With day one of Development Camp in the books, it is quite clear that the Sabres have some impressive skill throughout their prospect ranks.
The prospect group has been broken into a blue and gold squad, with a few more veterans on the gold side and some more explosive talent on the blue team. Based on my schedule, I will only be able to catch the first session for Monday and Tuesday but be present for the entire time on Wednesday and Thursday.
Today’s first group was the blue team’s prospects that included Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko. The blue team is certainly full of more of the high-octane talent on the Development roster as compared to those with more NHL and AHL games played on the gold team.
The blue team is loaded with the top prospects from each of the last three NHL drafts. In addition to Armia, Girgensons and Grigorenko, the blue squad boasts Mark Pysyk, Marcus Foligno and Brayden McNabb.
As for the gold team, Luke Adam, Cody Hodgson and Corey Tropp will anchor the team in terms of talent up front while Dan Catenacci, Brian Flynn, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, Matt MacKenzie and Kevin Sundher all are players who signed with the Sabres in the past year.
Monday’s first session ran through a number of basic puck movement and flow drills with a few drills with a bit more of battle included. A majority of the ice time was devoted to full ice, transition drills that lead to equal (2-on-2) and odd-man (2-on-1 and 3-on-2) rushes. Most of the drills were straight forward enough that each players’ talent level was on display each rush down the ice. I would expect the next two days will start infusing a bit more systematic hockey as compared to simple rush drills.
The talk of the first session was obviously Grigorenko and Girgensons. With Armia, Foligno and McNabb on the ice, fans in attendance had four players who they were likely to spend their time focusing on. The recent picks didn’t disappoint as there were plenty of chances for the fans to cheer a goal, scoring chance or save.
Admittedly, I didn’t catch much on the defensive side of things. Every guy had a nice play or two, but there were also a few plays in which the defense got crossed up and burned for clear chances. So there was nothing that was truly impressive in terms of dominating play from the blue line. Hopefully tomorrow’s first group will consist of the gold squad so that I can see what Hodgson, Adam and the others look like in this setting as well. I had a number of thoughts on a number of players from what I saw today. Here they are:
Armia’s skill level is high
Joel Armia may have had two of the most impressive offensive plays of the entire session. Both came in two-on-two drills and the first ended with a beautiful top shelf goal from the slot. The first play saw Armia take a pass coming up from the bottom of the right circle, fend off the defender to free up in the slot and go cheese on Connor Knapp. Armia’s second play came on a nice passing combination with Grigorenko in which they played a simple switch to draw both defensemen into the slot while Armia came free around the faceoff circle for a great look on net.
Armia has clearly benefitted from playing with professionals and could really take a big stride this season with Assat. In fact, based on the little I saw from him today, it is a shame he has to put in that year of military service this season compared to playing for Rochester.
Foligno was truly hulking compared to most of the others on the ice and only Riley Boychuk, Corey Finehage and McNabb were comparable in size. Armia, Grigorenko and Girgensons looked appropriately sized compared to those who played professionally last season.
I liked what I saw from Foligno during the tighter battle drills, but you could see where his skillset differs from those situations where he is using his size to create space and those where he needs to skate by or beat a player with pure skill.
G-Men as advertised
As for Grigorenko and Girgensons, they certainly look as they were advertised at the draft. Grigorenko has very slick hands and can create whenever he has the puck. What needs to be understood is that he won’t go up and down the ice every rush, dangle through four players and go upstairs for a goal. That isn’t realistic and he won’t live up to expectations if that is the case.
However, Grigorenko had plenty of good looks on net throughout the day and definitely showcased some solid talent. He wasn’t necessarily dominating; but since most of the drills were quite basic, he didn’t have the chance to be a total force. However, he finished when he needed, including the winning goal in the final three-on-three scrimmage setting.
Girgensons certainly has a high motor and is an active force in the play. He is easily the most vocal player on the ice and his compete level is notable. He finished on a few occasions and was solid when handling the puck. Once there are a few more true battle drills, Girgensons will probably show even more impressive traits.
Others who impressed
After my first few minutes I was disappointed with what I saw from Justin Kea. However, the more I saw, the more I liked. He shoots the puck very well and is active in the play. He will definitely need to improve his skating skills…Riley Boychuk was one of the worst skaters at least year’s camp, but he was much closer to the group in terms of his skill set on the ice today…Frederick Roy has some serious offensive skills. I think he could be deserving of a minor league contract if he can duplicate what he did on the ice today. He had a number of nice tallies and moved the puck quite well… Jake McCabe needs to put on some weight, but he has a very similar look to Brayden McNabb, which is an exciting thought.