but more power play minutes in the future (and a better scoring set of forwards) might improve his goal and assist totals.

On the ice:

The band Bush did a song called Little Things that could have been about Mark Pysyk. He does so many of the little things correctly that he frustrates opponents and impresses those with a trained eye.

In his own zone, he has phenomenal footwork, play on-coming wingers like a cornerback in football. He positions his body and stick perfectly to force puck carriers to the outside and does not over react to the offensive player's dekes, hesitations or head loves.

Along the wall, he's nifty with the stick. He wins battles with his stick and has an uncanny ability to separate opponents from the puck. Creative own-zone passes are another strength. Pysyk has tremendous vision and a bag of tricks with his stick that include no look and backhand passes to his partner.

Not only is he a solid defensive player, but Pysyk is sneaky tough and a quiet leader type. He's a bright person on and off the ice – the type any team would like to have in their locker room.

The downside on the Sabres' first-round pick is that he isn't physically imposing and doesn't have a high scoring ceiling. He's conservative on the offensive end, preferring to keep the play in front of him.

Contract: RFA 2016

Projects to a quality second pairing defenseman on a good team. Will probably always go under the radar but is absolutely a player you want on the Sabres long term.

Brayden McNabb

What the stats say:

For a guy who's been flipped up and down between Buffalo and Rochester, McNabb has performed well. He's faced second-pairing Quality of Competition, a low Offensive Zone Start percentage (42.2%) and has come away with an above team average possession figure at +2.5 Relative Corsi.

Of course, it's still a very small sample. McNabb has only spent 148 minutes on ice at 5v5 for Buffalo this year, which is less than Rasmus Ristolainen and Alex Sulzer. So we could see those possession stats change.

McNabb hasn't added offense as of yet this season, but has had AHL success on the scoreboard. He posted 81 points in 127 AHL games – mostly as the No. 1 D-man and point man on the power play.

Back in 2011-12, the 6-foot-5 defenseman had 8 points in 25 games.

On the ice:

Since being called up for the third (?) time, McNabb has played a more conservative game. He hasn't been stepping up into the rush and pinching as much as he does in Rochester and did during his first stint this year with the Sabres. Playing it safe has had better results thus far.

Because he is a below average skater, he needs to be careful about taking chances. But McNabb does have offensive upside with good hands and the AHL's hardest shot. Unfortunately, he has trouble at times deciding when to turn on the offensive game and when to stay back. Getting the shot through traffic via an extra stride or quick snap has also been a problem at times with his shots getting blocked too often.

McNabb's physical play has been inconsistent at both levels. He's made some hard checks from time to time, but hasn't been intimidating.

What we need to keep in mind with the former third-round pick is that he's only 22 and needs time before he'll reach his ceiling. Decision making, physical play, skating – all areas in need of improvement, but ones where he has not reached maximum potential.

Contract: RFA 2015


McNabb's success or failure depends entirely on how hard he works to improve. Maybe you could say that about any prospect, but in his case, if he improves his skating he can be a very, very good defenseman. If he doesn't become a better skater, he will probably be a 5th or 6th defenseman who can chip in on the power play and add occasional physical presence. If he does take major steps forward with his feet, maybe there's more there. McNabb is part of the promising group of young defenseman that the Sabres probably would rather not part with.

Rasmus Ristolainen

What the stats say:

In 277 minutes as an NHL player, the Sabres’ first-round pick did not perform at a level that justified keeping him in The Show. When he was on the ice, the Sabres only controlled 38.9% of the shot attempts. Ron Rolston used him properly with sheltered minutes against easy competition, but he still finished his NHL time with a -12.1 Relative Corsi. Offensively speaking, he took only about one shot on goal per game and scored one goal.

Since being sent to the AHL, Ristolainen has only played eight games and has scored 5 points and taken 21 shots.

On the ice:

The Sabres selected Ristolainen with the 9th overall pick for a reason. For a player his size – 6-foot-4, 220-pounds, the Finnish defender is a great skater with an explosive first step. He can carry the puck at an extremely high level, with the ability stick handle through traffic and hold the puck until he can find open teammates with a pass or fire a slap shot.
Defensively, he offers both the ability to stick with the top players in the league with his speed or intimidate with his physical presence. Ristolainen is not afraid to slam an opponent into the wall, hip check a player at the blue line or use his body to win 1-on-1 battles. From a makeup standpoint, he comes off as having a good attitude and willingness to learn.

Overall, he’s an all-around talent who projects as a Top 2 defenseman who can log huge minutes at even strength against the toughest competition. His combo of offense and defensive ability makes him a strong candidate for playing both power play and penalty kill.

That said, he needs plenty of work to get to NHL level. In Rochester, Ristolainen will be learning when to carry the puck through center ice and when to make simple plays, when to step up into a big hit and when to back off and when to pinch in the offensive zone.

Contract: RFA 2017


We’ll want to rush him because we’ve received a sneak peak of his talent in the NHL, AHL and at the World Juniors, but we have to be patient. Defensemen take longer to progress to NHL level than most forwards. It’s a position that takes a mature mind to be great as well as the ability to get over mistakes and overcome pressure. He’ll get there. Pencil him into the lineup in two years and as a top pairing defenseman thereafter if things go as expected.

Nikita Zadorov

What the stats say:

The Sabres’ 16th overall draft pick only received seven games in the NHL before being sent back to juniors. In that very, very small sample, he performed better than Ristolainen, facing slightly harder competition and a 39.7% Offensive Zone Start percentage and posting a decent -1.1 Relative Corsi.

Hits are a pretty debatable statistic, but Zadorov’s figure stands out. The rookie posted 25 hits in just seven games, living up to his draft-day billing as a physical player.

In junior and in the World Juniors, the 6-foot-5 D-man is a +38 and has 34 points in 77 games.

On the ice:

While he was pumped up at the draft for being a physical and fearless, Zadorov is surprisingly mobile and offensively savvy. He is a very good skater for his size with some explosiveness and the ability to turn and pivot quickly.

While he may not quite have the hands and vision of Ristolainen, Zadorov is a confident passer who can move the puck well in his own zone especially. He also has a strong shot, as was demonstrated with several goals in the World Juniors. You could see him playing power play minutes long term.

In terms of makeup, the young D-man is very confident in himself, hopefully not too much to continue to learn.

Contract: RFA 2017


Kevin Devine has said the Sabres have been extremely impressed with Zadorov’s progression and surprised by his growth offensively. He may be slightly less of a “sure thing” than Ristolainen, but his ceiling is that of a true franchise defenseman who can do it all and be a dominating physical presence who plays huge, difficult minutes.

Like Ristolainen, he may need more time before he can play every night in the NHL, but he’s a major part of the long-term plan.

Amerks One Liners

Chad Ruhwedel – Has been solid for Rochester. Lack of height or high end offensive skill may prevent him from play in the NHL nightly. Projects as an AHL defenseman who can provide solid depth when injuries hit

Drew Bagnall – One of the smartest players you’ll ever meet. A stand up leader, currently the Amerks captain. Doesn’t have foot speed or puck moving skills to play full-time in the NHL, but a great guy to have in the organization.  

Matt McKenzie – Has some mobility and puck handling skill, but is a ways away from being ready for the NHL.

Jerome Gauthier-Leduc – With some quality offensive skills, JGL could become a puck-moving defenseman. However, he’s light on the puck and isn’t an elite skater. He’s got years of progression and hard work to go if he’s ever going to play in the NHL