Last year, the Buffalo Sabres by no means lit up the scoreboard.
Ranking 21st in the league in scoring, the Sabres offense, while at times showing flashes of dominance, was far too inconsistent to allow the Sabres to compete for the playoffs.
Thomas Vanek, last year's leading scorer, will likely return to the Sabres lineup despite all of the offseason buzz that he would not. Vanek was limited to 38 games due to various ailments last season, but he was still able to amass 41 points, including 20 goals.
So what can Sabres fans expect from the team's forwards this season?
There are only a few certainties for the Sabres in 2013-14, the first being that Mikhail Grigorenko will not have to worry about being sent back to Quebec of the QMJHL. According to John Vogl of the Buffalo News, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said that Grigorenko would remain with the Sabres all season in July, and the consensus is that the declaration will help Grigorenko's development.
Another certainty is that Cody Hodgson, who remains an unsigned restricted free agent, will be the unquestioned first-line pivot after an impressive season last year. While he needs to work on his game defensively, Hodgson showed exactly why the Sabres were willing to trade Zack Kassian for him two years ago, posting 34 points in his 48 games.
Beyond those two things, the Sabres enter the season at forward very fluid.
The wild card is Ron Rolston and his willingness to play the team's youth from the get-go this season. Players that may benefit from Rolston's youth-leaning tendencies include Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons, Corey Tropp and Johan Larsson.
As it stands right now, Armia and Tropp have the best chance to start the season on the Sabres roster, but Girgensons especially has impressed as of late and may have a chance to crack the bottom six in October.
Another major question is how the former line of Marcus Foligno-Tyler Ennis-Drew Stafford will be broken up. Many seem to believe Ennis may be moving back to wing given his troubles defensively last year. That leaves Stafford as a candidate to flank Hodgson and Vanek on the first line and Foligno likely to land on the second or third line.
With all of that in mind, projections for the Sabres' opening night forward lineup are (see the nhl.com projections):
Line 1: Thomas Vanek–Cody Hodgson–Drew Stafford
Line 2: Ville Leino–Mikhail Grigorenko–Steve Ott
Line 3: Marcus Foligno–Tyler Ennis–Joel Armia
Line 4: John Scott–Zemgus Girgensons–Corey Tropp
A few notes on the above projections:
If Girgensons is not deemed to be ready by Rolston, Kevin Porter will fill the fourth-line center position.
Ennis at center seems to be the Sabres' best option at this moment, but if he is slotted in at wing, look for Steve Ott to play center full time instead of the center-wing hybrid he'll play with Grigorenko as his pivot.
The scratch for the opener will be Pat Kaleta.