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

The Instigator Podcast 4.18 – College Daze

#FaschingWatch is officially over and Tim Murray surprised many by signing free agent, Casey Nelson. With eight games left, we take a look at the potential impact each may have on the Sabres this year and going forward.

Eichel Takes Center Stage in Prospect Challenge Finale

That went about as well as the Sabres could have hoped. Well, aside from the light crowd, I suppose. Still, Jack Eichel put on a show in the third period and OT, lifting the Sabres to a 3-2 OT victory over the Bruins prospects in the final game of the inaugural Prospects Challenge.

Buffalo’s 2-0 record bested the three-team field as New Jersey’s prospects were dispatched in each of their games while the Bruins finished 1-1. Eichel put a pair of exclamation points on the tournament with a nifty assist to open the scoring on Saturday night and then winning a race along the wall to create a two-on-one with Sam Reinhart on the winning goal.

Of course, this is sort of what you’d expect from the team’s electric number-two pick. He’s been billed as one of the best prospects of the last decade and aside from a sluggish showing in July’s Development Camp scrimmage, he’s put up highlight after highlight. I was far more interested in keeping an eye on players like Brendan Guhle (he was good), Nick Baptiste and others but the allure of Eichel and Reinhart is had to ignore.

Eichel’s game winner is obviously the nice, neat exclamation point on the evening but it was his assist on the game-tying goal was the more impressive play. Eichel drifted down towards the faceoff dot and slid a gorgeous saucer pass through the Bruins’ penalty kill to find Brycen Martin streaking down the opposite side. Eichel is at home posting up at one point of the umbrella on the powerplay. He has a heavy shot which keeps him from being simply a passing threat, but when he has time to dissect a team, he’ll do it. Both he and Reinhart strung together some very impressive passes throughout the night.

I liked that the first word that Randy Cunneyworth used to describe Reinhart was poise. Going back to last year’s development camp, the one thing that really stands out about his game is how he seems to let things come to him. He seems to be the one dictating things on the ice, not letting things dictate his game. Cunneyworth didn’t hesitate to put he and Eichel together when the Sabres needed to tie late and they were on the ice for the winning goal as well. There may be some time until they’re playing together regularly at the NHL level, but tonight’s sneak preview was a nice treat.

While I was unable to make it to Saturday’s opening game, I was surprised to see how few seats were filled given the ridiculous turnout for this summer’s Development Camp. Tonight was no different as there were only a few well filled sections in the 100 level. Add in the lack of a live stream and a fraction of fans got a chance to check out these games compared to those who saw the scrimmage in July.

I don’t want to get into too many points on not streaming the game, the odd lack of coverage by the Sabres Twitter during the game itself (they made up for it with some good Vines) as that is best saved for a later post. What is odd is that Sabres fans didn’t flock to the arena for these games as they did in July. These were actual games against actual opponents that even included some of the draft’s best talents – the Bruins had three firsts on the ice tonight – not named Jack Eichel. The weather, Bills and a number of festivals certainly played a role in the ticket sales, but I’d certainly argue that Buffalo’s tremendous hockey fans could have shown a bit better given that their shiny new toys were on display over a rainy weekend.

  • Brendan Guhle continues to grow on me. I admit I didn’t know much about him prior to the draft, but his skating ability at Development Camp piqued my interest and that was on display again tonight. He needs time to add weight, but he has shown some impressive upside. He made a great play to burn down the far boards to collect a loose puck and create an odd-man rush in the second period. It was an impressive display of speed and a good read to push up into the play.
  • Jake McCabe was another player who impressed me tonight. He was quick to engage physically and was easily the most talented defender on the ice. He was also the player with the most professional experience on the ice, so that was probably to be expected.
  • Good on the Rochester Americans social media for their consistent, solid coverage. Filled the gap while the Sabres account was nearly silent. At their own event, no less.
  • I had reservations about 3-on-3 overtime and I have dropped every single one of them after tonight’s display. There is a ton of open ice, mismatch opportunities at every turn and the ability for extended possessions in-zone. Oh, and it’s a long change for each team. There were numerous solid opportunities for each club, it just so happened that Jack Eichel cashed his. I can’t wait to see it in the regular season.
  • CJ Motte had a nice game. He’ll make for a nice depth addition for the organization in the minors. He moves well and plays an athletic style. He’s not a giant like Robyn Lehner or Anders Lindback, even. But he gets out and challenges shooters and keeps the game in control.



Sabres digging up scorers with Development Camp invites

After seeing the undrafted players brought in by the Sabres for last year’s Development Camp, the four camp invites for 2012 should be interesting to keep track of.

With so many more draft picks and players under contract expected to be at this year’s camp, there are significantly fewer invitees coming for this year’s Development Camp. Seven players, including goaltender John Cullen, came to camp without a contract and a pair ended up signing a contract and playing in the minors with Buffalo last year.

Jonathon Parker and Phil Varone each signed a deal to play in the minors after some strong play at the mid-summer evaluation camp. Parker only played a few games in Rochester and most of the year in Gwinnett. Varone, however, was a revelation and became a fairly significant scorer for the Amerks last season.

Although there are only three skaters and one goaltender (with a totally awesome name) invited to this year’s camp, each should be worth a once over during the four days they’re on the ice. Frederick Roy is particularly intriguing based on his 92 point (27+65) year with Quebec in the QMJHL.

A teammate of first-round pick Mikhail Grigorenko, Roy is a bit undersized (5’10” 160), but put up serious numbers. The Q can always be a bit deceiving because of the general lack of defense played by every single team in the league, but 92 points is 92 points no matter where you’re playing. Except Quebec high school hockey, right Mr. Feaster? Continue reading

Talent will be on display at Sabres Development Camp

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.   Continue reading