By Brian Wheeler
Training camp may officially open Thursday morning when veterans are scheduled to report, but the battle for roster spots started Monday and Tuesday between Sabres prospects.
According to Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff, as many as three roster spots will be open in the starting lineup when the regular season starts in Carolina on October 4.
"There aren't a lot [of open lineup spots]," said Ruff. "The defense has been pretty well solidified. There may be a spot for a depth defenseman. Up front, the forwards will be battling for one or two openings."
It's going to be a hard-fought battle for rookies who are looking to break into a lineup with 23 of 26 returning starters.
Gaps created by the departure of JP Dumont, Mike Grier, Rory Fitzpatrick and Jay McKee via unrestricted free agency and Taylor Pyatt's deportation to Vancouver will need to be patched.
Holding the inside track for those positions among forwards are the experienced AHLers: Clarke MacArthur; Mark Mancari; Jiri Novotny; Daniel Paille; Michael Ryan
; and Chris Thorburn.
Novotny, Paille and Thorburn each spent some time on Buffalo's lineup during 2005-06, while MacArthur ranked second on the Amerks in scoring with 53 points (21+32) in 69 games.
"We're anticipating that we have a good number of kids that are going to impress us during training camp," Ruff said. "There's going to be some tough competition for those spots."
"This camp is night-and-day for me," said MacArthur. "It was really good to learn the ropes in the AHL. I'm just trying to take some of the things that I learned there and relate that here."
On the blueline, Nathan Paetsch looks to have an early edge to become Buffalo's seventh defenseman after appearing in one game during the playoffs. The Sabres enter training camp with six proven defensemen, who each boast at least 202 games of experience at the NHL level.
"My first year in Rochester, I played forward and a little defense," said the versatile Paetsch. "My second season, I was more of a stay-at-home defenseman and penalty killer. Last year, I was a power-play guy, so whatever they need me to do, I feel I can roll with it and step into the lineup."
-------------------------------------------------------------- TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE
Thursday, September 14 -- Veterans report; Rookies on-ice, 2-4 p.m.
Friday, September 15 -- On-ice at HSBC Arena, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Saturday, September 16 -- On-ice at HSBC Arena, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Sunday, September 17 -- On-ice at HSBC Arena, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Monday, September 18 -- Buffalo @ Toronto, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, September 19 -- Buffalo @ Columbus, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, September 20 -- On-ice at HSBC Arena, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Thursday, September 21 -- On-ice at HSBC Arena, 6-8 p.m.
Friday, September 22 -- Buffalo @ Ottawa, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, September 23 -- Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh @ Hamilton, Ont., 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, September 24 -- On-ice at HSBC Arena, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Monday, September 25 -- On-ice at HSBC Arena, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Tuesday, September 26 -- On-ice at HSBC Arena, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Wednesday, September 27 -- On-ice at HSBC Arena, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Thursday, September 28 -- On-ice at HSBC Arena, 6-8 p.m.
Friday, September 29 -- Buffalo @ Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, September 30 -- Pittsburgh @ Buffalo, 7 p.m.
Please note that practice times and locations are subject to change.