CHOJNACKI: Questions abound for young Sabres team

Hodgson and Co. look to improve under Rolston’s lead

October is quickly approaching and while hockey fans everywhere are salivating at the thought of the NHL season starting, the Buffalo Sabres are hard at work preparing for the upcoming season.

The offseason was filled with questions, some of which remain unanswered.

Many fans were convinced that the Sabres would trade star players Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller, who are in the final year of their contracts. Both players are still on the roster, which may lead fans to question whether general manager Darcy Regier is actually willing to rebuild.

With such a young group of players, it’s puzzling why Regier is holding on to assets that could improve the team in the long run.

One way that the team is hoping to improve this season is with new faces behind the bench. The team removed the “interim” tag from head coach Ron Rolston’s title and added former Colorado Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco to be an assistant.

This year’s camp is particularly important for young players hoping to make the roster, since the Sabres will most likely be featuring rookies in their lineup when the season begins.

The Sabres will likely boast the youngest roster in the league this season, which could be a recipe for an exciting on-ice product. Competition and pressure will surround the young prospects, who will be expected to play at a high level this season.

Rolston’s experience grooming young players at the collegiate, international and professional levels should help the young roster reach its potential.

Mikhail Grigorenko, Joel Armia, Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons are all expected to vie for spots on the opening day roster. Rolston has always embraced young players and has had success developing prospects in the past.

Earlier this month, the Sabres’ prospects finished second out of eight teams in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament. This bodes well for the players that were in the tournament, as they experienced game conditions before training camp even started.

Center Cody Hodgson is also expected to elevate his game this season. Hodgson came to terms on a new deal one day before the start of training camp last week that will earn the 23-year-old $25.5 million over the next six years. He seemed to take a step forward last year, and much of that can be attributed to his growth under Rolston in Rochester.

Rolston has a lot to prove. His success developing young prospects in the past should help this season, but it doesn’t ensure that the Sabres’ young players will continue to progress in 2013.

Questions abound, but one thing is certain: these questions will begin to be answered on Oct. 2 when the Sabres open the season against Detroit.

Shaun Chojnacki can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @shauntylerc