By BRIAN KOPERSKI (firstname.lastname@example.org) (WECK 1230) – When you think about who is the top defenseman for the Buffalo Sabres, chances are you think of Tyler Myers. Perhaps, you would consider Jordan Leopold. Or maybe even Steve Montador or Andrej Sekera would cross your mind. If you were to stop there, however, you would be forgetting about up and coming 23-year-old, Mike Weber, who is very quietly putting together a very solid campaign since replacing captain Craig Rivet in the lineup.
The fact that you may have overlooked Weber’s play could be one of several reasons. He doesn’t flash insane offensive potential like Myers. He doesn’t fly through the neutral zone carrying the puck like Sekera. He doesn’t run the power play like Leopold. What the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native does do is play a steady defensive game in his own zone, while minimizing turnovers and putting opponents’ faces into the glass.
Despite only having played in 32 of the team’s 53 games, Weber leads all Sabres’ defensemen with 80 hits on the season. He also ranks 2nd among Sabres’ defensemen with 57 blocked shots. As previously mentioned, he will never be an offensive force, and his current 9 points project to 23 over a full season. Put in perspective, however, he has as many goals (3) as forwards Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer combined, in 65 less games. He also helped spark the Sabres’ huge comeback against the Tampa Bay Lightning this past Tuesday. With four minutes left in the 2nd period trailing 3 to 1, Weber aggressively skated down the right boards towards the goal line and flung a backhand tape-to-tape pass to Thomas Vanek who was camped on the far post. Vanek ripped the puck into the vacant near side net as Lightning’ goalie Dwayne Roloson flopped and just like that, the momentum had shifted.
His most impressive statistic would undoubtedly be his plus/minus rating of plus-12, which leads the entire team. Even more impressive is his plus-21 rating over his 55 game NHL career. Sure, many hockey pundits will frequently debate the true value of the plus/minus statistic, but Weber’s incredible rating surely isn’t something that can just be ignored.
Away from the scoresheet, Weber’s physical play has stood out on several occasions. In the last two contests against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he has challenged and mixed it up with superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. How often do you see essentially a rookie defenseman get in the face of the some of the NHL’s premier forwards? Yeah…not too often.
Weber isn’t exactly Cody McCormick as far as fighting is concerned, but he has dropped the gloves twice this season, and twice did he find himself against a grizzled heavyweight. Now, he didn’t fare too well against either George Parros or Ryan Clowe, but the fact that he was willing to scrap against talented such veteran fighters shows his character and toughness. Oh, and I suppose getting up from this would also indicate he is fairly tough.
After two brief stints with Buffalo in 2007-08, and 2008-09, and then a full 2009-10 season back down in Portland, I am confident in saying that Weber is here to stay for good. At 23, he still has plenty of room to grow as a player and mature mentally. If he continues to improve, I can easily see him becoming a favorite of the blue-collar Western New York community. I mean, what Sabres fan doesn’t love a 6’2”, 211 lb. American-born defenseman who loves to punch faces and throw thunderous hits?