Even though there has only been two days worth of practice, it is probably safe to say the blue squad is a deeper and more talented bunch than those in gold at Sabres Development Camp.
With an opportunity to watch the gold group’s practice today I noticed that there is a little less flash as compared to the blue team anchored by Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons. The gold team’s top set of players – Luke Adam, Cody Hodgson and Corey Tropp – certainly has the most fluidity in terms of chemistry, but the rest of the squad lacks the polish of the blue team.
Day two of camp was a little more focused on game scenarios and playing in traffic as compared to day one. There was still a fair amount of flow drills done in the early going, but the latter half of the ice time was primarily centered in a scrimmage setting.
The Adam, Hodgson, Tropp trio was heads and shoulders above the rest of the group during most of the drills. They were particularly dangerous in odd-man situations, shredding the defense on a few occasions during three-on-two drills. They also had success during the final four-on-four scrimmage to close the session.
On the whole, the gold team looked a little disjointed at times during the day and there was certainly an obvious lack of chemistry from top to bottom. I’d venture a guess that two days of 4:30 wakeup calls and SEAL training coupled with a full on-ice practice with conditioning to follow would kick anyone’s ass. So perhaps that, plus the fact that a vast majority of these players have never played together has something to do with the sloppy play.
Although Hodgson’s line was the most impressive in terms of overall talent and chemistry, the line of Dan Catenacci, Kevin Sundher and Logan Nelson enjoyed some impressive moments as well. Catenacci and Sundher are absolute burners and Nelson has a nice nose for the net. Nelson and Sundher’s time together with Victoria (WHL) helped to infuse some chemistry as well.
Defensively, the gold team has two invites and three development camp vets. Jerome Gauthier-Leduc looked quite polished and Alex Lepkowski seemed to have gained quite a bit after gaining a bigger role in Barrie last year. Mackenzie Braid sounds as if he should be rocking J. Crew and Sperrys and wasn’t noticeable for most of the day. As for Kevin Czczuman, he is a big body and isn’t afraid to hit. Like Braid, he didn’t stand out, which isn’t a bad thing. I liked some of what I saw from Czczuman, despite having to reference a roster whenever typing his name.
Connor Knapp had the best season overall of the three goaltenders the Sabres have in camp (Guggenberger excluded). However, Nathan Lieuwen and Linus Ullmark both had a strong skate this morning.
Lieuwen was fighting the puck a bit and getting beat regularly in the drill portion of the skate. However, he showed a nice battle level during the scrimmage drills and made one dazzling save on an odd-man opportunity from Kevin Sundher.
Ullmark is every bit of the prototypical Scandinavian goaltender right down to the Sportmask helmet. He is a big body, has phenomenal fundamentals and moves fluidly from side to side. He had some equally impressive saves as his counterpart, Lieuwen, and certainly showed the raw skillset that could make him a potential goaltender of the future for the Sabres.
Sundher and Nelson combined to make a number of nice plays throughout the practice. They were particularly good during four-on-four play, getting together for a few nice scoring chances and goals.
Nelson was the beneficiary during four-on-four play, picking a corner on Lieuwen and then cashing a tap-in on a pair of feeds from Sundher. Nelson certainly showed that he has a finisher’s mentality throughout the practice today and will hopefully continue to build on that in his second full season of major junior.
The chemistry between the two former Victoria Royals was evident during the skate and Sundher showed the foundation for his 75 point (26+49) season in the WHL last year. He seems to be a pass first player and his speed and agility helps to accentuate that tendency.
Blue Team Reviews
In talking with a few who were able to stick around for the second session (work is lame) and seeing what others were saying on Twitter, those who had impressive outings for the blue team yesterday were just as good today. Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons continued to impress while Frederick Roy kept getting glowing reviews for his shifty, offensive game.
I tried to pay a little attention to Colin Jacobs and Dan Catenacci whenever possible. Catenacci was very productive last season (33+39) with Owen Sound and showed that he’s faster than just about anyone on the ice. I didn’t see too much offense from him, but he certainly wasn’t just a really fast guy skating around being useless.
Jacobs intrigues me simply because he was good enough to play in the Top Prospects game previously but had a very poor season in Seattle last year. He is a good sized center who moves well with and without the puck. However, there wasn’t too much that stood out about his game either.
Collegiate Wrap Up
The Sabres have made sure to invest at least one pick in an American high school player in each of the last eight drafts and six of the players picked out of high school since 2005 are part of this year’s Development Camp.
Mark Adams hasn’t been on the ice this week and may not be in Buffalo for the camp, but Christian Isackson, Justin Jokinen, Brad Navin, Judd Peterson and Corey Fienhage have all skated between the two days of camp. Jokinen hasn’t been very good with Minnesota State and Isackson hasn’t really seen much ice at Minnesota. Brad Navin is entering his second year of NCAA hockey and looked like he fit in shortly after being drafted last season.
Peterson fits right in where Navin was for me last season. While he looks small in stature, he has been very strong and doesn’t look like a high school kid skating with collegians, junior players and professionals. As a seventh round pick, he could certainly turn into quite a steal. The key will be for him to continue to grow at school and to get the ice time he needs once in college.