The Week of Development Camp Could be so Much More

As the Sabres wind down their annual development camp at First Niagara Center I can’t help but think the organization missed a terrific opportunity to draw even more fans down to the foot of Washington Street.

Mid July is an inherently slow time of year in every sense of the word. The NHL calendar is in a bit of a lull after the initial free agent flurry of activity, the Bills are still a ways out from kicking off training camp, and we’re in the midst of the dog days of baseball season. That, coupled with the fact that the area’s children are a few weeks into summer vacation and parents are searching for things to keep their kids occupied, means that development camp is in a great position to fill the void in affordable entertainment.

The week’s on-ice happenings were the lone Sabres related attraction this week, and there were multiple other things that the organization could’ve done in conjunction with the camp to make it a great experience for the fans. The improvements to the week have nothing to do with the on ice activity, but more of the ancillary activities to draw people to the area and keep them there for a few hours. They range from improving things inside the arena during practice to having activities outside during down time. Here are just a few ways to make the week significantly better:

– Make the players available. I count nine players on the Sabres’ NHL roster that are new to the team since the trade deadline; the average fan couldn’t pick Ryan O’Reilly or Zach Bogosian out of a lineup. O’Reilly, Bogosian, Evander Kane, and Robin Lehner are players fans will (theoretically) be watching for the better part of the next decade; it would behoove the organization to let the fans get a glimpse of them and put faces to all the new names. This could be done by having autograph booths, having the players just go section to section, or any other number of ways. It’s not a difficult thing to execute.

– Improve the in arena amenities. I was down at the arena on Monday for the practice and grabbed the last soft pretzel at one of the two concession stands at 1:30 pm. That’s totally fine if the practice wasn’t ending at 3. Having a concession stand open with only half of its menu items available, and having the available items understocked, is pointless. Either open them and do it right or don’t open them at all. There was also nothing to do inside the arena other than watch practice. Having a few interactive activities for fans would help solve that issue, especially when kids get antsy from watching three hours of hockey practice. The Slapshot Accuracy machine, for instance, would be a nice addition that could be run by an intern for the day. Sabretooth was also not there on Monday from what I saw. There were tons of young kids who don’t get to FNC very often, and the team’s mascot was nowhere to be found. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s a small thing that goes a long way to improving the experience of younger fans.

– Take advantage of Haborcenter. The facility is open with pregame activities during the season, yet not this week. Having the open skates at Harborcenter (that they do before home games) either before or after the prospects are on the ice would’ve been a nice way for people to make a day out of being at the arena. You could even have a roster player skate around with the fans for a half hour if you wanted to get crazy. Having lunch/drink/happy hour specials should’ve also been a layup. Looking at when the on-ice portion of the camp ends each day, one would think a lunch special makes perfect sense. The organization could even promote some of the new retail shops opening up in the building. It’s yet another way to keep people in the area, plus it’s an opportunity to make some money for the restaurant.

– Street Hockey Fest. This event seems to be an annual thing, although nothing appears to have been released in terms of the event happening this year.

Street Hockey Fest would be a nice addition to Development Camp Week

Looking at the schedule, the Saturday of development camp (an off day for prospects) would’ve been a perfect for it. The team could make a few bucks on team registration fees, kids aren’t inside playing video games, and parents find something to occupy their kids for a day; it’s a win for everybody. Add a few players signing autographs (or guest refereeing?), and perhaps some arena tours, and you’ve got the makings of a great day for fans.

– Utilize Canalside. This is the perfect weekend for a “Sabres Carnival” type event. Hosting the event Saturday during the street hockey tournament and Sunday after the 3 on 3 tournament would be perfect. The team did this a few years ago and even brought in a band (10,000 Maniacs), so there’s precedent for this happening.

All of these suggestions are not incredibly complicated, and some have been done before. With where the organization has been the last few years this week could’ve really served as a catalyst to get fans back into the Sabres and back into hockey. Fans still filled up FNC the last two seasons (for the most part) despite the on ice product being pretty poor, by doing a few little things (like player autographs) the franchise can show its appreciation for those who showed up every night to watch a historically bad team, while also taking a few steps to repatriate some fans who may have been turned off by the happenings of the last couple years.

