Sabres Stacking Leadership

The leading candidate to don the “C” appears to be veteran Kyle Okposo. The 34-year old right winger is in the final year of the 7 year free agent contract he signed in Buffalo. Lovingly referred to as “dad” by the young core of Sabres player, he was named alternate captain last season and served as the media face for the team. As with many players on the 2021-2022 squad, Okposo had a bounce back season. His 21 goals and 45 points were both the highest totals as a Buffalo Sabre.

Aside from Okposo, veteran candidates include Zemgus Girgensons and Alex Tuch. Girgensons has been a steady figure over the since 2013. He is counted on to provide solid defensive play, forechecking, and penalty killing. He is the longest tenured Buffalo Sabre, logging his 500th career NHL game (all with Buffalo) last season. Like Okposo, Zemgus is also in the final year of his contract and will be a UFA next season. If the Sabres are not in a competitive standing come trade deadline time, it is possible he could be traded. That would be a tough position to put a young team in as they look to build a winning culture.

Alex Tuch has been a shot of energy since joining the team last year. A Central New York native who grew up a Sabres fan, his enthusiasm has been contagious. He embodies Kevyn Adams’ decree that he wants to sign players that want to be in Buffalo. His attitude and his play has created an environment that his teammates want to be too.

Tuch and his primary line mates Tage Thompson and Jeff Skinner were the Sabres most productive line last year and exceeded expectations. Thompson had a dazzling breakout season with 38 goals and 30 assists leading to a huge contract extension from the Sabres (he was also spotted with an A while scoring an absolute snipe during their pre-season win over the Penguins on Saturday. See below).

Playing with Tuch, Jeff Skinner matched his career high in points that he had established in his first year in Buffalo playing primarily with Jack Eichel. But beyond the statistical production, Skinner really seemed to recapture his love for the game. His trademark smile returned and his on-ice energy was palpable.

Tuch is under contract through the 2025-2026 season as well. This timeline places him in a well established veteran position as the younger core group of players like Dylan Cozens, Peyton Krebs, and Owen Power as well as younger players like JJ Peterka, Jack Quinn and Matt Savoie should be coming in to the prime of their careers.

All-Star defenseman Rasmus Dahlin has also been receiving a lot of praise from head coach Don Granato and GM Kevyn Adams as a player that is becoming a vocal leader in the locker room. Granato shared his view of Dahlin’s leadership saying, “He chirps another teammate in practice, he’ll go harder than them. He knows, he’ll challenge the guy in practice and call him out, and then he’ll hop in line and go one-on-one against him and say, ‘I’ll show you what I’m talking about. You’re not going hard enough and you’re not competing hard enough.’ So, he’ll back what he says.”

In addition to the names at top of mind for team captain, the Sabres have drafted or acquired younger players with leadership history. Kevyn Adams spoke about the depth of leadership among younger players. Adams said, “Honestly, where I get excited, it’s great to have a captain, assistant captain, but it’s also great to have leaders within your locker room that maybe don’t have a ‘A,’. I look at some of our younger players like a (Mattias) Samuelsson or (Dylan) Cozens or Peyton Krebs, these guys have been captains growing up in the different teams. 

Cozens was named a co-captain for Junior team Lethbridge Hurricane and was later named an Alternate Captain on Team Canada’s 2021 World Junior team and eventually named co-captain after an injury to Kirby Dach kept him out of the tournament.

Krebs captained Team Canada at the 2019 U18 Championships and led the team with 6 goals and 10 points, the highest-scoring non-American at the tournament. He was also named captain of the Kootenay Ice for the 2017-2018 season. Samuelsson played three seasons in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. He was part of the team that won the silver medal at the 2019 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships and was named captain of the team the following year.

Whoever the Sabres captain will be, it is clear that the front office has an eye on adding leadership at multiple levels of the team and organization. Coach Don Granato is also focused on building an environment that allows leadership to come from various sources rather than relying only on a select few to carry the load.

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