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10 storylines to watch as Sabres prepare for training camp to open

A number of questions surround the Buffalo Sabres with training camp, only three weeks away.

This will be new coach Ralph Krueger's first camp with the team, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen remains on the roster, and there are a few new players who could fill prominent roles this season. There is also the possibility that General Manager Jason Botterill isn't done adding or subtracting from the roster.

Regardless if Ristolainen remains in Buffalo, the Sabres' training camp should be ripe with competition at forward, defense and in goal. With that in mind, here are 10 storylines to watch as the team prepares for its first camp under Krueger:

1. First camp under Krueger: You've heard Krueger speak and you've likely heard about his resume, which includes one full season as an NHL head coach, an impressive tournament at the World Cup of Hockey in 2016 and a stint as chairman of English Premier League's Southampton F.C.

However, there are many unknowns entering Krueger's first season as Sabres coach. He has spoken of the importance of playing with pace and allowing talented forwards to use their creativity, but how does that factor into goal prevention?

Krueger will need to install the type of sound defensive structure the Sabres lacked during Phil Housley's tenure as coach. Training camp will provide at least a few clues as to how Buffalo will try to protect its own net in 2019-20.

2. The Ristolainen situation: Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen remains on the Sabres' roster, despite expressing frustration during locker cleanout day in April and recently hinting to a Finnish news outlet that he wants out of Buffalo.

His departure seemed imminent when the Sabres acquired right-shot defensemen Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju this summer, yet Krueger and General Manager Jason Botterill sound prepared for Ristolainen to play a seventh season in Buffalo. There's no guarantee Ristolainen will still be on the roster when the season opens Oct. 3; however, it will be interesting to see what role he plays if he's at training camp.

Will Ristolainen be used on the top pairing? What sort of power-play role will he have with Miller and Brandon Montour also on the right side? What will Ristolainen say to reporters when asked about wanting out? Oh, and there's also the chance Ristolainen isn't on the roster when camp opens, which would solve the logjam on the blue line.

3. Who plays on the top line with Eichel? Jack Eichel posted career highs in goals (28), assists (54) and points (82) last season — his first in the eight-year, $80 million contract he signed prior to the season opener in 2017-18. Following the most recent season finale, Eichel expressed some frustration with his own play, particularly during the season's second half, and spoke of wanting to be among the NHL's elite players.

The Sabres need an elite season from Eichel, and he'll be positioned to top last year's production if he's able to play with Jeff Skinner, who scored a career-high 40 goals in 2018-19. There's no guarantee they will be paired together. After all, Botterill told reporters during FanFest that lines will be juggled throughout camp to determine chemistry and roles.

Skinner will likely end up as the first-line left wing, but who plays on the right side?

4. Dahlin's sophomore season: Word out of Sweden is Dahlin has gotten bigger and stronger since his rookie season. Scary thought, right? The 19-year-old had a historic debut season, despite playing on a struggling team and not having the luxury of being paired with the same right-shot defenseman.

Dahlin's bouts with consistency, particularly on defense, led to him being left off a few Calder Trophy ballots. How will he perform during his second season with the Sabres? His development will be aided by the presence of assistant coach Steve Smith, who worked closely with Dahlin last season.

Will Krueger try to keep Dahlin with one defenseman, perhaps Miller? Can we pencil in Dahlin as the power-play quarterback? Dahlin focused on improving his shot this offseason, which should help him develop into one of the league's top defensemen.

5. Second-line center: Is Casey Mittelstadt ready to solidify himself as the Sabres' second-line center? This is an important season for the 20-year-old. He struggled in the faceoff circle and defensively during his rookie season, winning only 39.7 percent of his draws and posting a minus-19 rating.

Mittelstadt spent this offseason focusing on upper-body strength and conditioning after struggling with the grind of an 82-game NHL season. He will be a restricted free agent next summer, and Dylan Cozens should be NHL-ready in 2020-21. If Mittelstadt falters in camp, the second-line center job should be Evan Rodrigues' to lose.

6. Sam's time: Sam Reinhart missed the start of training camp last season because he was an unsigned restricted free agent. The 23-year-old winger still scored 22 goals among a career-high 65 points while playing all 82 games. Now, Reinhart will attempt to earn a lucrative long-term contract.

Reinhart will be a restricted free agent next summer, when the Sabres are projected to have more than enough cap space to lock him up long-term. He was outstanding at the IIHF World Championship in the spring, playing his best hockey during Canada's semifinal and gold-medal games.

Rather than reuniting with Eichel and Skinner, Reinhart could be asked to drive his own line.

7. Skinner hype: All eyes will be on Skinner after the 27-year-old signed an eight-year, $72 million contract in June. Some will wonder if last season was an aberration, yet Skinner has been among the league's top 5-on-5 goal scorers for the past half-decade.

Skinner has scored at least 24 goals in five of the past six seasons, but how will he handle the expectations of the new contract? Can he surpass his success from last season? How will Skinner perform if he's not on a line with Eichel?

8. The new guys: Colin Miller was acquired in a trade from Vegas and could possibly be paired with Dahlin. Henri Jokiharju, a 21-year-old right-shot defenseman brought over in the Alexander Nylander trade, will push for a roster spot and has an excellent opportunity to make the team if Ristolainen is traded prior to the season opener. Perhaps the two most intriguing additions are at forward, where the Sabres added Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey.

Both are natural left wings but one of two could shift over to the right side, potentially joining Eichel and Skinner on the top line. Regardless of which line they play on, both should help address the Sabres' lack of supplementary scoring and are excellent 5-on-5 players. Additionally, the Sabres added three players on one-way deals who will compete for roster spots: defenseman John Gilmour, center Jean-Sebastien Dea and forward Curtis Lazar.

9. Young forwards: The Sabres added the aforementioned players while losing only one NHLer from last season's roster: Jason Pominville. That means only one roster spot may be available between Victor Olofsson, Tage Thompson and C.J. Smith.

Olofsson scored a career-high 30 goals in Rochester last season — his first in North America — while Thompson mostly struggled until his demotion to the Amerks in March. Smith is coming off a 28-goal season and appeared in 11 games with the Sabres in 2018-19.

10. Hutton vs. Ullmark: The goalie competition has to be considered wide open after what happened last season, right? Neither Carter Hutton nor Linus Ullmark solidified himself as the unquestioned starter, and the arrival of a new coaching staff should give both something of a clean slate.

Hutton should be considered the early favorite because he was more consistent with on-ice results and technique in goal. However, the door is open for Ullmark to take the starting job. The 26-year-old focused on his conditioning this offseason. He signed a one-year, $1.325 million contract this summer and will be a restricted free agent next offseason. This is his chance to show team brass that he could be a No. 1 goalie.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen will be playing for Rochester after he is done recovering from hip surgery.

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