Hockey was back at HarborCenter on Friday morning with prospects hitting the ice for a two-hour practice to kick off the 2016 Prospects Challenge. Much like when we last saw the group at development camp in July, the young players got another taste of the fast-paced system the Sabres are looking to employ throughout their organization.
"What we're trying to do is help their details and habits of their game," Rochester Americans coach Dan Lambert said. "What we're trying to teach them, they can bring back to wherever they're playing and hopefully do a job there. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel. It is ice hockey, there's no doubt, but we are trying to incorporate how we want to play in Buffalo and Rochester."
The difference between the Prospects Challenge and development camp is the early chance it offers young players to face actual competition from other NHL organizations rather than competing against their own teammates in scrimmages. The added intensity, Lambert said, gives some players a better chance to put their games on full display.
Among the players who impressed Lambert at practice was 2016 first-round draft pick Alexander Nylander , fresh off a summer spent training with his father and brother in Sweden. Nylander said his goal for the offseason was to become stronger and more explosive, but it was his practice habits that caught his coach's attention on Friday.
"I really liked his pace today," Lambert said. "I'm sure that everybody felt the same way. In development camp, some will forget that they're in different ranges of their training depending on how late they played in the season so I thought today he looked really good. He's a player that can make plays and he will make plays and that's what he brings."
The Sabres begin their Prospects Challenge schedule against the Devils on Saturday night and then play the Bruins on Monday. Both contests will be played at HarborCenter at 7 p.m. and can be heard live on WGR 550.
We may have gotten a sneak peek as far as what to expect from the Sabres lineup for the tournament when the team did line work at practice on Friday. Defensive pairs rotated due to the odd number of defensemen, but first repetitions looked like this:
48 William Carrier - 75 Matthew Lane - 56 Justin Bailey
71 Evan Rodrigues - 58 Giorgio Estephan - 70 Alexander Nylander
85 Daniel Muzito-Bagenda - 72 Jean Dupuy - 74 Vaclav Karabacek
62 Brandon Hagel - 83 Vasily Glotov - 73 Nicholas Baptiste
86 Eric Cornel - 59 Cliff Pu - 52 Hudson Fasching
45 Brendan Guhle - 67 Brady Austin
51 Austin Osmanski - 54 Brycen Martin
53 Devante Stephens - 79 Vojtech Budik
64 Paul Geiger
Lambert said that the team will look to play its younger players more so than its veterans but added that it's likely that each prospect will play in at least one of Buffalo's two games. While not set in stone, he also said he expectsLinus Ullmark and Jason Kasdorf to each get one full game in net.
This year's Prospects Challenge roster features a wealth of players who are expected to spend portions of their season in Rochester, which means it also serves as additional time for them to get to know their new head coach. Lambert was an assistant coach in Buffalo last season before being hired to take over the Amerks in May.
"I think the biggest thing is the relationships," Lambert said. "I think it's really important to get to know these young men and see what makes them tick, see what they dislike, what they like, we try to figure it out that way."
Lambert also spoke a bit about the goalie situation in Rochester, affirming that the play of Ullmark and Jason Kasdorf might ultimately dictate who begins the season as the Amerks' No. 1 goaltender.
"Ullmark basically was No. 1 last season," Lambert said. "If he's down there, I'd like to think that it's going to be his job to lose but I don't want to say that because you never know. Kasdorf is also a prospect an if he steps in and stands on his head it might be hard to keep him out of the net."