BUFFALO (LGS) — With only a few weeks until the puck drops on the 2008-09 NHL regular season, the Buffalo Sabres enter training camp having to sort out their seventh and final defensive position.
There are a lot of opinions floating around about who it should be. The most common player mentioned, and arguably the front-runner, is 21-year-old Mike Weber.
Weber made his first appearance for the Sabres late last season. In 16 games with Buffalo, the Pittsburgh native average almost 17 minutes in ice-time while earning a phenomenal +14 rating. Weber will try to fight off incumbent Nathan Paetsch who struggled last season after making a great debut during the 2006-07 season.
Weber is described by most as a solid up-and-comer who has the potential to be a true star in the NHL. He has good size, standing 6-foot-2 at 199 pound, and at only 20 years of age, he is clearly one of the most impressive youngsters currently in the Buffalo organization.
Another positive Weber brings to the table is his chemistry with Andrej Sekera; the young blueliner who is expected to be one of Buffalo’s top six defensemen this season. This tandem performed exceptionally well when the Sabres were hit with defensive injuries late last season.
In his 16 games, Weber played a very sound defensive game and he never had a problem working in the corners. Weber is definitely ready to step up to the NHL level full-time; it is now just a matter of how he performs in training camp and the pre-season.
Paetsch has basically been a regular in the Buffalo lineup since the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals against Carolina when he had to step in and play during a time when defensemen were going down at each turn. During the 2006-07 season, most people would have told you that they expected Paetsch to be a full-time NHL player in no time, but that never developed last season.
Nathan’s development severely decreased since his rookie season, and now at age 25 he finds himself fighting for his NHL life. However, one distinct advantage that Paetsch does hold over Weber is experience having played a total of 123 NHL games. With the amount of injuries that occur year after year on the Sabres roster, an experienced player has the most value when considering a roster spot for the team’s seventh defenseman.
In the end the Sabres coaching staff will pick the player that performs at a consistent NHL level during the upcoming training camp and pre-season schedule. Both of these players have the potential to be successful and vital to the Sabres blueline this season. It will certainly be interesting to see which of these players ends up being the man for the job.
If the Sabres can't make up their mind, they'll likely send Weber back to the minors for more seasoning as Paetsch would have to clear waivers before being sent to Portland.