Three months without hockey in our downtown rinks is always too much to bear so after three days of practice sessions with a heavy emphasis on skill development, it was great to see a little 3-on-3 "French Connection-style" competition at HarborCenter on Tuesday to cap off 2017's iteration of development camp.
And despite thousands watching live along with us - in person, and at Sabres.com - some of you may have missed the opportunity to do so.
Fear not, the games are archived here and here with highlights here:
Video: 2017 French Connection Highlights
But before you click on those, you should go back and see how well Kris Baker of SabresProspects.com set the table for "who to watch for, and why"
Video: Recap of Day 1 of Sabres Development Camp
Video: Sabres Development Camp: Day 2 Recap (7/9/17)
Alex Nylander set the tone for Team Gray in the opening 20 seconds of the first game, and would later add a shootout winner against Team Gold before his 9-man unit eventually fell into a scoring drought.
Nylander is no Vasily Glotov when it comes to his dealings with the media, and that will be just fine for all interested parties should he continue his off-season development at the rate that is pleasing the Sabres hockey department.
Max Willman, now 22 and heading into his senior season at Brown, was someone who caught my eye most days and again in 3-on-3. (Check out his goal about 10 minutes into the feed)
Will Borgen was a very noticeable part of Team Gray in front of - without question - the most impressive of the four netminders, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
And if you don't believe me, here's what Sabres goaltending coach Andrew Allen had to say about the 6-foot-4, 198-pound Finn, who was the 54th overall selection in June:
"Very good first impression by Ukko. He handled himself well on and off the ice," Allen, who is entering his third season overseeing the Sabres stoppers, said. "He's a big goalie with good range. His reaction speed for a big goalie stood out to me. We see very good potential in Ukko and look forward to helping him develop into an NHL goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres."
But to be the best, you've got to beat the best. And that was a near impossible challenge for every goalie not named Jake McGrath, a camp invitee who had the good fortune of playing for Team White, and behind the ultra-impressive Rasmus Asplund.
Luukkonen appeared headed for a shootout in a scoreless game against Team White when Asplund out-smarted him for a buzzer-beater.
That gave Asplund two winners in his first two games (the other came in a shootout) and from that point on, Team White really went on a run with victories of 3-0, 2-0, and 3-1 to claim the French Connection Trophy with a perfect 5-0 record.
Asplund could have had 3 assists on his first shift in the semifinal versus Team Blue (just watch the opening minute here)
His patience before setting up Hudson Fasching in the championship game was noteworthy (scroll in about 25 minutes)
And another strong feed here (about 30 minutes in)
Asplund claimed the Craig Ramsay Leadership Award trophy for his efforts on and off the ice at this year's camp. But there's a good chance he wasn't the player fans were talking about the most.
That is quite likely this year's first round pick Casey Mittelstadt.
Mittelstadt had three goals over the final three mini-games that were played, and may have people scrambling to find GophersTV this winter.
Considering he figured his hands were at "about 75 percent" on Day 1 of camp, it was nice to see him playing with a confidence reflective of his draft position…with the disclaimer, of course, that this was merely, in the words of general manager Jason Botterill, "summer hockey," and certainly not anything close to the real deal.
Other noteworthy competitors included Brandon Hagel with multiple goals, Brendan Guhle skating as advertised, and Glotov delivering a dagger to push his Team Gold into the Final
Eric Cornel aided the winners in White with a pair of goals, and teammate Hudson Fasching was very strong in the offensive zone, creating, screening, and dominating his areas - even if he could have had a handful more goals on the day.
I thought all the camp invitees managed to show themselves well, and maybe this is being part of the winning group, but left-shot defenseman Erik Autio, a soon-to-be senior at Penn State, was very good with all that open ice. Multiple goals, good control of the flow of the game. I'm interested to see where his career goes after college.
We'll keep this brief. Watch this guy.
Video: Oskari Laaksonen: Development Camp
We've dubbed Laaksonen the winner of this year's Vasily Glotov Media Darling Award.
Time now to answer some twitter questions that came my way. Thanks to all for your input.
Good kid. Works hard. Smart ideas. Needs to work on his interviewing skills…
I'm taking all three - because I can. And we now have Uber!
Over the past two seasons combined, Sam Reinhart ranks 114th in NHL scoring, in a cluster of players that includes Adam Henrique, Tyler Bozak, Max Domi, Thomas Vanek, Brandon Dubinsky, and Nick Foligno.
Despite struggling to score at even-strength, he was more productive in Year 2 than he was as a rookie. He was a significant part of the League's No. 1 power play. I think he will continue to get better, I just don't know at which position. He is still a valuable piece.
I just don't see any urgency for it - on either side. There are other priorities.
Too soon for me to even guess. Barring more change, I think Pouliot could earn that time to start. But from a young players' standpoint…gonna have to wait and see.
I would expect a deal being done before arbitration for Robin Lehner. As for other free agents, I posed that question to Botterill on Tuesday.
"I think you're still looking at UFAs and I think it's still sort of a discussion, is there still someone out there that you want to add right now or is it better to keep a spot open to see something materialize from a trade standpoint closer to the start of the season?" he said.
You can check out his full comments here:
Video: BOTTERILL: Post Dev Camp Day 4
Hard question to answer from a "hockey standpoint" only because they walked into different circumstances. Tim was at the front end of the rebuild and Jason now has the cornerstone pieces with which to work, and now needs to use his cap smarts to augment the roster his way. Time will tell, I guess.
Personality wise…most people would draw the same conclusions. Personally, both were/have been very helpful to me in doing my job.
Unless the injury bug attacks the Sabres blueline again, I think he'll get more than a half-season in Roch.
I think the stable is looking better, but I'm quite sure the other 30 clubs around the league feel the same way. Only way to tell is when the real games begin…at all levels.
I think if Pominville wants it he can probably have it. Jake's about as easygoing as it gets.
Not this year. Would be surprised if Luukkonen is here for camp.
Life On The Road
Pretty good chance - after missing his show at CMAC - that I'll be heading to Toronto to see this guy at the end of August.
In The Community
We had some really significant news on the Alix Rice Peace Park Project last week that you can check out here.
Thanks again to the large media contingent that showed up to tell our story, to everyone that has helped us get to this point, and to those who will help us get past the finish line. Nothing but love for all of you!
And in a related note, I'll be stacking cheese for @RockinForRice at the Italian Festival this Sunday!
Have a great summer, everyone!