With Development Camp set to open on Monday morning, the Sabres will be rolling out a few firsts with this year’s version of the evaluation camp.
The first, and biggest change is that First Niagara Center will be home base for the week. The camp was previously held at Dwyer Arena at Niagara University. The twin rink facility there lent itself well to getting the entire camp roster on the ice. However, hosting at FNC will allow for greater fan access, thus leading to greater exposure. Bravo to the Sabres for leveraging this situation into something that benefits them and the fans.
Thursday’s Blue and Gold Scrimmage is bound to draw a large crowd, I’m expecting the lower bowl to be fully occupied by fans wanting to see players like Joel Armia, Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons and others. Armia, Grigorenko and Girgensons represent the other set of firsts which will be rolled out next week. In addition to the three young forwards, Cody Hodgson and Mark Pysyk will be the other first round picks in attendance for the camp. Providing fans a close look at so many first round talents will not only provide a great look at the future, it will help to generate significant buzz amongst the fan base.
It will be particularly important for some of the invitees to set a good example with these practices. Grigorenko has already been rumored to be working on a deal, while Girgensons can play in the AHL next season should he sign his ELC. Marcus Foligno Hodgson, Luke Adam, Corey Tropp and Brayden McNabb will be hoping to further convince the staff to keep them around next year; while players just into their ELCs (Armia, Pysyk, Kevin Sundher, JGL, Dan Catenacci) will be looking to make a solid first impression.
What to Watch for:
- 2012 First Round picks
Although Development Camp isn’t the place where a player will make the opening roster, this year will serve a slightly more important service to the Sabres two first round draft picks. Grigorenko probably has more riding on his performance than does Girgensons simply because of where he was ranked in the draft and that he could potentially make the roster as an 18 year-old.
Girgensons could certainly be enticed to sign a deal an immediately begin his time if he has a strong showing at camp. I expect Girgensons to spend some time at Vermont, but I’d much rather see him in Rochester to learn the pro game right away.
- Goalie battle
With Connor Knapp and Nathan Lieuwen each signed to their entry-level contract this spring, one will need to step to the plate and prove that they should be backing up behind David Leggio in Rochester. Each will certainly get a chance in the AHL next season, with the other carrying big minutes in the ECHL.
Both are tall, sixth-round picks who play a technical butterfly style. Both represent a solid option for the Sabres future and since they’re virtually a carbon copy of one another, it isn’t a big deal.
Since this camp has a few more NHL talents skating in it, I fully expect to see a little more creativity and excitement from top to bottom. Last year was more or less the Tyler Ennis show. This year will showcase Adam, Armia, Foligno, Hodgson, Grigorenko, Girgensons and Tropp; which provides an impressive lineup for the fans.
- Late-round high school prospects
Kris Baker pointed out that Buffalo has taken at least one American high school player in the past nine drafts. Recent years have allowed the Sabres to use late picks to grab these young projects in hopes of seeing them blossom into stars.
Judd Peterson will come to camp and join forwards Christian Isackson, Justin Jokinen and Brad Navin along with defenseman Mark Adams. The five players are at various stages of progression to the professional game but represent a segment of the Buffalo prospect pool.
Isackson and Navin showed some impressive skills last year that made me eager to see them after a couple more years of increased play at the NCAA level. Adams and Jokinen probably won’t end up signing a pro contract in Buffalo, but having half of the high school prospects show potential is a pretty solid success rate given when these players were drafted.
- Name Battle
It must have just been luck of the draw, but this roster is chock-full of awesome names. Grigorenko and Girgensons are each worth 50 points in Words With Friends (or Scrabble for those who don’t use Facebook). If Kevin Czuczman gets a contract, he could take the place of Paul Szcechura for hardest name to spell in the organization. Judd Peterson is a classic hockey name and Mark Guggenberger takes the cake. I can just picture Lindy calling him every version of Rowengardner over the next four days. I’m guessing that Jimmy Corsi would fill Daniel Stern’s role.