This past week, the Buffalo Sabres hosted their annual Development Camp, a four day event at the First Niagara Center for current and future members of the Sabres.
This time around, the Sabres had a total of 39 players attend camp, and included players from the Sabres, Americans, and various junior and collegiate teams.
Day one of Development Camp on Monday was a two-hour session with all 39 players in attendance. The group did a variety of drills that tested each player’s skill set and abilities.
On day two, the players were split into two groups to prepare for the inter-squad scrimmage on Tuesday night. Team White took the ice first, which included players such as Sam Reinhart, Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia, J.T. Compher, Mark Pysyk and Nikita Zadorov. Later in the session, Team Blue took the ice, which included players such as Zemgus Girgensons, Mikhail Grigorenko, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Jordan Samuels-Thomas, and Hudson Fasching.
The scrimmage on Tuesday night was played in front of an impressive 8,725 fans at the First Niagara Center. Team White took a 1-0 lead in the first period thanks to a goal from Jerome Leduc. In the second period, camp invitee Patrick Russell from the Waterloo Blackhawks of the USHL gave Team White a 2-0 lead off a nice pass from Maxwell Willman.
Later in the second, Drake Caggiula, invitee from North Dakota, put Team White up 3-0 over Team Blue. Team Blue was able to get on the board before the end of the second with a goal from Jonathan Martin, an invitee from Kootenay. Early in the third period, Nick Baptiste scored for Team White to put them back up by three. Drake Caggiula added an empty netter late in the third to seal a 5-1 victory for Team White.
Wednesday was an off day for the prospects, but they stayed busy by heading to a rope course for a team bonding activity.
The prospects got back on the ice on Thursday for a skating session with skating coach Dawn Braid. The White group took to the ice for the morning session while the Blue group took the ice in the afternoon.
Friday was the 3-on-3 tournament, where all the prospects were teamed up and battled for bragging rights and a trophy. The tournament was dominated by Team Gray, who consisted of Grigorenko, Pysyk, Caggiula, Justin Kea, and Liam Pecararo. Team Gray never lost one game throughout the tournament, and took care of business in the elimination round first eliminating Team Red, then Team Gold in the championships.
So how did some of the big name players fare in development camp?
Zemgus Girgensons was probably the hardest working and best forward in the camp. Having the most NHL experience out of any prospect at camp, Girgensons set the pace for how the tournament would play out. Girgensons was also a leader throughout the camp, and tried to have some fun with the other prospects by testing their skills and blocking shots.
Grigorenko was the stand-out player in the 3-on-3 tournament, as he was the centerpiece for Team Gray’s championship win. Grigorenko has worked on his physical part of the game as he was doing an exceptional job protecting the puck and getting involved physically in puck battles. GrigorenkoWith his performance in development camp, Grigorenko will be highly watched when he plays with and against the NHL players when training camp arrives.
Mark Pysyk was the most experienced, and perhaps the best defender of the camp. Pysyk was the best skater amongst the defenseman, and was also a leader with Girgensons on the ice for the prospects. Pysyk was also a large reason for Team Gray’s success in the 3-on-3 tournament. Expect Pysyk to compete for a full-time NHL spot next season.
Rasmus Ristolainen looked better than he did as a rookie in the development camp. Ristolainen has improved his two-way game, and has also lost some body fat, which has made him a little bit more quicker on the ice. At many times during the camp, Ristolainen was skating harder, and doing more work on both sides of the ice than anyone else in the camp. Expect Ristolainen to compete for a full-time NHL spot as well next season.
Nikita Zadorov was not very good on Monday, but he bounced back in impressive fashion for the rest of the camp. When you heard a body hit the boards at camp, most of the time it was the 6′ 6″ Russian defender putting someone hard into the boards. Zadorov was most impressive in the scrimmage when he was playing very physical and had a solid two-way game. Can Zadorov crack the roster for the Sabres come October 9 against Columbus? With the defensive depth the Sabres have, it will be tough but Zadorov will be in the mix.
So how did some of the players with no NHL experience fare in camp?
2014 2nd-overall pick Samson Reinhart did fairly well for his first development camp. Reinhart was relatively quiet throughout the four day camp, but the hype is there. Reinhart did make some nice plays in the 3-on-3 tournament with Team Royal Blue, but his team made an early exit at the hands of Team Red. One thing that is clear is that Reinhart can read plays well, better than most of the players in the camp. Reinhart did take a maintenance day on Wednesday as a precaution, but he looked fine on Thursday. Reinhart will have a month to take a break before the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and training camp, where he will compete for a spot in the NHL.
Lemieux continued to play with the same compete and intensity throughout the four days, which has won over many people in the organization and community. In the 3-on-3 tournament, Lemieux was part of the only four-man team with Joel Armia, Kevin Sundher, and Jake McCabe. Even with their early exit in the elimination round, Lemieux was one of harder working players in the tournament. Lemieux was doing extra work and kept wanting to be the best player on the ice. It is not clear whether Lemieux will have a shot in the NHL this year, but he certainly factors into the future plans for the Sabres.
2011 1st-round pick Joel Armia continued to show his confidence and improvement from the Calder Cup playoffs last season in the American Hockey League. Armia has improved his play on both sides of the ice, and was trying to prove to the staff that he is ready to compete for a spot in the NHL.
One player that stood out from the collegiate players participating at camp was forward Hudson Fasching. Fasching was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in March that saw Brayden McNabb go to Los Angeles and Fasching and Nick Deslauriers come to Buffalo. Fasching is known for his size and his net front presence. In this year’s camp, Fasching showed the organization what he can do with his big frame. The 6′ 2″, 207-pound forward was particularly brilliant in the 3-on-3 tournament playing for Team Gold. Fasching used his big body to protect the puck as he crashed the net and created some excellent offensive chances. Fasching also used his big body to play a good defensive game by taking away shooting lanes and driving players to the outside. Fasching will take at least another year to develop at the University of Minnesota, but he will have a great chance to be part of the Sabres in the future.
Sabres’ 2014 5th-round pick Maxwell Willman surprised almost everyone with his skill-set and excellent play.
Willman skated well and made some plays with the puck that not many players at the camp could make. Willman did add an assist in the scrimmage on Tuesday night, and looked like one of the most promising young forwards in the camp. Willman is expected to play with Brown University next season and take some time to develop there.
Drake Caggiula was a camp invitee from the University of North Dakota who scored 11 goals and added 13 assists in 42 games last season. Caggiula was one of the best players in the scrimmage by scoring two goals. Caggiula was also part of Team Gray and was firing on all cylinders with players like Grigorenko and Justin Kea. Caggiula is smaller, but he was a player who seemed tough to play against. Caggiula is expected to return to North Dakota for his junior year, but could be offered a professional contract if the Sabres are willing.
Linus Ullmark was the goaltender of the year in the Swedish Hockey League last season playing for Team Modo. The 20-year old, 6′ 4″ goaltender looked solid in net for the scrimmage and the 3-on-3 tournament. Ullmark did not give up a goal in his time in the net during Tuesday’s scrimmage. Ullmark will play one more season in Sweden before making the jump back to North America next year.
The prospects of tomorrow will now head back home for a while before reporting to their respected teams and getting ready for another season. General manager Tim Murray has set the Sabres up for rebuild, and the future looks as bright as can be in Buffalo.