Top-six right wing options for the Buffalo Sabres
While Sabreland was basking in the glow of landing top unrestricted free agent left winger Taylor Hall, there are still lingering question marks in the forward group at right wing. Of course that top group of forwards starts with No. 1 center Jack Eichel and moves to left wingers Hall and Jeff Skinner, who's entering the second year of an eight-year contract extension he signed in 2019. After two seasons of the Sabres floundering with inadequacies, at best, at second line center, new general manager Kevyn Adams traded for 16-yr vet Eric Staal to fill that role this season.
On the right side, Buffalo' has a top right winger in Sam Reinhart, a former 2nd-overall pick (2014,) who has developed exceptional chemistry with Eichel. Although Reinhart is headed to arbitration with the club on Oct. 26, odds are the he will be next to Eichel again to start the season.
That gives Buffalo five strong players for the top two lines leaving No. 2 RW open at this point.
The candidates for that spot are few right now and there's probably some hope that Tage Thompson can take the next step and fill that role. Thompson was acquired back in 2018 but struggled with the big club. The 22 yr. old was really making his mark with the Rochester Americans before being felled by a shoulder injury in January that cost him the rest of that AHL season.
Most are looking at Victor Olofsson to be moved to the right side. The 25 yr. old left winger had an excellent 2019-20 rookie campaign with 20 goals in 54 games, although 11 of those goals did come on the powerplay. Olofsson has a history of playing his off wing both in Sweden and for Rochester and his shot from the right circle is dangerous making him a viable option next to Staal.
Veteran right winger Kyle Okposo is a dark horse here but one never knows what kind of chemistry might develop between him and Staal at training camp. Okposo has not done well since signing with the Sabres and he still has three years left on a lucrative deal with an AAV of $6 million. However the 32 yr. old was a three-time 20-goal scorer with the NY Islanders before signing in Buffalo, so that's something he can hang his hat on.
And then there's 19 yr. old center Dylan Cozens whom the Sabres have intimated will start his NHL career on the wing.
Cozens finished his second season in Canadian Junior with 85 points (38+47) in 51 games in a rugged Western Hockey League and it looks as if his development has taken him beyond the junior circuit with those following his progress having him ranked at or near the top of prospects not in the NHL yet. At 6'3" and 183 lbs. Cozens has an NHL frame, although he still needs to fill it out, and he already possesses excellent skating and puck handling ability. Last season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes he began to really work the slot area and developed an impressive shot.
Placing Cozens on the wing will help ease his transition to the NHL and playing alongside Staal will provide a unique opportunity to simultaneously learn the NHL game as well as the ins and outs of playing a top-two center role.
It should be noted here that there is no AHL option for Cozens.
If one thought Okposo was a long shot for a top-six role on the right side, any thought of Buffalo native Patrick Kane returning to his hometown should be considered an even longer shot. Not that it should be totally disregarded, as the once pipe-dream-turned-reality of the Hall signing proved, but Kane's place in Chicago seems too well cemented for something like that to happen.
There's still plenty of off season left but as of right now, this top-six group of forwards bleeding into this top-nine doesn't look shabby at all:
Taylor Hall - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart
Jeff Skinner - Eric Staal - Dylan Cozens
Victor Olofsson - Cody Eakin - Tage Thompson