Not since Chris Drury, or arguably, Daniel Briere, have the Buffalo Sabres had a two-way center that could also score when needed. The Sabres tried to force Derek Roy into that slot, but it never panned out and they eventually moved him for the gritty Steve Ott for the before the 2013 NHL Regular Season. While Ott does have a nice two-way game, he doesn’t really have the scoring capability or faceoff prowess that one would want from a first-line center. How do the Sabres finally fix this problem?
Well, Cody Hodgson is currently the Sabres’ first-line center. Hodgson is only 23, but he has shown flashes of both playmaking and scoring ability this year playing alongside Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville (before he was traded). However, it doesn’t seem as though he can create on his own. Sabres coach Ron Ralston moved Hodgson all the way down to the fourth line a week ago because he hasn’t been able to continue his scoring ways without Vanek and Pominville next to him. Hodgson could develop into that first-line pivot that the Sabres need but it may take some time before he develops.
The Sabres also have young centers Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe currently on the roster and about to enter their primes. Gerbe is too small at 5’5″ and doesn’t seem to have the game suited for a top-line center. Ennis has a nice scoring touch and a reckless abandon, but that isn’t the greatest attribute for the center spot and Ennis seems to fit in better as a winger anyway. This really only leaves the aforementioned Ott to be the first-line center and his shortcomings have already been explored.
Aside from Hodgson, the Sabres best option may be the talented Mikhail Grigorenko. However, he is merely 18 and Ralston clearly doesn’t think he’s ready for primetime. Recent call up Luke Adam’s ceiling is probably manning the third-line.
Given the trades the Sabres made at the deadline, it is clear that they are entering into a rebuilding mode. Both Vanek’s and Ryan Miller’s name were bandied about in trade rumors before the deadline finally passed and it wouldn’t be a shock to see either traded in the offseason. The asking price for both would be huge, especially for Vanek because he is three years younger. This would probably be the best option for the Sabres to get a young, first-line center. Neither player could command a superstar by themselves, but perhaps the Sabres would be able to acquire a young player showing great potential that has not quite proven himself yet. The Colorado Avalanche have two such players in Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly and could be looking for some drastic improvement after having been near the bottom of the standings the past couple years. Not to say that the Avalanche are looking to trade these young guns, but they are the caliber of player a team may be willing to give up for either Miller or Vanek.
The Sabres could also look to free agency, although that would seem to go against their plans to rebuild. The Sabres also may be scared off from free agency due to the disappointing returns they have gotten from recent signees Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino. The pickings for the suspected free agents this summer are also fairly slim. Although, a guy like Stephen Weiss could be a good transitional center while the Sabres wait for one of their prospects to develop.