Sabres bold predictions: Zach Benson earns Calder votes, Tage Thompson scores 50 and more

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres are heading into the upcoming season with an unprecedented amount of positive energy. As the TNT panelists made their final predictions before the games started on Wednesday, three out of four picked the Sabres as their breakout team. Two even selected a Sabre player as their breakout player. Henrik Lundqvist chose Devon Levi, while Anson Carter picked Owen Power. Additionally, the Sabres recently signed Power to a seven-year contract extension, just two days after signing defenseman Rasmus Dahlin to an eight-year deal. With their top two defensemen locked in and a solid core coming together, the Sabres are ready to start the season.

However, before the games begin, let’s make some bold predictions. Last season, I accurately predicted six out of 10 predictions, but I think I can go even bolder this time around. So, here are 10 bold predictions for the 2023-24 season. Feel free to share your boldest predictions in the comments section, so we can all revisit them in six months and see how it all turned out.

1. Zach Benson will receive Calder votes.

The Sabres are cautious not to put too much pressure on 18-year-old Zach Benson. However, his exceptional performance during the preseason, with seven points in six games, has impressed the team. Playing against different levels of competition and on various lines, Benson has shown maturity typically unseen in players his age. It would be best for both Benson and the Sabres if he stays with the team. I predict that he will not only play more than nine games, but he will also receive Calder votes. While Connor Bedard might be the favorite for the award, Benson will still make a strong impression.

2. Tage Thompson will score 50 goals.

Building on his breakout season last year, where he scored 47 goals and 47 assists, Tage Thompson has the potential to score even more this season. Despite getting injured around the All-Star break last season and playing hurt thereafter, Thompson has the opportunity to reach 50 goals and 100 points if he can stay healthy. His performance will be crucial for the Sabres.

3. Eric Comrie will become Buffalo’s backup goalie.

The Sabres’ goalie situation is uncertain, with questions surrounding Devon Levi’s performance in his rookie season and how long the team will carry three goalies. I believe Eric Comrie will step up and become the reliable backup option to Levi. Despite being the easier player to pass through waivers due to his salary and age, Comrie has displayed great form during the preseason, having bounced back from an injury-plagued season. His experience backing up Connor Hellebuyck will be valuable alongside Levi.

4. Devon Levi will maintain a goals-against average below 2.8.

Devon Levi has a lot on his plate as he enters the NHL straight from the NCAA. With the Sabres expecting him to start in at least 50 games, he will need to adjust quickly. During his seven games last season, his goals-against average was 2.94. I predict that he will improve this season and land somewhere around 2.75, similar to Stuart Skinner’s average. However, to achieve this, the Sabres will need to tighten up defensively and provide support to Levi.

5. Casey Mittelstadt will surpass 50 points once again.

It is difficult to predict Casey Mittelstadt’s performance, especially considering he will not have the same linemates as last season. Starting the season alongside Jordan Greenway and Zach Benson might make it challenging for Mittelstadt to exceed his 59-point output from last season. However, I still believe that he will manage to score 50-plus points while providing valuable two-way play for the Sabres.

6. Ryan Johnson will see NHL ice time.

Injuries are inevitable in the NHL, highlighting the importance of team depth. During the preseason, Ryan Johnson showcased his skills and steadily climbed the organizational depth chart. While the Sabres’ top six defensemen are set, the competition for the seventh spot will continue throughout the season. Additionally, the competition to be the first defenseman called up from the minors will be fierce. Among Johnson, Riley Stillman, and Kale Clague, I predict that Johnson will earn a call-up at some point during the season.

7. Victor Olofsson will not finish the season in Buffalo.

Despite rumors of a potential trade during the offseason, Victor Olofsson remains with the Sabres due to salary constraints and Jack Quinn’s injury. However, I believe that by the end of the season, if Quinn recovers and players like Benson or Matt Savoie secure a permanent roster spot, the Sabres might look to move Olofsson. The internal competition, along with the emergence of players in Rochester, could push Olofsson out of the lineup.

8. Connor Clifton will lead the Sabres in hits and fights.

Connor Clifton’s aggressive playstyle will bring much-needed physicality to the Buffalo lineup. While his preseason performance might not have been outstanding, his game flourishes in intense competition. We might even see him drop the gloves in the season opener to set the tone. Clifton has the potential to be a major physical force for the Sabres, and I predict that he will lead the team in hits and fights.

9. The Sabres will make the playoffs and secure a non-wild card spot.

Although the Sabres have frequently been predicted as a wild-card team, I foresee them taking a significant leap this season and clinching one of the top three spots in the Atlantic Division. With average goaltending, the Sabres have the potential to make the necessary jump to secure a playoff spot. This would mark a significant milestone for the team.

10. Don Granato will win the Jack Adams Award.

The Sabres’ captivating story, characterized by their playoff drought, young roster, and exciting playing style, has garnered attention from the hockey world. To win the Jack Adams Award, a coach needs a narrative like Granato’s. If the Sabres make the playoffs, Granato will be considered a top contender for the award. His involvement from the beginning of the rebuild, along with the successful career turnarounds he has facilitated, makes him a strong candidate for this prestigious coaching award.

Ultimately, the Sabres have reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season. With their talented roster and a solid coaching staff led by Granato, the team is primed to make an impact in the NHL. It’s now time to see how these bold predictions play out on the ice.


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