When he arrived for a team meeting prior to the Blue & Gold Scrimmage on Saturday morning and saw the forward lines written up on the board, it was a surprise for Nicolas Baptiste to see his name written alongside Brandon Hagel and Judd Peterson's. They hadn't played together in three practice sessions at development camp, so they met briefly to discuss each other's strengths.
Less than 10 minutes into the scrimmage, they hardly looked like a trio that lacked chemistry. The line combined for the first two goals of the game, with Baptiste and Peterson scoring less than three minutes apart in the first period to set the tone for Team Blue in a 5-3 win over Alex Nylander and Hudson Fasching's Team Gold.
Christopher Brown, Rasmus Asplund and Eric Cornel also scored goals for Team Blue, while Alex Nylander scored twice and Giorgio Estephan added another for Gold.
What Baptiste, Peterson and Hagel lacked in experience, they made up for in motivation. Baptiste, a veteran at development camp with a year of AHL hockey in Rochester already under his belt, knew it was important to stand out amongst a younger crowd. He put his most notable skill, his shot, to good use after receiving the puck from Peterson in the slot for the game's first goal.
"I thought that was crucial for me," Baptiste said. "I know that my time to make a statement for Buffalo is now and I thought I did a pretty good job at that tonight. I've got to continue it for the rest of this camp."
Peterson had the sense to tap the puck to Baptiste on that play after receiving it in the slot from Hagel. On the next goal, which came 10:31 into the contest, it was Baptiste who threaded a pass to Peterson from the right side. Peterson, stationed in the slot again, scored with a one-time shot.
It'd been two years since Peterson, a seventh-round pick in the 2012 Draft, had appeared at development camp and played in a Blue & Gold Scrimmage. Since then he's been honing his skills in the NCAA, improving in each of his first two seasons at St. Cloud State.
"Playing with older guys just kind of gave me experience, made me mature more of a player," he said. "Coming into this camp, it's been a lot different for me. I want to learn something at this camp and do a little bit more than I did last time. So far, so good."
Hagel was taken in the sixth round this summer and he, like Peterson, has a late-round mentality. It showed on Saturday. It was Hagel who did the dirty work on the first two goals, hitting Devante Stephens to free the puck and make the pass to Peterson on the first and then establishing a net-front presence to draw attention on the second.
"I thought I did as much as I could today," he said. "I worked my bag off and I need to do something for them to notice me."
Hagel tallied one more point in the contest when, on a penalty shot, he jammed the puck against the goalie's pad and Eric Cornel scored on the rebound (penalty shots in this game were played with backcheckers skating behind the shooter). But he and his linemates were noticeable throughout the game, perhaps more than any other line on Team Blue.
Rochester coach Dan Lambert was on the bench for the scrimmage, and it was his first time seeing either Hagel or Peterson play. He was pleasantly surprised by both. Hagel's style, he said, was reminiscent of former NHL player Brent Sutter, who coaches Hagel with Red Deer of the WHL, while Peterson also impressed with his hard work.
"Every day after the sessions we would always comment on his work ethic and his skating," Lambert said of Peterson. "I had never seen him play in a game and I didn’t know what to expect … but he certainly looked good tonight. He was skating, he was hounding pucks, he was in on forechecks, he was creating opportunities. It was a great day for him."
NYLANDER "GETS LUCKY"
Penalty shots, which were awarded in place of power plays on Saturday, came with an added degree of difficulty with players chasing down the shooter as he made his attempt. That didn’t stop Alex Nylander, Buffalo's first-round pick this summer, from making both of his attempts in the third period.
Take a look:
For good measure, Nylander added one more make in a post-scrimmage shootout. Rather than go backhand this time – which he learned to do from watching his dad play in the NHL growing up – he switched it up for the third go-around.
"I've think I've been pretty good in shootouts since I was in competition, practices with my buddies or with my brother," Nylander said. "I don't know, I just think I got a little lucky and it was fun that I got all three in."
Like Baptiste, Justin Bailey and William Carrier were players who came into the game having already spent a season in Rochester. Both played well, with Carrier playing strong on the puck throughout the contest and Bailey zipping by two defenders to set up Brown's goal in the first period.
"I thought at times they looked real good out there," Lambert said of his veterans. "Nobody's going to dominate for 60 minutes, that's the game in today's world, but I thought at times they looked real good."