By Ryan Nagelhout
NIAGARA FALLS —
The Buffalo Sabres don’t hit the ice until October, but the Sabres of tomorrow will be very busy this week.
Sabres prospects will invade Niagara University’s Dwyer Arena this week as the team’s Development Camp opens Monday morning in Lewiston. About 40 players are expected to attend the camp including Mark Pysyk, the team’s first round pick taken 23rd overall in June’s NHL Entry Draft.
Development camp is a chance for fans to see future Sabres, and the first chance to see the nine players the team drafted in Los Angeles last month. The team will be holding public workouts each day from Monday to Friday. Players will run drills and face off against each other in scrimmages, hoping to turn the heads of fans and scouts alike.
“You make little checklists on these guys, what they’re good at and what they’re not good at,” says Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com. “That’s what you do: see what they address.” Baker was in Los Angeles covering the draft and said the Sabres did well for themselves in drafting Pysyk and company.
“Throughout the whole draft they became really hard to play against,” Baker said. “That was their whole mantra, get bigger and be hard to play against.”
That mantra is something the team has focused on during the past few draft classes, starting with 6’8” defenseman and recent Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers, who was the 12th overall pick in the 2008 entry draft, and the Sabres followed suit the next year, using their top pick in 2009 on bruising right winger Zack Kassian (13th overall).
“In terms of guys who will be there that we haven’t seen yet, Kassian is at the top of the list,” Baker said of the Windsor Spitfire, noting his recent legal trouble and his role in the junior team’s recent Memorial Cup win. Kassian is a familiar name to most Sabres fans, but this week they will have a chance to see just what that name is all about when he hits the ice.
One player who won’t be at camp is Philip Gogulla, a German player who was with the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates last season. Gogulla returned to Germany this spring to play for the Cologne Sharks. In fact, with the Sabres drafting all North American players in Los Angeles, the development camp’s roster will be full of Canadian and American skaters.
“I think they have more trust in the programs here,” Baker said of the Sabres’ tendency to draft North American skaters in the last few years. “The programs in North America breed players for the NHL, not all European systems can say that.” He also said the team only has one European scout and have developed relationships with a lot of local junior hockey teams in southern Ontario and in the Quebec Major-Juniors.
While no one should expect another Myers to come out of rookie camp and make an immediate impact, there are some players to watch for this week. As far as this year’s draft class, Baker said the player to follow might be the team’s third round pick this year.
“Jarome Gauthier-Leduc is the guy the Sabres are most excited about in this draft,” Baker said of the defenseman taken 68th overall in Los Angeles last month. “ I don’t think anyone anticipated him to fall to them at 68. He’s a guy that likes to join the offense, and that’s refreshing if you’re a Buffalo Sabres fan.”
Another interesting angle heading into camp is goaltending, especially with Ryan Miller still in need of a backup. Portland Pirates starter Jhonas Enroth may be an option for the team if they don’t dip into free agency to replace or re-sign Patrick Lalime, which may open up a spot for a prospect this fall.
“I’m looking at goaltending as far as a subplot,” Baker said. “Who’s going to be the guy behind Enroth?” Baker said Brad Eidsness of North Dakota and Connor Knapp of Miami (Ohio) are the two net minders who can make a case for that spot, but how they perform this week might give one player the edge.
This year’s camp may not yield the next Calder Trophy winner, but Baker said there’s plenty of potential in the prospects that will hit the ice at Dywer. He noted the team isn’t looking to bring in a bunch of undrafted players to see what shakes out, rather focusing on the guys they believe in.
“This year they put more of a focus on the guys they have in the system right now,” Baker said. “There’s a lot of promise, the Sabres are very excited.”