Development Camp is an interesting event for a few reasons. It offers onlookers their first look at many of a team’s recent draft picks mixed in with other organizational prospects. With so many players scattered across the world, it’s often the only time that all of these players are in the same location at once.
The camp also presents an interesting mix of players. Each year there’s at least one or two professionals who have seen considerable time in the NHL but their entry level contract keeps them in the group of players expected at camp. The camp is also comprised of junior and collegiate-aged players, for the most part. So it can be hard to gauge where some players are developmentally since they aren’t playing against men. Some reactions to the week’s highlights may need to be tempered due to that last point.
Even if it’s just a mid-July gathering of kids who might be as far away as four years from an NHL game, it’s still representative of the direction the organization is heading. Seven first round picks are in attendance and eight more second round selections from the last three drafts. That group includes players like Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Ristolainen, a pair of players who are likely penciled into the Sabres’ opening night roster at this point. While they’ll certainly stand out due to where they are on the development curve, my interest in them is much lower than other individuals and groups.
Today’s scrimmage is obviously the best opportunity for fans and coaches to see the players in a game setting, but Friday’s three-on-three tournament will likely yield some interesting results as well. The two game settings are mixed in with a week’s worth of practice that will see the players running through a host of drills. It’s an event that allows the organization to show their prospects how they’ll be expected to operate as professionals while also getting them on the ice for a week. Given the glut of talent that is present at camp, I’ll be keeping my eye on a handful of players this evening and Friday morning (should I make it downtown):
- Mikhail Grigorenko and his new build: Grigorenko’s Facebook page has been lit up with shots of the center in the gym this summer. One report put his weight above 210 pounds and on it’s way to 220. Grigorenko has a solid frame and putting muscle and good weight on it ought to help him in battle situations in-game. I’m interested to see how he carries the new weight in game situations. If he’s handling the change well it could bode very well for his game heading into the season. While his skill set plants him firmly amongst the premier group of players, he’s the one who has likely taken on the biggest physical change. Additionally, seeing if there has been marked improvement in his skating is another, smaller point of emphasis.
- College Kids: Counting the newly inked Jordan Samuels-Thomas in this group, I’m interested to see how the likes of Compher, Fasching, Samuels-Thomas and Florentino fare. There’s a slightly different pedigree with each individual, but I’m particularly intrigued with Compher and Fasching. Seeing Girgensons signed and sent to Rochester in his draft year has likely instilled some unrealistic expectations on how NCAA players should develop, but with both Compher and Fasching being so impressive (as freshmen) at two of the nation’s most prestigious programs I have to wonder how far off they are from seeing a professional game.
- Big Z: Nikita Zadorov is in nearly the exact same situation that Mikhail Grigorenko found himself in the last two seasons. He’s surpassed the level of play in the CHL but he’s too young to play in Rochester. Considering Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros are both left handed shots, Zadorov may be a longshot to earn an NHL spot this season. However, it will be fun to see him this week as his on-ice play will be far closer to that of Girgensons and Ristolainen than the others in camp.
- The Invites: The Sabres scouting staff always does a nice job finding a handful of competitive development camp invites to bring in to take a look at. Some of the players are on their way to the NCAA and are here just so the scouts can get a closer look. Others are looking to land playing time for the upcoming season. Having to keep an eye on Cal Petersen clearly has resulted in the scouting staff noticing a few other players as two of the invites suited up for the Blackhawks last year. I’m particularly intrigued by Patrick Russell despite the fact that he’s heading off to the NCAA this season.
- Between the Pipes: Tim Murray has made a few comments that he isn’t sure Buffalo’s goalie of the future is in the organization yet. He certainly took a step towards addressing that by drafting Jonas Johansson. Getting a look at the big rookie will be nice as will another in-person sighting of Linus Ullmark. I’m a big fan of his and I think that with the proper grooming he could be holding down Buffalo’s crease for a very long time.
- New Commodities: In addition to the obvious excitement that will surround Sam Reinhart and Brendan Lemieux, I’m interested to see William Carrier, Jordan Samuels-Thomas and Hudson Fasching; the three players acquired in various trades over the past six months. Samuels-Thomas is very intriguing given what appears to be a late development bloom. He’s destined to start the year in Rochester but he has tools that are easy to get excited about. Fasching, as mentioned earlier, had a phenomenal year with the Gophers and is poised to play a major role on the World Junior team yet again. Carrier has put up some terrific numbers in the Q and will also be trekking to Rochester in the fall. He’s a good sized winger with an offensive knack, he might just become and early candidate for a recall depending on his production.