When Buffalo Sabres coach Dan Bylsma met with his young players prior to this week’s Development Camp, he reiterated to them that nobody would be making the team during the week nor would anybody be cut from it.
It’s a nice sentiment, but it hasn’t lowered the stakes for a group of players entering their first pro seasons who are looking to squeeze their way onto an up-and-coming NHL roster.
“There’s definitely an opportunity there and that’s why this is a huge summer for me. It starts right now,” forward Justin Bailey, entering his first pro season, said. “For me and everyone here, it’s leaving that good first impression of the summer.
“I’m trying to have a big camp this week and have them have that last taste in their mouth where they’re thinking of the camp I had and looking forward to seeing me at training camp.”
Bailey, a Western New York native, is in his third Development Camp as a Sabres draft pick. But while his comfort level has grown from year to year, he says this camp has been an “eye-opener” in anticipation for the start to his professional career.
At the end of past summers, he’d go back to the Ontario Hockey League, where he played for the Kitchener Rangers prior to being traded the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds midway through last season.
This year, he’ll be reporting to either the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League or the Sabres.
Other first-year pros in this year’s camp include Nicholas Baptiste, a third-round draft pick of the Sabres in 2013; Evan Rodrigues, who was signed out of Boston University in April; and Jean Dupuy, Bailey’s former teammate in the OHL with Sault Ste. Marie.
Dupuy, a native of Orleans, Ontario, prides himself on playing a defensive, physical game. That style allowed him to accumulate 46 points for the Greyhounds last season, and he’s hoping to show it off in his first camp. The transition, he says, has been made easier thanks to his previous relationship with Bailey.
“He was my linemate for most of the year, a great guy. It was a pleasure playing with him last year and I’m pretty happy we’re following along together,” Dupuy said. “He’s been driving me around, taking me to some restaurants and stuff. It’s been a good time.”
Dupuy and Bailey aren’t the only former teammates entering their first pro seasons together. Rodrigues has also had a smooth transition into his first camp with the Sabres thanks to his relationship with Jack Eichel, the team’s top draft pick this year.
Rodrigues and Eichel were linemates last season at BU, where they combined for 162 points en route to playing in the National Championship. Rodrigues hopes to have similar success with Eichel down the road as the Sabres continue to rebuild.
“They’ve obviously made some big moves that maybe people didn’t expect, but it’s great to see. Hopefully I can be a part of it,” Rodrigues said. “I came here and it was a great opportunity for me. I just want to show everyone that’s in the stands what I can do and what I’m capable of and that I can play at the next level.”
Rodrigues and Eichel will skate on a line with Baptiste during Friday night’s Blue & Gold Scrimmage at First Niagara Center.
Baptiste has only begun playing alongside Eichel, but he’s no stranger to playing alongside a top prospect. He spent a good chunk of last season playing with Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters in the OHL, where he tallied 32 goals and 32 assists and continued a progression that began when he was drafted in two years ago.
After a strong end to that 2012-13 season, he posted an 89-point campaign for the Wolves in 2013-14. While his goal scoring numbers in the OHL speak for themselves, Baptiste says that his time in Development Camp has taught him what truly sets you apart as a pro.
“Just the work ethic,” he said. “It’s a job; everyone wants to play for the Sabres and there’s no shortage of intensity and guys that are working hard and the skill sets, everyone has them. But it’s who’s willing to push the extra mile and become the best players on the ice.”
Much like Bailey and the rest of the first-year pros at camp, Baptiste enters the summer with a clear goal in mind.
“I’m coming here to make Buffalo,” he said. “I’m not trying to just play for Rochester – as much as that would be unbelievable for me and I’d be ecstatic to play there. My ultimate goal is to play with Buffalo and be real eye-opening to everyone on this staff and show that I belong there.”