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Young players impress Sabres coach, GM at camp

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- When the Buffalo Sabres wrapped up development camp Sunday, those in charge of turning around the franchise expressed optimism about the direction they are headed.

"I think you saw [improvement] in, and I don't want to bring up names because I'm going to forget names, but I think the guys that were here last year for the first time vs. coming in for the second time this year showed great improvement," Sabres general manager Tim Murray said. "And they know when they get here it's going to be a lot of hard work and that they have to be ready for it.

"I go back to last year, and I judge from there on because I don't know exactly what they did before they got here. So I'm going from last year forward, and I like what I see."

More than 40 players took part in the annual camp that was highlighted by the Sabres' first-round picks from the past two drafts, centers Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel. Reinhart had a year to build on, and Eichel made a good first impression.

Reinhart had two goals and an assist in a 5-2 win in a scrimmage Friday. The improvement he showed from last season to this season was evident.

"I thought he was outstanding," Murray said. "I thought he was one of the best players on the ice. … His team won the game and his line was a big part of it, and I expected that. I expected him to come in here and say, without saying it, to us, to you, to the fans, 'Don't forget about me, I'm a big part of this organization going forward,' and I think that's what he did."

Eichel didn't have a point in the scrimmage.

"It's been a long week and a lot going on. That's not as explosive as he can be," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "I was hoping to see a blast of explosion. He had a couple times in the first period where he did have that but didn't get the puck to make it work."

Eichel admitted afterward that he was a little tired. He played a full freshman season at Boston University -- winning the Hobey Baker Award and playing in the NCAA championship game -- represented the United States at the IIHF's World Junior Championship and World Championship, and was selected by the Sabres with the second pick at the 2015 NHL Draft.

Eichel made up for not scoring Friday when he had five goals during a 3-on-3 tournament Sunday.

"If you watched him at the end of his last go there [in the 3-on-3 tournament], there was 41 seconds left and he demanded a change with somebody, and then he pressured the guy right at the blue line and he tipped the puck and he said, 'White puck,' and he takes it in on the breakaway and he didn't score," Murray said. "That's a competitive thing that you can take out of something like this. He was [ticked] off that he lost. That's what we want."

Reinhart and Eichel received most of the attention during development camp, but forward Justin Bailey and defenseman Jake McCabe also made positive impacts.

McCabe, who matched up mostly against Eichel's line, had two assists during the scrimmage Friday.

"We look at them all week and you try to get evaluations of speed and skill, and what they can do, but this was a game situation, and I thought he showed really well, I thought he played really well defensively," Bylsma said. "He showed some physicality, stepped up on a rush, was good defensively, but was also really good offensively and in the offensive zone controlling the play… I thought he played really well and that's what we got to see in this game."

Bailey scored a goal and was a physical presence during the scrimmage. He's coming off his final, and best, junior season in 2014-15, when he scored 34 goals and had 35 assists with the Kitchener Rangers and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League.

"He showed his speed, he showed his size, also had the ability in the offensive zone," Bylsma said. "He had a couple plays that didn't turn into goals that I was impressed with as a big guy with his speed being able to make those plays. Of this whole week so far, [Friday was], by far, his best performance, and that's where it should be, in the game."

Development camp was one small step for the Buffalo organization. When training camp opens in mid-September, Bylsma and Murray will have a better idea where the young players fit in the big picture, if at all. But for the time being, the Sabres are keeping their hopes measured.

"I had no expectations. We know the players," Murray said. "We want to see improvement. We want to see the testing results, we want to see the Bod Pod results for you guys that have been here in the past, we want to see the force plate results, and we want to see improvement. And the guys that improved are the guys that we want to go ahead with."

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