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After consecutive last-place finishes, Sabres enter training camp with raised expectations @NHLdotcom

BUFFALO, N.Y. - The new-look Buffalo Sabres reported to training camp Thursday with a sense of optimism.

After finishing with the NHL's worst record in each of the past two seasons, the Sabres added new coach Dan Bylsma and filled several roster spots during a busy off-season.

"Everyone has that optimism heading into camp," captain Brian Gionta said. "You see the progression. You see the way the team is starting to shape up and the direction we are going now."

Buffalo drafted top prospect Jack Eichel with the second overall pick and traded for centre Ryan O'Reilly and goaltender Robin Lehner on draft day.

Left-winger Evander Kane, acquired from Winnipeg at last season's trade deadline, is ready to make his Sabres debut. Kane said he is "close to 100 per cent" healed from shoulder surgery in February.

The Sabres regard Eichel as a cornerstone in their rebuilding efforts. The 18-year-old had 71 points in 40 games last season at Boston University and became only the second freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's MVP.

Eichel was among the standout performers last week at the prospects challenge hosted by the Sabres at First Niagara Center.

Buffalo is also hoping forward Sam Reinhart, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft, will be ready to step in after developing his game in the Canadian juniors last year.

Kane, the fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft, is getting a fresh start in Buffalo after six up-and-down seasons with the Jets franchise. The Sabres project the 24-year-old as a top-line scorer. He has scored more than 19 goals three times and enjoyed his best season in 2011-12, when he had 30 goals and 27 assists.

"I hope to score as many goals as possible," Kane said. "I've already scored 30. So maybe I want to score 40 or 50."

Kane said the additions general manager Tim Murray made during the off-season "push our team to the next level on paper."

"Now we got to go out and prove it," Kane said.

Murray's first big move of the off-season was hiring Bylsma, who won the Stanley Cup in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, to replace Ted Nolan.

Buffalo entered the draft with three first-round picks, but used two of them to trade for veterans who could help take pressure off Eichel, Reinhart and the rest of the prospects.

The 24-year-old O'Reilly, acquired along with forward Jamie McGinn from Colorado in a five-player deal during the first round of the NHL draft, is regarded as a top-line player.

O'Reilly has 90 goals and 246 points in 427 career games. The Sabres made O'Reilly their highest-paid player in July, giving him a seven-year contract extension worth $52.5 million.

"The goal is to win a Stanley Cup, and I think people expect that in a few years," O'Reilly said. "For us, let's try to do that now. Your career is only so long. You never know what could happen. Every time you touch the ice, it's toward a Stanley Cup, whether it's now or in a few years."

Lehner is expected to be the Sabres' starting goaltender. Murray traded the 21st pick in the June draft to acquire the 24-year-old from Ottawa. Lehner is 30-26-15 in his career and was 9-12-3 last season before being sideline by a concussion.

Lehner said Thursday he hasn't had any concussion symptoms "in quite a while."

The goalie has been impressed by the Sabres organization since arriving in Buffalo last week.

"We have an exciting team," he said. "When we get on the ice, we are going to make some progress and get to know each other, and slowly but surely, we'll get better."

Sabres players underwent physicals and testing Thursday. On-ice sessions will begin Friday.

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