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

Who is the Next Captain of the Sabres?

The Sabres have a bunch of questions that need to at least begin to be addressed this offseason and next season. While everyone focuses on the draft and who is going to put the puck in the net for last year’s worst offensive team, many have forgotten that the Sabres are (once again) without a captain.

There are a couple basic things that I believe the organization should (or should not) do when considering who will be the next person to wear the “C”.

First (and most important) is that the next captain must come from in-house. The cons far outweigh the pros when it comes to naming a player who was just acquired as the captain. The most obvious issue is that it places undue pressure on the new player. No matter the age or experience of a player, when someone is traded to a new team, or signs with a new team as a free agent, they want to make a good first impression. On top of trying to fit in with new teammates and a new system on the ice, the player is faced with trying to acclimate to a new city off the ice. Throw in moving a family and all that comes with it into a new town and the player is juggling all he can handle.

Another concern is that naming a player that is new to the team as a captain is an indictment of the leadership qualities (or lack thereof) of your current roster. By giving the captaincy to a newly acquired player you’re basically telling the 23 guys on your roster, “I don’t think any of you are capable enough or ready enough to assume responsibility for this team.” Given the state of the Sabres’ roster, I’d advise against doing that. Continue reading

Sabres can fast track youngsters this season

Perhaps this season won’t be about winning the Cup for the Sabres, but that might not be all bad. If suffering is indeed what Sabres fans are in for, at least the crop of fresh faces on the roster will provide a compelling narrative to follow for the season.

In the weeks between the draft and training camp, the Sabres voiced their support of Rasmus Ristolainen as an NHL-ready prospect and confirmed that Mikhail Grigorenko would play the season in Buffalo. Additionally, players like Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Mark Pysyk began showing that they’d also be vying for a spot on the roster that takes the ice in Detroit on October 2.

With only six days left until the regular season opens, the roster is beginning to take shape with only a few spots left to confirm. How many fresh faces will be on the opening night roster is one aspect that hasn’t been determined at this point.

Buffalo still has nine defensemen in camp with newly signed, junior-eligble Nikita Zadorov amongst the group. Zadorov has received rave reviews throughout the summer and the preseason and has probably earned himself his nine-game tryout before being sent back to London. However, the already crowded blueline corps has little wiggle room to find a spot for Zadorov, even if it is for nine games.

It would be great if the Sabres could find a way to get Zadorov into the line-up for those first nine games, they certainly don’t need to have Alexander Sulzer on the roster to open the season and could use his spot to insert Zadorov to start. It isn’t inconceivable to think that either Sulzer or Jamie McBain will be heading to Rochester regardless of what the Sabres plan on doing with Zadorov simply because I don’t see many minutes available for those two at this point. Continue reading

Sabres load up for another Traverse City run

You can’t say the Sabres haven’t won anything. They enter this year’s Traverse City Prospect Tournament as the defending champions after their triumph in 2011.

Buffalo’s title defense was delayed after last season’s lockout and they may benefit from the delay as they are prepared to ice a scary talented roster for the 2013 tourney. Mikhail Grigorenko will lead Buffalo’s other top prospects including; Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and others in search of another tournament championship.

Mark Pysyk is one of the “vets” on Buffalo’s Traverse City roster.

Sending stacked rosters isn’t necessarily something that only the Sabres participate in. Each team manages to send a combination of pro ready prospects, new draft picks and players who have seen pro ice time to the tourney. It just so happens that Buffalo makes sure to construct a roster of their best prospects.

In 2011 the top line of Luke Adam, Marcus Foligno and Zack Kassian bullied their way through the rest of the tournament and claimed the first championship the franchise has ever seen.* Considering that Armia, Girgensons, Grigorenko and Larsson are amongst those participating, I think the Sabres are betting on bringing back another championship.

In addition to Girgensons, Grigorenko and Larsson – all who played professionally last year – Buffalo has a pair of NHL defensemen (Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Pysyk) to skate along with another NHL-ready player in Ristolainen. Continue reading

Amerks (Sabres) Season Preview: Forward thinking

Looking around the hockey world, there are plenty of players getting bumped off rosters due to the influx of skaters and goaltenders previously slated for the NHL. The effect will be felt across Europe and particularly at the AHL level.

While individual AHL teams will benefit from skaters on entry-level deals making their way down to the developmental league, the players who would have typically battled for one of the final roster spots are likely destined for other locations.

Rochester serves as a perfect example of this as a few tryout players and summer free agent signings have suddenly found themselves on a roster with a lot more talent than originally expected.

Marcus Foligno and Cody Hodgson were each expected to be in Buffalo to start the season with Luke Adam, Kevin Porter, Nick Tarnasky and Corey Tropp were all expected to at least push for a roster spot with the big club. Now, those six join 14 other forwards who now face a much more daunting task in making the AHL club.

Those who are most affected by the infusion of talent are; Riley Boychuk, Maxime Legault, Jonathan Parker, Frederick Roy and Jamie Wise. Boychuk and Parker each saw time in the ECHL last year, while Legault has stuck with the organization on AHL contracts over the past few years. Roy and Wise each made a positive impression at development camp, but are behind far more skaters than they would have been after their camp performances earlier in the summer. Continue reading

The future looks bright with Armia and Grigorenko

Development Camp isn’t a device that is designed to fill out an NHL roster. The majority of the players invited to these camps are preparing to return to school or junior, not the NHL. However, there are always a few prospects that stand out above the rest.

The Sabres 2012 Development Camp provided the opportunity to see a trio of players that will likely be directly tied to the franchise’s future. Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko all participated in their first development camp with the Sabres after being picked in the first round of the last two NHL Drafts.

Joel Armia will be NHL ready once he comes over from Finland.

Armia missed out on the 2011 Camp due to complications getting to North America so soon after the Draft. Armia had an improved season with Assat of Sm Liiga and a point per game pace (5+2) at the World Juniors. He was dynamic at many times during development camp. His size set him apart and it was clear that two full seasons of professional hockey has aided his development.

While he is bound to Finland for another season, I doubt that Armia will have much trouble adapting to the NHL game when he arrives next year. What was most impressive, to me, was his ability to create in tight spaces. On a number of occasions he found ice for an open shot despite being in close quarters. The fact that he was able to do so on a daily basis was truly what stood out over the course of last week.

In tandem with Grigorenko at center, the line has the makings for a talented, dynamic and explosive offensive unit. Whether or not Girgensons is part of the line is up for debate. Having him ride shotgun for the two big guns would be an interesting development, but he would likely be better served on a separate line from Armia and Grigorenko.

Grigorenko was one of the players entering camp with the opportunity to build a resume that would eventually lead to a contract and a chance to truly make an impression at training camp. Outside of those who saw NHL action last year, Grigorenko and Girgensons were the only two at camp who really had the opportunity to jump directly into the professional ranks.

Girgensons contract all but ensures he will see plenty of time playing against men in Rochester for the 2012-13 season. Signing him and getting him into the professional game will be the best step for his development. Continue reading

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