The Buffalo Sabres will open their development camp on Saturday afternoon at HarborCenter. It’ll run through the weekend and commence with the three on three French Connection Tournament on Tuesday.
The Sabres will have 40 prospects in total participating in the camp. Mostly made up of drafted players, but a few camp invites are on the list as well. This year fans will not only get a look at some of the new players for the first time, but will also be watching to get a glimpse how some are making a first impression prior to training camp at the end of the summer.
A lot of eyes will be on 2016 first round pick Alex Nylander throughout the four days. The 19-year-old got a small taste of the NHL at the end of last season. His first year in professional hockey may not have met the expectations of some as he struggled with consistency during his time with the Rochester Americans in the AHL.
Nylander has the skill and speed to play at the NHL level. It’s his size that have some leery if he’ll be able to be considered as a legit candidate to make the Sabres this upcoming season. Development camp will be the first time we get a look to see if he’s added any bulk to his frame since the season ended in April. Once training camp rolls around in September, the hope is to see the type of change that we saw in Sam Reinhart prior to his rookie season in 2015-16. He committed himself to the game and became a strong player, which he reaped the benefits of in his first full NHL season.
Along with Nylander, a lot of focus will be on “veteran prospects” Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, Hudson Fasching and Brendan Guhle. They’ll be expected to standout throughout the camp and make a good first impression to the new coaching staff. All five of them, if you include Nylander, saw time in the NHL last season.
The Sabres appear to have an opening on the roster for a top six winger that Baptiste, Bailey, Fasching and Nylander will be competing for. While the majority of the competition will be decided in training camp, this will be the opportunity for one or two of them to get a head start on the earning the roster spot.
Guhle on the other hand may be in tough to earn a roster spot, but won’t be impossible. He’s arguably the top prospect in the system and head coach Phil Housley has spoke about being excited to get a look at the young defender. Guhle is an exceptional skate and with a strong start in development camp, he can begin to build his case to be in the opening night lineup.
We’ll be able to get a first look at the 2017 draft class over the next few days. While all the picks from this past draft will be participating. Most of the attention will be focused on first round pick Casey Mittelstadt and second round pick Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
Mittelstadt will give fans a glimpse at the speed and skill that made him a top-10 pick in this past draft. Prior to heading to the University of Minnesota in the fall, the 18-year-old will be another player looking to make a good first impression.
Luukkonen will come in as the potential future in goal for the Sabres behind perhaps Linus Ullmark. He was the second goaltender selected in the draft, but he was believed to be the best available at his position by some scouts. He brings that size at 6’4″ that you look for a goalie in today’s NHL. Luukkonen will head back to Finland next season and perhaps another season after that before making his professional North American debut. With the departure of Cal Petersen he becomes the new prospect in goal for the fan base to keep a close eye on.
While the aforementioned players will be in the spotlight, a few other players are worth keeping an eye on. Defensemen Will Borgen, Casey Fitzgerald and Oskari Laaksonen are a few to watch on the blue line. Along with forwards like Rasmus Asplund, Cliff Pu, Sean Malone and CJ Smith. The camp is open to the public, so don’t miss your chance to get perhaps the only first-hand view you’ll get all year of the Sabres prospects.