The closest the Sabres have to any sort of superstar, outside of Ryan Miller, would be #26 Thomas Vanek. By far their most consistent goal scoring threat, Vanek has electrified the city of Buffalo even before his NHL career. I consider myself a casual college hockey fan, but as a hockey junkie, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see the NCAA Frozen Four in Buffalo back in 2003. Two of my favorite teams are Michigan and Minnesota (North Dakota is my other fav) were among those four teams to play here back when I was a junior in high school. My dad wouldn’t let me skip school to see Cornell and New Hampshire, but that was ok because I was so excited to see my favorite two teams play later that night. We scored amazing seats and with my digital camera (probably the size of a brick), I snapped all sorts of pictures during warmup of the Gophers. I was all excited to get shots of Sabres draft pick Keith Ballard. I had so many pictures of Ballard, I didn’t think to take too many of Gophers star Thomas Vanek, who had electrified so many on Minnesota’s march to the title. What a mistake that ended up to be as Vanek would be named the Tournament MVP and a few months later, he’d be a Sabres draft pick.
Positives: It doesn’t matter if you’ve watched Vanek for a few minutes or from his freshman year in the Maroon and Gold like I have, you know this guy is a goal scorer. The puck just always finds the way to his stick and usually to the back of the twine. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but this guy has some serious mojo in front of the net. Vanek is a big body that’s tough to move in front and as a result he’s able to chip it home. His goals aren’t all pretty, but they all count the same. When not in front of the net, Vanek has an absolute howitzer of a slap shot. Nothing is better than seeing him windup because more so than not, the next faceoff will be at center.
Negatives: Thomas Vanek could easily go down as the best Sabre of this generation and one of the best all time. He recently passed Rene Robert for 8th all time in goals as a Sabre and shows no signs of stopping. For a great as Vanek is, he never seems able to “take over” a game. When Ovechkin is feeling it, he is a force out there. When Crosby is on his game, he is nearly unstoppable. Vanek doesn’t possess this ability. When Vanek has a big game, he might score a few from the doorstep, but there are very few times where he dominates. Thomas Vanek has the numbers of an all-star but without the recognition. I am sure some of that is playing in a small market, but that never stopped Alexander Mogilny. You always noticed him out there. He dictated the pace of the game by carrying the puck through the neutral zone. You always noticed #89 on the ice… you can’t say the same for #26.
2012 Outlook: This season, Vanek is on pace for his 3rd 40-goal season. The pairing of Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville has sparked the Sabres on offense, but the duo can only carry the team so far. Vanek has improved his all-around game throughout his career and it shows. Just shy of his 28th birthday, the best might be yet to come. It’s easy to lament the lack of a true #1 Center on this team. I hate to beat a dead horse, but could you imagine what how much Vanek could elevate his game with one around?
I eat, sleep and breathe Sabres hockey. I have been into the sport literally my whole life. I started going to games when I was 9 months old and have been hooked ever since. Growing up, I played against guys like Ryan Callahan, Patrick Kaleta, Tim Kennedy and now I have to pay money to watch them in person... Funny how things change.
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