Chris Taylor remembers having to halt practice on the opening day of development camp last summer, his first year at the helm of on-ice sessions. The prospects were nervous to the point where they were trying too hard, which he felt led to mistakes. He estimated five such stoppages between two sessions that day.
Taylor was happy to report that there were no such problems when this year's camp opened at Harborcenter on Wednesday.
"I didn't have to stop it this time around," Taylor said. "That shows you the leadership, because we always practice what we're going to do drill-wise. The attention to detail that they watched and how much they wanted to learn, that they're ready in the corners, ready to go.
"Just that right there, that maturity level and the leadership qualities means a lot to me, that they weren't just putting their head down and just going through another meeting."
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Jason Botterill has emphasized the importance of bringing the right types of personalities into the organization since taking over as general manager last spring. As a result, Taylor said he can already feel a change in the culture from last year to now.
Part of that has to do with bringing in players with leadership pedigree. Mattias Samuelsson, Buffalo's second-round pick in Dallas last weekend, was lauded by former teammates for his leadership as captain with the U.S. National Team Development Program.
Samuelsson is rooming this week with Brandon Hickey, a defenseman acquired from Arizona earlier this month who served as captain last season at Boston University. The list continues with players like top prospects Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt, both notorious for their competitiveness.
"Culturally, these are the guys who are going to change the organization around," Taylor said. "You're not going to bring an older guy in and just all of a sudden, the room changes. It starts within and I think it all starts with the draft.
"From last year to this year, you can see that even the culture changed from last year when I was here. I think it's changed a lot and the guys seem a lot more eager and a lot more happy."
Video: TAYLOR: Development Camp
Likewise, Taylor has seen players he had in Rochester last season step up in leadership roles. Brendan Guhle, participating in his fourth camp, is rooming with Dahlin. Alexander Nylander has been held off the ice due to a minor injury but could be seen watching practice from above on Wednesday.
"I think he's actually stepping up in this camp right now taking guys under his wing, especially with all the Swedish players that we drafted," Taylor said of Nylander. "He's being a mentor to these kids which, that's the first step right there. He's not worried about himself. He's looking after these young guys coming in for the first time."
Developing the habits of a pro hockey player is the main mission at development camp under Botterill and his staff, more so than on-ice evaluation. Samuelsson said the players spent the morning going through the same workout routines as the pro team, then took part in meetings ranging from nutrition to their mental approach.
"So far it's been great," Samuelsson said. "It was a long first day, early morning, but we did everything that the normal Buffalo Sabres do, like the pro guys. Just seeing what they do day in and day out, it shows you what it takes to be a pro."
Nylander held off as precaution
Nylander was held off the ice as a precautionary measure, assistant general manager Steve Greeley said. The same goes for centers Cliff Pu and Marcus Davidsson, neither of whom skated on Wednesday.
"It's June, not everyone's not 100 percent," Greeley said. "Certainly nothing with any of these guys that we're terribly concerned with. At this time of year, you want them healthy for September, you want them healthy for training camp.
"Everything at this point's just precautionary. All these guys are here, working out and doing everything off the ice."
Greeley said that while he doesn't expect Nylander to take the ice this week, it does remain in the realm of possibility.
Mittelstadt comes back stronger
Video: MITTELSTADT: Development Camp
Taylor joked that after Dahlin left the ice following the first session, he thought the goalies in the second session might be in for an easier go. What he didn't consider was Mittelstadt, Buffalo's first-round pick from a year ago.
"Casey came out with the second group and did the same thing," Taylor said. "Yeah, I felt bad for all the goalies."
Taylor said the hour-long session was more than enough to recognize the growth in Mittelstadt, who played an entire season at the University of Minnesota in addition to a cup of coffee with the Sabres since his first camp last July.
"You can just tell by his body and his maturity level and just how he composed himself," Taylor said. "Every time he came down, it looked easy for him."
Asplund, Olofsson both gunning for NHL roster spots
Rasmus Asplund and Victor Olofsson both signed their entry-level contracts this offseason after successful campaigns in the Swedish Hockey League, where the latter scored a league-high 27 goals.
While it would be no surprise for both players to begin the upcoming season in Rochester as they adjust to the North American game, they both made it clear that their goal is to earn a spot in Buffalo this fall.
"That's my plan," Asplund said. "That's what I'm going to go for."