When an NHL team is in last place in goals for (64) and has Jack Eichel, then that team has serious problems. Players earning serious dollars are underperforming, to make an understatement. Secondary scoring is…well there is not any on the Buffalo Sabres. On Monday, December 4, after the team continued to be miserable during a losing streak that included 3 straight games of no goals, GM Jason Botterill dropped the first shoe as he waived Matt Moulson (0 points in 14 games for $5 million AAV). As an attempt to bolster the bottom-six, Botterill traded for two-time Stanley Cup winner, Scott Wilson, with hopes his competitiveness would encourage a sulking team. Another addition to the big club was forward, Evan Rodrigues, returning from his rehab assignment with the Rochester Americans. And it is this recall that can force the Sabres’ coaching staff to realize that the former Terrier can have the impact that many on the roster are not.
After 3 games, Rodrigues already has more goals than Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons. Coming off a point per game stint in the AHL after a deflating injury to start the season, the 24-year old had momentum as he entered his first game of the season vs. the Colorado Avalanche. This momentum led to the Sabres breaking out of their losing streak, which included applying the offensive pressure on the team’s first, and only, goal by a defenseman (Jake McCabe). The next game (Chicago Blackhawks) was rough as the Rodrigues line, including newcomer, Wilson, and Kyle Okposo, was overmatched and out-attempted 16-1 at even strength, according to Natural Stat Trick. Despite the challenge, Rodrigues had his first point of the season as an assist on Okposo’s fourth for the campaign. It was not much better against the St. Louis Blues until head coach, Phil Housley, switched up the lines.
Soon after, Rodrigues scored on the powerplay, which is rare, and would add an even-strength goal to tie it up. The third-year forward had made an impact, despite the Sabres losing in overtime. But this is only beginning of what his play must produce.
With 3 points in 3 games, the scoring rate is obviously solid. It is unlikely, however, that Rodrigues will produce at this level, especially when playing under 12 minutes at even strength. His pace should entice others to produce or they will find him moving up the lineup, which may not really be the best position for him. Last season, he found himself playing higher up the lineup. The options were not great but he seemed more efficient in a bottom-six role. He is playing 11:10 minutes a game at even-strength, which he is probably better suited for, though maybe not with Scott Wilson (who threw a puck to the wall when possessing it right in front of Blue’s goaltender, Jake Allen).
The Wilson/Rodrigues pairing might just not work. Averaging 15:05 in all situations, Evan may still have some value on special teams. But if the undrafted free agent continues to play with efficiency (3.6 points/60 minutes-likely will not continue but can be better than his 0.9 last season), he may permanently replace Girgensons or Larsson, who have been all but useless. His 32.8 CorsiFor % at even-strength has left much to be desired, though this may be a bad example as the Sabres are typically out-attempted. Only 23.1% of his starts have been in the offensive zone this season, which can lead to a CF% below 50. This does not mean he is the type of player to throw the puck away, as it does not appear so upon viewing. If his offense is consistent enough, that is his ticket, especially with more defensive zone starts.
There is a serious production void in Buffalo, which may include the Bills and their damned draught. When Evander Kane or Jack Eichel are not involved, little happens to the benefit of the Sabres. The management is making it known that continued failures are not acceptable by this roster, cued with the report that Botterill is listening on all players not named Jack Eichel. Evan Rodrigues is getting this chance because it is earned and he has not given a reason to the contrary just yet. The Tim Murray regime only talked about players being accountable and being fast while doing nothing during the 2017-18 season to improve the situation. This is just a start of the changes that are needed from the Buffalo Sabres’ front office and Evan Rodrigues should prove that he was one of the right ones.
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