The top three players within Buffalo's system -- forwards Zack Kassian, Luke Adam and Marcus Foligno -- are playing a vital role for the Sabres during their anticipated debut at the Traverse City Prospects tournament this week here at Center ICE Arena.
Kassian, a physical 6-foot-3, 226-pound right wing, was taken in the first round (No. 13) of the 2009 Entry Draft and inked a three-year entry-level deal with the Sabres in November 2010. Foligno, whose father, Mike, was a former fan favorite in Buffalo, agreed to terms on a three-year deal in May.
Are suspensions a concern for Kassian?
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Despite the fact Buffalo Sabres prospect Zack Kassian has been suspended on three separate occasions in a two-year span, Sabres GM Darcy Regier doesn't appear too concerned.
"I think what happens, unfortunately, is that the young players in the junior programs who have been there for three or four years find it difficult to stay motivated because they have a tendency to look over the fence at the NHL already," Regier said.
In his initial two-plus seasons with the Ontario Hockey League's Peterborough Petes, Kassian produced 41 goals and 193 points while totaling 268 penalty minutes in 152 games. Contributing to that penalty total were 13 fighting majors during the 2008-09 season.
"Players start to think in terms of over there (in the NHL) instead of staying focused on doing the work in junior," Regier continued. "The other thing is, players think they are working hard in the junior level but that workload compared to the NHL level is an important learning experience because every player that we've ever had come through our organization has had to learn to work."
Kassian was suspended twice in the Ontario Hockey League and also received a two-game suspension at the 2011 World Junior Championships in Buffalo, N.Y.
When asked if he felt he needed to control his emotions, Kassian wasn't so sure.
"I have to play my style of game in order to bring out my best," Kassian said. "Obviously, I bring other attributes to my game. I have skill and can put the puck in the net; I make plays. I'm not the same player if I'm not physical."
--Mike G. Morreale
"I think Luke is probably closer to the NHL, but he's also had a year experience in the American Hockey League (in Portland) and won rookie of the year there so he has the benefit of that experience and success," Sabres GM Darcy Regier said.
In his first season with the Pirates in 2010-11, Adam struck for 29 goals and 62 points in 57 games. He had 3 goals and 4 points during his 19-game callup with the Sabres.
"I'd be disappointed if I didn't make the team out of training camp," Adam told NHL.com. "I'm really grateful and thankful for the opportunity I'm going to have this year and hoping to make the most out of it. I'm hoping to make this team. Anytime you don't accomplish what you set out to do, it's disappointing. So, right now, that's definitely my goal."
In his fourth season with the OHL's Sudbury Wolves, a team coached by his father, Foligno established career-high totals across the board with 22 goals, 36 assists and 59 points as the team's captain in 2010-11. The elder Foligno spent 10 of his 15 NHL seasons with the Sabres and was an instant favorite with fans because of his rugged and offensive style. He ranks sixth on Buffalo's list with 247 career goals, eighth in career points (511) and second with 1,450 penalty minutes.
"I obviously never watched dad in person, but there's always those NHL classic games and I remember him scoring that OT goal against Detroit (during the 1993 Playoffs) when he was with the Maple Leafs," Foligno said. "Just seeing him and the way he carried himself around the rink, the way he carried himself on the ice too, was special to watch."
It's quite possible Foligno might spend a year grooming in the AHL in 2011-12, but the 20-year-old left wing seems to have other plans. If he doesn't stick out of training camp, he would hope to get an early call-up.
"To be a professional hockey player, you have to prove yourself every day and I'm really excited about playing in this tournament (in Traverse City) and having a chance to showcase my talent," Foligno said. "What I want to do here is be a winner coming out of it. After this, I'm looking to make my mark in training camp and make the Sabres."
Foligno is hoping to follow in the successful footsteps of his brother, Nick, who was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the first round (No. 28) in 2006. He'll be entering his fourth season with the Senators in 2011-12.
In addition to his father and brother, Foligno has always sensed someone from above following his every move in his journey to a prosperous NHL career -- his mother, Janis, who lost a five-year fight with breast cancer in July 2009.
There isn't a day goes by that Marcus doesn't reflect on the impact she had on his life.
Sabres' prospect Marcus Foligno (Getty Images)
Like Foligno, Kassian also spent four seasons in the OHL with the Peterborough Petes and Windsor Spitfires, before playing in three playoff games with the AHL's Pirates late last season.
"It was a short experience, since I got kicked out of the playoffs (after being suspended four games for an intent to injure match penalty against Owen Sound on April 23), but just to be around the pro atmosphere was way different than junior," Kassian told NHL.com. "Guys are faster, bigger and stronger, so everything changes when you move up a level but it didn't take long to get situated."
Kassian said he's just taking his career day-by-day, willing to do whatever is asked of him in an effort to work his way onto an NHL roster someday. The usually-feisty Kassian, who teamed with Foligno on the silver-medal winning Canadian National Junior Team at the 2011 World Junior Championships in Buffalo, engaged in a fight with Minnesota's Kris Fredheim late in Saturday's game.
"If you get sent down (after training camp), it's OK," he said. "It's a long career and you have to work for it. I'll keep developing and hopefully get the call as soon as possible."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale