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Housley: Pu being rewarded for 'excellent camp'

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

When the Sabres sent four players back to junior on Wednesday, Cliff Pu was the one notable absence on the list. Vojtech Budik, Vasily Glotov, Brandon Hagel and Austin Osmanski were all sent back to their respective clubs, leaving Pu as the only junior player at training camp.

It made you wonder whether Pu had earned himself a second preseason game. While Phil Housley made no promises, he teased the possibility of seeing the young center in the lineup for one of Buffalo's games against Toronto this weekend. 

 "I think he's had a great camp and it started with development camp," Housley said. "We like his grit, we want to see him in another game hopefully soon in the next two … It's intriguing, trying to see where he can fit in. I think he's had an excellent camp up to this point and he's getting rewarded for it."


Even if he weren't going to play in another game, the opportunity for more days at camp can be invaluable for a young player. Pu was only around camp for a few practices last season, but said the practice habits he picked up alone helped play a part in his 86-point campaign for London of the OHL. 

This year he's had an opportunity to learn Housley's system, for which his skating ability should make him a perfect fit. In his preseason debut on Monday, Pu earned an assist with a neutral-zone pass the freed Evan Rodrigues and Seth Griffith for a 2-on-1 rush.

The game was a step up from the OHL, of course, but he felt he fit in well.

"I think it's just the spacing and the size of the guys," Pu said. "Everyone here is pretty big and pretty strong and everyone here is fast. In junior I think I'm one of the fastest guys but here I think I blend in pretty well."

It's in that sense that Housley said training camp can be of the most value for any prospect. It's a measuring stick for them to see how they compare themselves to the pros. Is their decision making up to par with the speed of the game? Are they strong enough to battle down low? The Sabres try to help them answer these questions before sending them back for their junior seasons.

"In our evaluation to each individual [we told them] what they really have to work on to separate themselves and get them ahead of the game, and just bring a good attitude going back to junior and being a leader on their team," Housley said. "It's nothing new, but it's specific to the individual, what they need to work on as far as fundamentals and part of their game."

Pu will likely have at least one more opportunity to see how he measures up against the Maple Leafs on either Friday or Saturday. In the meantime, he'll continue to take each day with the Sabres for what it is: a learning experience.

"I think I'm just trying to work as hard as I can, keep my mouth shut and keep my ears open," he said. "Everyone here has had NHL experience before and coaches have been great with me, teaching me all the systems and stuff. I'm just trying to keep my head down, work hard and hopefully earn a couple more days here."


Thursday's practice

 Video: Sabres Now (9/21/17)

Marco Scandella was absent for the second straight day, but Housley reaffirmed that his absence is strictly precautionary. Scandella underwent hip surgery at the end of last season, and the Sabres have been careful with him to begin camp.

"I'm not concerned at all. This is all precautionary. He's in a great place right now," Housley said. "It's just a day-to-day maintenance thing for him. We want him to feel comfortable when we start getting ready for the regular season." 

As for the players that were on the ice, Housley has said throughout camp that he'd like to give certain players looks at multiple positions. On Thursday, that included moving Zemgus Girgensons from left wing to center and Johan Larsson from center to the wing. 

It also included a move alongside Ryan O'Reilly for Griffith, who already has a goal and an assist through two games.

"I just want to see his speed and tenacious on the puck," Housley said. "He made a nice play on the tying goal at Penn State. He's got good vision, he's got to use it more, but when the battle requires a competitive nature he's got to get in there."

Here's how the practice groups looked in full:

Group A
67 Benoit Pouliot - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 25 Seth Griffith
22 Johan Larsson - 10 Jacob Josefson - 13 Nicholas Baptiste
71 Evan Rodrigues - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 52 Stevie Moses
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 12 Kevin Porter - 59 Cliff Pu

19 Jake McCabe - 5 Matt Tennyson
47 Zach Bogosian/93 Victor Antipin - 38 Cody Goloubef 
41 Justin Falk - 27 Taylor Fedun

35 Linus Ullmark
32 Adam Wilcox
33 Jason Kasdorf

Group B
26 Matt Moulson - 15 Jack Eichel - 21 Kyle Okposo
9 Evander Kane - 23 Sam Reinhart - 29 Jason Pominville
49 C.J. Smith - 46 Eric Cornel - 24 Hudson Fasching
64 Vaclav Karabacek - 51 Kyle Criscuolo - 95 Justin Bailey

82 Nathan Beaulieu - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
45 Brendan Guhle - 53 Devante Stephens 
4 Josh Gorges - 8 Casey Nelson
54 Brycen Martin

40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson
34 Jonas Johansson

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