ST. PAUL, Minn. –
Only five days into Training Camp, the Buffalo Sabres will play the first of seven preseason games on Monday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma talked after the team’s morning skate in Minnesota about using this game as an opportunity for players to prove themselves against outside competition as they vie for roles on a revamped roster.
“I think you’re playing a game so soon into the beginning of camp that it’s almost not treated as a regular game,” Bylsma said.
“We’ll be talking about how we need to play and how we want to play, but also there’s individual players that need to go out and play their game and this is an opportunity for them to do that.”
No individual will draw more attention than No. 2 overall draft pick Jack Eichel, who will make his preseason debut. After a strong showing against other young players in the Prospects Challenge, where he tallied a game-winning goal and an assist against Boston’s prospects, Eichel will look to continue his progression against a strong lineup of NHL veterans.
Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. The game can be heard live on WGR 550.
Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and former Sabre Jason Pominville are among the Wild players who will take the ice Monday.
“I think it’s another step for us as a group and this is exciting, it’s our first preseason game, the start of something new so I think we’re all looking forward to it,” Eichel said. “I know myself, personally, I’m looking forward to it. I just want to go out there and work hard and compete and do the things that made me successful.”
As he has throughout the start of camp, Eichel will play on a line with Matt Moulson on the left wing and Zemgus Girgensons on the right.
Bylsma has said that he expects Eichel to be able to control the puck in the offensive zone and find Moulson near the net; Girgensons, meanwhile, offers both hard work on offense and potential relief for Eichel on faceoffs in the defensive zone.
Turning that vision into a reality is what the three players have been working on thus far during camp, an effort that will continue on Monday night.
“I think every day you work with them I think it gets a little bit better,” Eichel said. “I never played with them so obviously it’s new playing with two new guys. It’s still really early, but every day that we’re on the ice together I think we’re developing something.”
McCABE LOOKING TO BUILD
Another player with a big opportunity Monday night is defenseman Jack McCabe, who is looking to earn a spot on the NHL roster in his second full year of professional hockey. Bylsma said that he thought McCabe was the most impressive player on the ice for the Sabres throughout the Prospects Challenge.
“I liked the comments, but you’ve got to take them almost with a grain of salt because you’re playing guys that are 18, 19 years old fresh out of junior and college,” McCabe said of his coach’s praise. “I guess my level of expectation was to be a good player and a noticeable difference maker out there because of my pro experience. So that was nice to get that feedback but really all it does is continue to motivate me to play at that level at this Training Camp.”
With family and friends making the 82-mile drive from McCabe’s hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to be in attendance, the young defenseman will have added motivation to prove that he can sustain his strong play against the Wild’s talented stars.
“It’s another chance for him and he’s just got to keep playing like he is right now: playing strong, steady, skating is really good,” Bylsma said. “He’s been real good defending-wise but he’s also been one of our better guys at moving the puck and moving the puck up the ice so it’s a big opportunity for him tonight.”
McCabe isn’t the only strong defensive prospect playing tonight. Brendan Guhle, selected by Buffalo in the second round of this year’s draft, will make his exhibition debut against Minnesota after an impressive summer in his own right.
“Really, there’s no pressure on the kid. I don’t think he should get caught up in the daunting task of maybe playing against their top line and playing against Parise, playing against Pominville,” Bylsma said of Guhle.
“He’s really done a pretty outstanding job of going out and playing. He could’ve been wide-eyed at rookie camp, he could’ve been wide-eyed in the first few days of [training camp] and he really hasn’t been.”
FREE HOCKEY, REGARDLESS OF THE OUTCOME
Whether or not the game ends in a tie tonight, the teams will play a 5-minute 3-on-3 overtime period upon its conclusion. Each NHL team will play at least three such periods during the preseason as they try to get acclimated to the new 3-on-3 overtime style, which was implemented during the offseason.
Bylsma said that the overtime period might serve as an opportunity for him to have some fun with the lines, potentially playing forwards at all three positions.
“It’s not going to be anything more than a reminder of what we’re trying to do and it’s also a time maybe you’ll see some interesting stuff,” he said.
26 Matt Moulson – 41 Jack Eichel – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 22 Johan Larsson – 82 Marcus Foligno
48 William Carrier – 84 Phil Varone – 56 Justin Bailey
37 Matt Ellis – 72 Jean Dupuy – 42 Justin Kea / 75 Vaclav Karabacek
29 Jake McCabe – 46 Cody Franson
67 Brady Austin – 6 Mike Weber
45 Brendan Guhle – Mark Pysyk
31 Chad Johnson
50 Nathan Lieuwen