Sabres preview: Rankings, predictions, playoff chances and more

Fans in Buffalo are starved for another playoff run, and hope that No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin can help bring them one. Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2018-19 season fast approaching, we're running snapshots of all 31 NHL teams, including point total projections, positional previews, best- and worst-case scenarios, and more.

Long-suffering Buffalo Sabres fans are ready for another playoff run. Is this the season they get one?

How they finished in 2017-18: 25-45-12 (62 points), finished 31st in NHL, eighth in the Atlantic Division.

Oh, the irony of failing to secure the first overall pick in a season when the Sabres tanked (2014-15), only to later earn the first overall pick in a season of renewed optimism. GM Jason Botterill and coach Phil Housley ended up doing the rare "rebuild within a rebuild" inception, and Buffalo ended up drafting a foundational defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin. Then they traded away disgruntled center Ryan O'Reilly and acquired winger Jeff Skinner in summer blockbusters.

Over/under projected point total (per the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook): 80.5

Best-case scenario: Dahlin skates over 22 minutes a night, scores 50 points, wins the Calder Trophy and does all the heavy lifting the Buffalo blue line needs.

Worst-case scenario: Despite depth veteran improvements after the departure of Ryan O'Reilly -- and also despite the arrival of Dahlin -- the Sabres still aren't any good. They try to lose for [Jack] Hughes, but the lottery gods will have none of it, and the Sabres get hosed with a low pick.

Forward overview: Anticipation is high that the combination of Jack Eichel and Skinner will produce heretofore unseen offensive fireworks from the top line. Rookie Casey Mittelstadt will attempt to be the Barzal to Eichel's Tavares on the second line. The bounty of forwards the Sabres received in the O'Reilly deal with the Blues -- Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund and especially young Tage Thompson -- need to provide the depth Buffalo lacked last season. NHL rank: 25th

Defense overview: Dahlin joins an underwhelming group on a team that gave up the third-most goals in the NHL last season. Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella might see the most ice time at the start to ease Dahlin in. Jake McCabe, Nathan Beaulieu, oft-injured Zach Bogosian and former Penguin Matt Hunwick are also in the mix. NHL rank: 25th

Goalie overview: Carter Hutton arrives from St. Louis to do what he did with the Blues, which is mentor a talented inexperienced goalie. Hutton and Linus Ullmark should improve a crease that was among the leakiest in the league last season. NHL rank: 26th

Special teams: The Sabres were 20th in the NHL at 19.1 percent on the power play last season, as Sam Reinhart had 21 power-play points. They were 22nd on the penalty kill (77.9), although they netted nine shorthanded goals.

Pipeline overview: Having the No. 1 prospect in hockey with Rasmus Dahlin and another top-five talent in Casey Mittelstadt gives the Sabres a head start on most other franchises, but there is also decent depth with potential NHL talent at every position. When a team goes into rebuild mode, this is the kind of prospect pool it'd hope to have. Read more -- Chris Peters

Fantasy nugget: All eyes will be on whether last season's goals-against average and save-percentage leader can take what he did in less than half a season of work for the St. Louis Blues and apply it to a full campaign with the Sabres. Carter Hutton turns 33 this season, which doesn't mean he's over the hill, but he isn't a spring chicken, either. The list of goaltenders with sparkling ratios at 33 or older is sparse. I'm not saying Hutton can't be the goaltender the Sabres have been looking for, but I am saying that having shares in Linus Ullmark in the later rounds is not a bad thing. Read more -- Sean Allen

Coach on the hot seat? Is Phil Housley a head coach in the NHL, or a really good assistant in over his head? We're going to find out this season. Meanwhile, there are few coaches you'd want handling a young potential star offensive defenseman than Housley.

Bold prediction: Tage Thompson gets added to the Eichel line, and ends up with more points on the season than Mittelstadt.