There will be a strong pro presence at this year’s Sabres Development Camp thanks to a host of older prospects who will Buffalo’s recent draft classes at the team’s annual summer camp.
Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, Hudson Fasching, Brendan Guhle, Sean Malone, Alex Nylander and CJ Smith all saw time with the big club last season and are part of a larger group of 13 players who enter development camp with a professional contract.
While this group might not necessarily be as sexy as the 2015 camp headlined by Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, the impressive stable of talent at this year’s development camp will likely draw the attention of the most prospect apathetic fans like @buffalowins. Thanks to the presence of the last two first round picks and a number of other intriguing prospects, this year’s development camp has the potential to provide some entertaining and insightful results.
Since there will be so many players with pro experience at camp, the skill level ought to be higher than previous years. However, with that skill level comes the expectation of dominance for more developed prospects. The likes of Bailey, Fasching and Guhle should stand out this weekend and the only real surprise would be if someone from the group of incumbent pros doesn’t look heads and shoulders better than some of the younger attendees.
I always have a handful of players I look forward to seeing at camp but I had trouble whittling down this year’s roster to just five or six intriguing names. So, because there were so many players I had hoped to see, and in the interest of being a bit different from the other Development Camp previews that are out there, I thought I’d provide a few groups of players who offer the most intrigue to me. You may not have as much interest in these groups or individuals as I do, but these will be the players I’m keeping track of this weekend in the hopes that they’re on track to become long-term contributors for the Sabres.
Five to Focus On
This first group is a handful of players who most, if not all Sabres fans know well but may not have seen much of in person. There aren’t any first round picks in this group, but each offers their own bit of intrigue and value to Buffalo’s pipeline.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen – Cal Petersen’s departure and Luukkonen’s impressive pedigree immediately makes the second round pick the number one goaltender in Buffalo’s pipeline. I’m looking forward to seeing how the technical aspects of his game look in person, as YouTube highlights can only show so much. How he looks on a North American surface and against pro-level shooters will be one of the aspects of this weekend’s camp I watch closest.
Rasmus Asplund – A name that’s probably on everyone’s list, Asplund was already a well-respected prospect entering the 2016 draft and has only increased his profile after 2016-17. Given the format of this weekend’s camp, I’m not sure how much of his two-way skill set we’ll see. However, what I’m most interested in is seeing how he stacks up with the rest of Buffalo’s top prospects. Where he rates when stacked up with the likes of Nylander, Bailey and Baptiste after this weekend is what I’m most interested in.
Marcus Davidsson – Billed as a speedy, two-way center, Davidsson will likely receive plenty of comparisons to Rasmus Asplund. As the second pick of Buffalo’s 2017 class, I’m eager to see what he brings to the table when paired up with other Sabres prospects. Ideally he shows some offensive flair and chemistry in a similar manner to the way Joel Armia, Mikhail Girgorenko and Zemgus Girgensons combined to impress during the 2012 camp – only with a better career trajectory once he reaches the professional level.
Connor Hurley – The former second round pick has had a tough development road since he was selected 38th in 2013. He missed time last year and just hasn’t had a season where he really caught fire for Notre Dame. It’s tough to see where he projects now as compared to his draft year but I’m interested to see how he stacks up against the more polished players at camp as a barometer to see if he’s progressing towards a contract or not.
Oskari Laaksonen – There’s still little to read on Buffalo’s mystery third round selection, which makes his arrival at development camp that much more exciting. He’s only played at the junior levels of SM-Liiga but has been said to possess impressive offensive instincts and puck moving ability. Seeing Laaksonen on the ice with players who are three and four years his senior will be a nice way to determine what type of player the Sabres may have unearthed in the third round.
Late Round Gems?
Everyone’s favorite Twitter personality, Vasily Glotov is back after putting up a respectable 15-35-50 stat line for Cape Breton last season. Glotov’s infectious personality was underscored by a few impressive on-ice exploits at last year’s camp and after a good start in North America, I’m eager to see more of his game. He’ll be joined by another slick, late-round pick in Linus Weissbach. Both might be long shot prospects but they both pack a decent skillset as well. The chips will need to fall right for them to suit up in the blue and gold one day but for this weekend at least, I hope to see each show a few flourishes of high-end skill.
NCAA ‘D’ Trio
While Oskari Laaksonen is the defenseman I’m most eager to see, the trio of Will Borgen, Casey Fitzgerald and Jacob Bryson might just be the group Sabres fans should watch the closest. All three could wind up as big pieces to Buffalo’s defensive pipeline, with Borgen and Fitzgerald offering serious NHL upside.
Borgen and Fitzgerald are both rising sophomores while Bryson will be starting his second year with Providence this season. Borgen is the best of the bunch and it would be a surprise if he isn’t handed an entry level contract this spring. However, Fitzgerald’s age and development track might just put him in line for an ELC as well once Boston College’s season wraps up. Bryson was an overage draft pick, so there would be no harm in inking him sooner rather than later, but it’s more likely he sees another season in the NCAA beyond this one. It would be a long shot that all three start their pro careers in 2018, but this weekend will offer a good look at where each sits on their respective development tracks.
The names most fans will have their eyes on are quite obvious. Asplund, Baily, Guhle etc. Not only are they the most recognizable, they’re the most likely to stand out. Alex Nylander and Casey Mittelstadt ought to stand out as well, but they’re still on my radar for this coming weekend.
In addition to the last two first round picks, I’m planning to keep an eye on two more big time scorers, Brandon Hagel and Cliff Pu.
My hope is that Nylander and Mittelstadt get paired together for most of the sessions as they’re likely to be two of the most skilled players at camp. I’d like to see how the two play off one another and for fans to see that despite his lack of pull-ups at the combine, Mittelstadt has a lot to offer as a potential piece for Buffalo’s top six in the near future.
It’s a shame Giorgio Estephan didn’t get a contract offer from the Sabres as it would have been fun to see him with the other two CHL scoring fiends, Pu and Hagel. As it stands now, Buffalo’s rising third round star, Pu, enjoyed a terrific second OHL season and ought to be one of the brighter lights at this week’s festivities. The same goes for Hagel, who dropped 71 points (31-40) in 65 games with Red Deer last season. I’ll be interested to see if either outpace any of the other offensively gifted attendees at this year’s camp.
The fun kicks off tomorrow afternoon with the three-on-three tournament wrapping up on Tuesday. Hopefully a few of the names above offer some fireworks over the span of camp.