Double Minors: 2014 Sabres Development Camp scrimmage

The Sabres annual prospect’s scrimmage came and went last night with a sloppy 5-1 win for Team White.

In a slight change from recent years the scrimmage was held early in the week and the results on the ice reflected that change. With only two ice sessions as a group, the majority of the prospects struggled to find chemistry in a game setting. While the players with more developmental and professional experience stood out for obvious reasons, there were very few true standouts simply based on the disjointed nature of the game that took over at times.

There were some obvious bright spots as one might expect in a six-goal game although a majority of the scoring happened to be done by undrafted camp invites while the organization’s prospects contributed in other ways.

Two of the most obvious standouts were Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen. The two towering defensemen were split between the two squads but they were certainly noticeable when they were on the ice. Zadorov was very active joining the rush and even chipped in with an assist as his booming slapshot caught the end boards and wound up on Jerome Leduc’s tape for a tap in to open the scoring.

Zadorov’s game appeared measured to me as he was picking his spots and recovering well when he joined the rush. He might need to practice a bit more discretion at times but he continued to display the active style that has made him such an attractive prospect. Furthermore, his physical game wasn’t lacking throughout the scrimmage.

Ristolainen was as steady as you might expect a player who split the year between Buffalo and Rochester despite being fresh out of the draft. Since both teams had only five defensemen on their roster the minutes piled up for each and Ristolainen was certainly a beneficiary of that. I think he is a safe bet to pencil into a top-six spot entering training camp as his second professional season is set to begin.

The biggest star of last night’s scrimmage didn’t even see the ice after the halfway mark of the second period. Linus Ullmark was far and away the most impressive goaltender of the four who dressed last night. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast LIVE – 2014 Development Camp Scrimmage

Eric and I talk about the Sabres prospects, their exploits on the ice during development camp and what Sam Reinhart’s outlook may be.

http://mixlr.com/instigator-podcast/showreel/sabres-2014-development-camp-scrimmage-live/

Who I’m watching at Sabres development camp

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): Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 2.9 – Summer Developments

Once again, Eric and I got together to chat about the state of the Sabres. This time around we cover development camp, which players at camp stood out the most while also discussing the new third jersey and wrapping things up with plus/minus.

Comments are always welcome here or on Twitter. @2ITB_Buffalo and @3rdmanin

Development Camp wraps with Girgensons contract

Today marks the final day of Development Camp for the Sabres as their final scrimmage of the week will take place later today. However, the big news came from Joe Yerdon who noted that Zemgus Girgensons signed his entry level contract and will play in Rochester next season.

Girgensons was one of the most impressive players at the camp this week, using his straight-line, physical style to impress most who walked through the doors of First Niagara Center. He turned in the highlight of the Blue and Gold scrimmage last night, with a nifty goal against Nathan Lieuwen in the second period.

Between the two 2012 first round picks, Girgensons probably stood out more for the things he did. The highlight reel goal last night, a similarly impressive goal in individual drills the day before and playing with a lot of energy at all times during the week.

Mikhail Grigorenko wasn’t making highlights every time he touched the puck, which is probably what some expected. However, his unique skillset was certainly on display and he showed why he was ranked near the top of the draft. His core strength needs to improve so that he isn’t easily knocked off the puck.

Personally, I thought he may have been trying to do a bit too much at times during the week. When he let the game come to him and settled down, he was able to make some awesome plays. In addition to his slick shootout goal, he had a great give-and-go that turned into a beautiful cross-zone pass to Corey Feinhage for a goal.

Grigorenko will get every chance to make the team when training camp and the presseason come along. I expect that he will also get his nine-game audition before any final decision is made. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast LIVE – Sabres Development Camp Scrimmage

Listen back as Eric and I discuss the 2012 Sabres Development Camp scrimmage and what we picked up over the previous days of the annual prospect camp.

http://mixlr.com/instigator-podcast/showreel/sabres-development-camp-blue-gold-scrimmage-live/