By Tim Schmitt
A week’s worth of Sabres development camp didn’t open a direct window into the upcoming season, but watching the team’s prospects at Niagara University — and getting a chance to talk with coach Lindy Ruff at the camp’s conclusion — did offer a little insight.
Here are some random notes and thoughts after a week spent watching the team before decent crowds at Dwyer Arena:
• GERBE GETTING CLOSE: Nathan Gerbe insists his struggles last season with the Sabres — he registered just a single point in Buffalo through 10 games — came because he played a more defensive style trying to conform to the NHL game.
This year, Gerbe plans on using the gifts that have brought him success first at the college, then at the American Hockey League level.
That means the jitterbug will be at full throttle.
“Maybe last year I tried to be too safe or too defensive,” Gerbe said.
If camp was any indication, Gerbe is ready to make a run at a roster spot. He consistently stood out among his peers, and offensive contributions came as often as they did in Portland last year.
Don’t be surprised if he’s this year’s breakout Sabre.
• MYERS NEEDS WORK: The signing of Steve Montador means 2008 first-round pick Tyler Myers doesn’t have to be ready to step into the Sabres lineup just yet — and that’s probably a good thing.
Myers has all the tools, and the 6-foot-6 rearguard has great wheels with a reach that makes coaches drool. He emerged as the season played out in the Western Hockey League, leading Kelowna to a Memorial Cup appearance.
That said, his camp was average. Myers found himself off-balance against forwards who probably won’t ever sniff an NHL locker room. He is quick and has the skills to play in the league, but he didn’t look NHL-ready through many of the sessions.
Don’t be surprised if he starts the season back in Kelowna, although he’s got too many gifts to not be one of the team’s best players in the future. He better be. The team gave up on injury-prone Mike Funk and prospect Mike Card.
• TALENT POOL IS SHALLOW: The high-end talent is pretty good — see Gerbe, Tim Kennedy, Tyler Myers — but the herd thins out quickly. Guys like Philippe Gogulla and Dennis Persson, both regarded as top 20 prospects in the organization, did little to differentiate themselves from the crowd.
The Sabres have made a living on hitting with middle-round draft choices in the past. Unless there are a number of late bloomers in this bunch, do not expect that trend to continue.
• NEXT CLASS IS BIGGER: Zack Kassian is working out with Mike Weber, who’s a notoriously hard worker and an imposing physical force. Brayden McNabb towers over forwards with his 6-foot-4 frame. Marcus Foligno is considerably larger than his dad.
While the Sabres have stockpiled a number of smaller forwards in recent seasons, the most recent class is considerable bigger, something you noticed instantly at camp.
Will that translate to a more powerful team on the ice in the future? Maybe. We’re years from knowing how this draft class will turn out, but if bigger means better, this class will be improved.
n SABRES LIKE NIAGARA: Reports from team sources insist the Sabres love having Niagara as a second home. The dorms are close, eliminating the travel time the players used to have between HSBC Arena and the Pepsi Center.
Film rooms and workout facilities are more than adequate and the setting allows fans to take in the action comfortably.
By all indications, the Sabres are happy to be at Niagara.
However, it wasn’t a total love fest. The Sabres were consistently late getting off the ice, which infringed on the junior hockey program that pays big bucks to use the facility. And the team held up the catering staff by more than 30 minutes one afternoon.
• ROSTER SET? Originally, the Sabres were rumored to be in the trade market. If Ruff’s comments after Friday’s session are any indication, Buffalo might be set for the season.
“I like what we have here as a team,” Ruff said. “We were pretty close to where we wanted to be.”
It would not be surprising of the Sabres stood pat before training camp opened. The move to add 30-year-old defenseman Joe DiPenta, who played parts of three seasons with Anaheim, seems a strong sign that Darcy Regier will not be dealing for a big-name defenseman.
DiPenta is most likely coming back to play in Portland, adding depth for the team if any of their top six defensemen — Craig Rivet, Toni Lydman, Henrik Tallinder, Montador, Andrej Sekera and Chris Butler — succumb to injury.
• OUR SURPRISE PICK: He’s lightly regarded, but Jordon Southorn, a 6-foot-3 defenseman from Prince Edward Island, made a number of eye-catching plays. He’s years from competing for an NHL roster spot, but he showed tools that could make him a pro.
Contact sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.