“Vets” Steal the Show at Development Camp

It’s easy to get overly excited about development camp. Any group of highly skilled, largely NHL-caliber hockey players will typically look pretty good working through drills. Especially small-area skill drills with minimal defensive challenge. There’s plenty to glean from the week as fans, media and coaches have the opportunity to see players perform in a variety of settings but crowning greatness from the endeavor can be tricky.

I’ve been guilty of taking too much away from the camp myself. Back in 2012 I was convinced that Judd Peterson was sure to be a late-round gem due to his development camp performance. Since then I’ve tried to avoid falling into the same trap. I’ve found it helpful to focus on individual growth and skills rather than trying to project any sort of impact onto the Buffalo Sabres roster. In other words, I’m not trying to name an MVP based on the stickhandling drills they did on Friday.

There are some obvious caveats to this. Casey Mittlestadt’s coming out party last year helped to erase some of the doubts people had about him heading into the draft. Even just a few weeks removed from his draft Mittelstadt was among the most skilled players at the camp and his play certainly inspired confidence in the fanbase, and perhaps the organization as well. But there are just as many cases where an impressive camp performance won’t accurately reflect where a player stands organizationally. So I try to keep that in mind when attending camp.

With that in mind, I’m going to try something a little different with my round up. This will be more of a notebook, touching on players who showed either growth or intriguing upside based on their play. Continue reading

Quick Thoughts on Alex Nylander’s Recall

Alex Nylander will be making his season debut this evening against the Ottawa Senators and his recall has drummed up quite a bit of debate from fans of the Sabres and their AHL affiliate.

Nylander’s year has been quite forgettable. A groin injury during the Prospects Challenge wound up costing him the early months of the campaign and he was still hobbled upon returning. His performance at the World Junior Championship was deemed pedestrian despite averaging a point per game. It wasn’t until the spring that his game seemed to round into form, seeing him register a stretch in which he registered 15 points in 15 games. That still leaves his numbers well below what you’d expect of a top-10 selection with plenty of questions about his status with the organization moving forward.

His 28 point (10+18) season in 2016-17 wasn’t met with celebration or concern as it ranked square in the middle of U20 players playing in the AHL. However, the lack of a step forward this season has raised red flags. Prompting questions to be asked about the logic of his recall for the final three games of the Sabres season.

While he may not have earned his recall, the decision to do so offers management the opportunity to add to their evaluation of his developmental arc. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 6.25 – Mittlestadt, College Signings and Expectations

Casey Mittelstadt is under contract. So is Will Borgen while Judd Peterson signed a minor league deal. Good thing the Sabres have trouble signing college players.

On this episode of the podcast we discuss the impact of Mittelstadt’s signing and what type of expectations we should have for the rookie over his first six games. We also touch on how Borgen’s signing has the potential to turn the pipeline in a positive direction and, most importantly, Mittelstadt’s choice of number.

 

Depth Charges – How Buffalo’s Struggles in the Draft Have Led Them to the Basement

Despite nearly a dozen offseason acquisitions, the Buffalo Sabres continue to tread water at the bottom of the league, leaving many fans to wonder if there will ever be a way out of the NHL’s basement.

Their protracted struggles have been attributed to just about anything and everything the organization has done over the past half-decade. But the one talking point that’s rarely acknowledged, if at all, has been how Buffalo’s struggles at the draft have led to a lack of contributors throughout the lineup.

When Tim Murray said he wasn’t interested in a five-year rebuild, he meant it. He took steps to speed up the building process, dealing for established NHL players as opposed to waiting on the assets he and Darcy Regier had worked to accumulate. In a way, it was wise. It’s likely that many of the key assets the Sabres dealt would only be making their NHL debut this season, leaving the club with holes to fill over the past two-plus years. Had the Sabres opted to backfill the roster with veteran stop gaps as they waited for those prospects to mature, it stands to reason they’d be in about the same spot they are now with just as much fan discontent about their progress.

The results can’t be ignored though. While Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane have been good they haven’t been nearly good enough to put the Sabres over the top. Murray’s gamble on injecting the roster with NHL talent to hasten the rebuild simply didn’t pay off, leaving a disjointed collection of talent without a proper supporting cast.

For the most part, the lackluster results of 2017-18 sit firmly in Murray’s lap. However, he alone doesn’t own all of the Sabres’ problems. His high-profile moves amplified Buffalo’s lack of blue chip prospects, but the pipeline was thinning well before Murray’s tenure began. Continue reading

Best Value Games for the 2018 World Junior Championships

Things are going to be quite a bit different in Buffalo when you compare things to the last time the World Junior Championships came to town.

Downtown is far more vibrant, Canalside is slightly more developed and HarborCenter will serve as the second home for the tournament. No more jaunts to Dwyer Arena to catch the secondary matchups, which not only means that the corner of Perry and Washington will be home to more action throughout the tournament, some of the intriguing non-marquee matchups will be easier to access.

You can get an up close look at Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen for single digit prices at this year’s World Juniors.

The WJC will always have a handful of can’t miss preliminary matchups and this year will be no different. The outdoor game between the US and Canada, which is reported to have a surprisingly low attendance number (paywall) at the moment, is the obvious headliner, but Russia-Sweden, USA-Finland and Canada-Finland will be well worth the cost of attendance as well. What fans in Buffalo should be aware of are the slate of games lacking headliners which will be both affordable and appealing from a Sabres-fan perspective. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 6.5 – Discussing the Bright Spots at Development Camp and Key Sabres Contracts

Sabres Development Camp wrapped up with the French Connection Tournament yesterday and in the wake of another mid-summer peek at Buffalo’s prospect pipeline, Chris and Tyler share their thoughts on who stood out from the crowd over the weekend. In addition, we offer up some thoughts on the contract status of Robin Lehner, Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel. Although we don’t spend very much time on #15.

Plenty of Players to Keep an Eye on at Sabres Development Camp

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. Continue reading