With McEichel Locked Down, Who Will Protect the Buffalo Sabres Prized Asset?

The rights to Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel have been locked up in General Manager Tim Murray’s hands—thank the Lord (Stanley). The days of scrolling through my Twitter feed, seeing pictures of tank after tank and heated discussions on the morality of losing to win are now a part of the past, or at least I hope so. Like the kid that finishes last in the race and somehow always goes home with the best prize, Tim Murray now sits at a fork in the road and must make some decisions concerning the future of his roster in regards to his upcoming superstar acquisition.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Murray picks Connor McDavid if given the number one pick.  Last week in an interview with the New York Times, Murray showed no reserve in holding back his infatuation for the golden child.

“I watch him too much and I think too much about him. I wish I could help myself,” he told Times reporter Matt Higgins.

With the NHL Draft Lottery scheduled to take place in a little over a week (April 15th), this one-sided love affair will continue to grow until the much debated ping pong balls decide their fate—and for the conspiracy theorists out there, it was announced that they will have video evidence of the draft. McDavid or Eichel, I will be pleased with either, but will this current Sabres roster be ready for a player of that caliber?

Finding a Productive Enforcer
With the average size of these two players only being 6’ 1” 190 pounds, it would only be fitting for a Buffalo sports team to get a franchise player and see him sustain a career-ending injury within his first year. With the jury still out on whether McDavid or Eichel will be ready be NHL ready come next season, one thing is for sure: Murray needs to find himself a productive enforcer. An oxymoron? Yes, but they exist.

As hard as the league tries to get rid of it, there will always be one or two players on each team that play the role of enforcer. Looking at the current Sabres roster you could say Patrick Kaleta plays the role, as well as Nicolas Deslauriers despite his recent role as a top six forward. Although they may disagree with what I have to say, they were not paid to score goals. Instead, like any other enforcer, they are out there to protect their teammates, strike some fear in the other team and maybe log minutes on the penalty kill.

At the end of this season, Murray will have to make a decision on one of the two. Fan favorite Patrick Kaleta has three games left on his current contract and was given the assistant captaincy for the remainder of this season on April 2nd.

“I don’t really know how to describe it,” Kaleta told the media after Mike Weber handed down the role. “You dream your whole life to play for the Buffalo Sabres. Now that you’re playing for them, getting the ‘A’ is like another dream come true that you work your life for.”

 Was the move to make Patrick Kaleta the assistant captain for the remainder of the 2014-15 season a small foreshadowing of his exit from the NHL?  Photo courtesy of Jen Fueller/Getty Images

Was the move to make Patrick Kaleta the assistant captain for the remainder of the 2014-15 season a small foreshadowing of his exit from the NHL?

Photo courtesy of Jen Fueller/Getty Images

Enter the Deslauriers
From what it sounds like, the 28-year-old Angola native may not be around come next year. If Murray does not want to sign Kaleta this offseason, is it possible that Nicolas Deslauriers will step up and take on the enforcer role as a 3rd or 4th liner?

Deslauriers, who currently leads all rookies in hits (255) fits the profile to be Kaleta's successor. Measuring up at 6'1" 209 pounds, the La Salle, QC native is one tough customer. I'll never forget the final home game of last season when Deslauriers and Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield went toe-to-toe seconds after they were released from the penalty box. Although they don't show it in the video, the two of them were jawing it up pretty well after they took coincidental minors for roughing and it led to the fight below: 

Three days after the scrap, Deslauriers was in Utica to take on the Comets with the Rochester Americans as they chased down a playoff spot. I remember waiting outside the Amerks locker room following that game to talk to some of the players. With ice packs covering both arms, Deslauriers came out to talk to his father and before he could get too deep in conversation I let him know how I felt about the fight.

"Great game tonight, even better scrap the other night," I told him.
"Yeah, I guess you could say I got a few in on him," he responded back with a laugh.

The 24-year-old is the only member of the current Sabres team to play in all 81 games so far. In those 81 games, Deslauriers has 15 points (5 G, 10 A) and leads the team in penalty minutes with 72. He is under the terms of a contract that ends next offseason. So with Patrick Kaleta questionable for next season, and Murray landing his big fish, what does the future hold for #44? Will he be a big role player as a bottom six forward 2 years from now when McDavid or Eichel are on the rise to fame as a franchise player for the Buffalo Sabres? It's something to consider and I see him possibly being a better version of PK36. Just like every all-star quarterback needs a strong offensive line to protect them, every franchise hockey player needs an enforcer to watch their back on the ice.