TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN – The Buffalo Sabres have found success pretty quickly in the NHL Prospects Tournament. Each time they’ve participated, they’ve reached the title game, winning the whole thing back in 2011.
Nine players from last year’s second-place team return for the Sabres. Buffalo made it to the finals a year ago, but lost to the Detroit Red Wings.
Center Daniel Catenacci is the only player back from Buffalo’s 2011 championship team. He knows what it was like to win – and he knows how disappointing last year’s loss was. While there’s a sense of unfinished business, he understands it’s a new year with a new group of players.
“Take it fresh, but at the same time, you don’t like to lose,” he said. “Being in the finals last year and not winning sucked. We want to win this year.”
The Sabres have four first-round picks on their Traverse City roster including defenseman Nikita Zadorov. In last year’s tournament, he scored the overtime winner against the New York Rangers to help Buffalo lock up the No. 1 seed in their division.
Zadorov’s eyes are on making the Sabres’ opening night roster and will try to use this tournament as a springboard into next week’s training camp. Now having one year in the Sabres organization under his belt, he’ll try to continue to be a player his teammates can look up to.
“You’ve got to be a leader every game. It doesn’t matter if you’re an older guy or a young guy,” he said. "I’ve got to step up in the NHL. I’ll have to be a leader over there and that’s my goal."
The tournament features the top prospects in eight organizations. All have the goals of making a name for themselves while helping their respective teams win.
“It’s a hard tournament. It’s a tough battle,” Catenacci said. “Guys think they’re coming in and playing a summer tournament to get ready for camp but this is a great opportunity to show your organization and obviously other organizations what you can do. It’s very important for camp to be seen and get noticed.”
Along with Zadorov and Catenacci, Rasmus Ristolainen, Joel Armia, Justin Bailey, Justin Kea, Brady Austin, Colin Jacobs and Andrey Makarov also return.
Coach Chadd Cassidy will name a captain prior to the game. The man wearing the “C” could very well be one of those returning skaters.
Forward Nicholas Baptiste would have made 10, but he’s out with an injury and didn’t make the trip.
A slew of injuries at the goaltending position in the Sabres organization during the season, Makarov was called upon to help lead the Rochester Americans into the playoffs. He was solid in net down the stretch and is ready to take the reins for Buffalo in Traverse City after serving as the third-string goaltender last year.
He’ll start in goal Friday afternoon in Traverse City against the Carolina Hurricanes at 4 p.m.
The game can be heard on ESPN 1520 in Buffalo and will feature play-by-play with Paul Hamilton, color commentary by Brian Duff and analysis during the second intermission from SabresProspects.com’s Kris Baker.
A recap and video analysis with Duff and Baker will be up on Sabres.com following the game.