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What to watch for at Sabres development camp

Cozens, Olofsson among players who will skate at Harborcenter

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

It only took one day in Buffalo for Dylan Cozens to be recognized out in public. The Yukon native flew in from Vancouver on Sunday and said he had already been identified by strangers looking to congratulate the Sabres' seventh overall pick.

"It's pretty cool," Cozens said following a tour of KeyBank Center on Tuesday. "It's definitely setting in that I'm starting to live my NHL dream."

Just wait until he sees the scene inside Harborcenter this week. Cozens is one of the names headlining this year's summer development camp, an annual draw for Sabres fans who are willing to trade an afternoon of sunshine for a glimpse of the franchise's future.  

Video: Ralph Krueger addresses prospects at development camp

Cozens will be joined by fellow first-round pick Ryan Johnson and the rest of the Class of 2019, along with a mix of players who have already donned the blue and gold, others who expect to compete for a spot out of training camp and some readying for their first pro seasons in 2019-20. 

Here's what to watch for this week. 


The new guys 

All six members of this year's draft class will be in attendance this week: Cozens, defenseman Ryan Johnson, goaltender Erik Portillo, and forwards Aaron Huglen, Filip Cederqvist and Lukas Rousek. 

That's not always the case, with so little time for the team and players to coordinate travel in the three days between the draft and development camp. It will be a good introduction, not just for the fans to attach faces to the names, but for the players to get their first taste of a pro lifestyle. 

Click here for a rundown of all six players. 

The back end

This camp will offer a look at the depth the Sabres have on defense, including a few names we'll see in the pros this season. 

William Borgen already impressed in a short stint with the Sabres after a strong rookie season in Rochester. Casey Fitzgerald and Jacob Bryson are both set to turn pro after concluding their NCAA careers last season. (Read more about Bryson here.) 

Then there's Oskari Laaksonen, who's ascended from being a relative unknown when the Sabres drafted him in the third round in 2017 to helping lead Finland to a World Junior championship last January. He played top-pair minutes for his Liiga team, averaging 21:16 and tallying 24 points.

Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said Saturday that Laaksonen is further ahead than anticipated in his development. 
"Did we ever think when we drafted him that he'd be in this situation, winning a gold medal at World Juniors two years later? No," Botterill said. "But he's taken the steps there. He still has things to go, but I think he's ramped up his timeframe. That's all you're looking for out of all these guys."


The roster battles

This week is less about evaluation than it is about learning and developing pro habits. That said, camp will offer a look at a handful players who will be in the mix for an NHL roster spot this fall. 

Tage Thompson is a veteran presence at camp after playing 65 games with the Sabres last season. Victor Olofsson scored 30 goals as a rookie with the Amerks then impressed during a six-game stint in Buffalo. Rasmus Asplund improved dramatically in Rochester, tallying 23 points in his last 22 games.

Arttu Ruotsalainen will be in that mix as well after signing an entry-level deal with the Sabres at the end of last season. Playing on the same Liiga team as Laaksonen, Ruotsalainen led Finland's top pro league in average ice time by a forward (21:05) and faceoffs (1,216). His 21 goals ranked ninth. 

Read more about Ruotsalainen here.

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