Baker's Dozen: 2017 Kris-tal ball edition

Happy New Year to all. What might 2017 bring to Sabreland? Well thankfully Santa brought me a Kristal ball, so let's take a gander and see what the future may bring....

Your Buffalo Sabres 2017 BOLD Predictions:

1) January 5: Sweden defeats Canada 4-3 to win the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship thanks to Alex Nylander's golden goal late in the third period. Both Nylander and Rasmus Asplund are named to the tourney All-Star Team.

With a boost in confidence, Nylander returns to Rochester and takes his game to the next level with 30 second-half points to finish the year with a stat line of 16-31-47.

With a break in the Amerks schedule, Nylander makes his NHL debut Monday, April 3 versus Toronto, netting a power play assist.

2) With contending teams looking to tinker and add depth before the rush of the trade deadline, Johan Larsson becomes a hot topic of discussions in January and is ultimately moved.

Larsson's growth into a role is the best thing that could happen for Tim Murray, who inherited Larsson from the previous regime. Larsson's checking-line competence and ability to agitate is attractive to contenders, and his pending status as an RFA could add to the attraction for a team that sees him as something greater than a rental.

Among the suitors is a Minnesota Wild team that originally drafted Larsson in the 2010 draft.

Murray knows his team is speed-deficient. Moving a valued, affordable, yet not-so-speedy player like Larsson may disappoint fans in the short term, but could make sense when considering the long-term blueprint.

3) He's not injury prone, but unfortunately Robin Lehner suffers another lower-body setback, thrusting Anders Nilsson into the starting role in the final game before the All-Star break.

Nilsson gets off to a less-than-flattering start with two straight defeats before getting his game in line to backstop a late-season charge prior to Lehner's return, along the way improving his career outlook entering the free agency period.

Fortunately for the Sabres, Nilsson accepts another one-year deal to remain in Buffalo as he sees it as his best option to earn playing time.

4) On Friday, March 24, Notre Dame falls to Harvard 4-3 in double-overtime in the NCAA Tournament East Regional semifinal in Providence, effectively ending the collegiate career of goaltender Cal Petersen.

The Sabres move quickly, announcing the following Monday that they've inked Petersen to his entry-level contract. He makes his AHL debut Friday, March 31, stopping 33 of 34 shots in a 3-1 win over Utica.

5) The Sabres become one of the hottest teams down the stretch, but eventually fall well shy of the final Eastern Conference playoff berth. The silliness that is squandered shootout points continues to be a hot topic (when it should simply be a non-issue -- ties are okay in hockey, people!), but regardless the Sabres are back in the lottery.

6) A few obnoxious analytics folks get egg on their faces and a huge hit to any credibility they've (somehow) garnered when Rasmus Ristolainen is named a finalist for the 2016-17 Norris Trophy. Hey, at least those charts were pretty.

7) At season's end, rumors of a Sam Reinhart for William Nylander trade emerge, adding a little more fuel to what many hope will be a competitive re-kindling of a long-standing NHL rivalry between the Sabres and Maple Leafs.

Uniting the Nylander brothers with Jack Eichel makes for a tantalizing rumor in Buffalo leading up to the draft in Chicago. Meanwhile in Toronto, the thoughts of bringing a former World Junior star "home" to play for Mike Babcock makes for a compelling story line.

It would be the first trade between Toronto and Buffalo since March 4, 2009 when the Sabres spent a second-round pick to acquire Dominic Moore.

8) Starving to develop the next wave of defensemen with Brendan Guhle, the Sabres successfully lure right-hander Will Borgen away from St. Cloud State following his sophomore season with a three-year entry-level contract.

9) Joining Borgen in the fold is left-handed defenseman Daniel Brickley, who chooses the Sabres organization over a long line of suitors as one of the hottest college free agent targets on the market. It is the second consecutive year that the Sabres sign a free agent defender out of Minnesota State, following in the footsteps of Casey Nelson.

The Sabres don't hit on all of their collegiate targets, though, as Eden native and Minnesota-Duluth speedster Alex Iafallo chooses to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks shortly after the Bulldogs win the NCAA Championship.

10) In May, the London Knights become the first team since the Windsor Spitfires to win back-to-back Memorial Cups behind the MVP performance of newly-minted OHL star Cliff Pu, who racks up two goals and two assists in the final game over Regina.

The Sabres sign Pu to his entry-level contract shortly thereafter, with the 2016 third-rounder returning to London in 2017-18 and continuing his rise in a key role for Team Canada at the 2018 World Junior Championship in Buffalo.

11) The Sabres choose to protect eight skaters and one goaltender for the NHL expansion draft.

Robin Lehner
Jake McCabe
Rasmus Ristolainen
Zach Bogosian
Ryan O'Reilly
Kyle Okposo
Evander Kane
William Carrier
Marcus Foligno

12) With the sixth pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, the Buffalo Sabres select LW Eeli Tolvanen from the USHL's Sioux City Musketeers.

The Sabres look to fast track their prospect with AHL duty in 2017-18, much like they did with Zemgus Girgensons and Nylander, but Tolvanen instead elects to honor his commitment to Boston College.

13) Lastly, and perhaps the most shocking development of all, Rasmus Asplund signs a contract in the summer, comes to training camp in the fall and, despite not scoring many points in preseason play, wins a spot on the Sabres opening night roster.

The Sabres would prefer to loan him back to Farjestad of the SHL to continue his development, but the plan changes when Asplund's well-developed and highly detailed two-way game stands out among the crowd and helps fill the void left by Larsson's departure.

***

Do you have a bold prediction of your own? Tweet me @SabresProspects and/or leave a comment below.

Cheers, everyone. Thanks as always for following along.
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7 comments

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Unknown
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Wednesday, December 28, 2016 × This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
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Kris Baker
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Wednesday, December 28, 2016 ×

Let use this space to comment on the actual article and not to criticize a blog owner for having life obligations.

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Unknown
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Sunday, January 01, 2017 ×

Are you saying the Gm doesn't know what he is doing with point #11? Why would they only protect "8 skaters" if they are only going to keep 3 D-men?

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Kris Baker
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Sunday, January 01, 2017 ×

As part of a bold predictions exercise, I think a GM exposing as much salary and term as possible would be a sign of knowing what he's doing, especially if there's one or two trades that can be made.

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Unknown
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Wednesday, January 04, 2017 ×

Great Article!
After another call up Nick Baptiste solidifies himself as a consistent third line winger for the rest of the year pushing Gionta towards more than a few healthy scratches.
Another 2017 prediction is that you will update your Sabres Top Prospects Ranking prior to the one year anniversary of your previous rankings.... Of which I look forward to reading your great insight on each prospect. Keep up the great (but I'm sure hard) work!

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Kevin Sexton
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Thursday, January 12, 2017 ×

"The silliness that is squandered shootout points continues to be a hot topic (when it should simply be a non-issue -- ties are okay in hockey, people!)"

But SO losses aren't ties. They are game in which the other team wins/earns 2 points. It is less about the missing points then about loosing ground in the competition for playoff spots. I fully support the return of the tie.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017 ×

Since they only protected 3 D-men, wouldn't it be more beneficial to go the 7-3-1 way and get 2 extra forwards to protect?

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