The Buffalo Sabres' season is now underway
Off to an 0-3 start, the Buffalo Sabres are setting the bar low. Fans' expectations are minimal, and the playoffs seem like a thing of the distant future.
Still, there are always going to be standout performances.
On this year's team, there are a ton of players under the age of 25. They may surprise me, but I doubt that many will be in the discussion for team MVP. That leaves a group of core veterans, who each have a chance of being deemed the team's most valuable player.
Let's dive in.
Steve Ott is a leader on and off the ice.
If the Buffalo Sabres have any form of success this season, it'll be a byproduct of hard work and intensity.
To put it bluntly, this team is not good.
While there are many players on the roster with potential, it is largely unrealized at this time. Guys like Mikhail Grigorenko, Rasmus Ristolainen and Zemgus Girgensons may be the MVPs of tomorrow—but not today.
A guy like Steve Ott will be the MVP of this team if he can transmit his style of play to the youngsters. He won't score 30 goals, but he's out there for around 20 minutes each night playing his rear end off.
For that alone, Ott could be the most valuable player for the Sabres this season.
Look for Cody Hodgson to up the ante this year.
One of the young players on this team of whom much is expected is Cody Hodgson. The 23-year-old center plays on the first line with the two most proven wingers on the roster, Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford.
With that kind of company, Hodgson has a chance to put up a lot of points, through both dishing the puck to his wingers and unleashing his own strong shot. Last year, Hodgson put up 34 points in 48 games, which prorates to almost 60 point over an 82-game season.
Add in another year of intense offseason training with Gary Roberts to the fact that he is still a very young hockey player, and you realize that the sky is the limit for Hodgson.
Though his potential is undeniable, Hodgson still falls short of three veterans who have been successful for years.
Christian Ehrhoff is a smart, skilled defender.
Though they often go unrecognized in traditional MVP voting, defensemen make a massive impact on each hockey team. For this team, Christian Ehrhoff is undeniably the best defender.
Ehrhoff plays in all situations and logs over 25 minutes each night—that's almost 4:30 more than Mark Pysyk, the defenseman with the second-most ice time. On top of that, Ehrhoff tallied nearly 0.5 points per game last season, an impressive number for a defenseman.
With all of the youth on the back end, the Sabres are relying heavily on the veteran from Germany. If they are to have any success at all, Ehrhoff must be stellar on a nightly basis.
Thomas Vanek wears the "C" now.
Though in likelihood this is Thomas Vanek's last year in Buffalo, that doesn't change how impactful he can be on the ice. The Austrian-born sniper scored at over half a goal per game in the shortened 2013 season and has bested the 30-goal mark four times.
I'm not going to say that Vanek's performance will raise because he's in a contract year, but it tends to be a positive factor in most impending free agents. As the main scoring option on a team bereft of proven talent, he will almost certainly lead the team in goals yet again.
That being said, Vanek is not the most impactful of players on the Sabres. He's not great defensively and still does not get a huge amount of ice time. All of this is while he plays the wing, arguably the least important of the positions in hockey.
That leaves him at No. 2. I think you all know where this is going.
Ryan Miller has a lot to prove in 2013-14.
Ultimately, the biggest factor in the Sabres' success in 2013-14 will be Ryan Miller.
The former Olympic MVP and Vezina Trophy winner is out to prove himself in a contract year—both to general managers and USA Olympic talent evaluators. Expect him to be at his best, in spite of the rest of the roster.
Though it's a very, very small sample, Miller has been a brick wall thus far, stopping 77 of 80 shots. That rates out to a .963 save percentage. Even at .930, Miller would be having a fantastic year behind a youthful roster.
Given the inexperience throughout the forward and defensive ranks, Miller is going to see a lot of shots. I expect him to have a great year and be the decisive team MVP.