Every player who arrives at development camp comes with something to prove. Some players have already tasted the NHL and want to show that they're ready to stay there full-time. Others have come close, still waiting to bridge the gap from Rochester.
In the case of non-roster invitees, they're simply trying to prove that they belong. Michael Campoli, a stay-at-home defenseman from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, is one such player. He went undrafted in June and then received an email from the Sabres a few days later.
Now he has a chance to show that, maybe, the other teams missed out.
"You kind of want to turn some heads out there," Campoli said. "You want to show people that maybe you should have got drafted, so you’ve got a little more spark in you."
Campoli is one of eight invitees at this year's camp, six of which are defensemen. This is his first camp, unlike most of the others. Daniel Brickley, a defenseman who played with Casey Nelson at Minnesota State, participated in camp with the Rangers last summer. Frank Hora, a Cheektowaga native, was just at Blue Jackets camp two weeks ago.
Jalen Chatfield took what he learned from spending last summer with the Detroit Red Wings, first at development camp and then at their prospects tournament in Traverse City, and employed it on his way to setting career highs in goals (10) and assists (27) in his second season with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League.
"I learned so much there," Chatfield said of his experience with Detroit. "That’s why coming here too I try to take as much in as possible. Every little thing. These guys are the best at it, these are good coaches here, so every little thing they teach I try to take back, all the details, and get it down so I can take it back to Windsor."
Three days into camp, the invitees can already rattle off the things they've learned. For Chatfield, it's defensive footwork, opening up instead of crossing over to save a crucial second. For Campoli, it's the need to constantly keep your eyes up.
Hora has the advantage of learning with and from other Western New York natives in attendance. Justin Bailey, in his fourth camp, played with Hora for two years with Kitchener of the OHL and against him growing up. Austin Osmanski spent years playing with Hora's younger brother.
On Saturday, however, instruction takes a back seat to competition at the annual Blue & Gold Scrimmage. It's the day the invitees look forward to the most during the week-long camp, and perhaps their best chance to show what they can do.
"You're here to show what you have," Brickley said. "I made some friends off the ice but tomorrow when you're on the ice you kind of forget about that. You're here for a reason."
"After that we can all have some food together and laugh about it," Chatfield said.
While the scrimmage won't mark the end of camp – there will be more practice sessions on Monday followed by the French Connection 3-on-3 tournament on Tuesday – it does present players with their only true game action. For camp invitees, it's a chance to be tested against the organization's most highly-touted prospects.
"The game tomorrow should be a good tell tale of where everyone's at," Campoli said. "I just hope people will notice."