Monday night will be a night of firsts for the Buffalo Sabres. It's the first game of the preseason both for them and for their opponent, the Minnesota Wild, in the first-ever NHL contest held at Penn State University.
It's also the first NHL game for Alexander Nylander, Buffalo's first-round draft pick this summer. After skating with Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane through the first three days of practice, Nylander will play on a line with Cal O'Reilly and Cole Schneider against Minnesota.
Nylander's first camp is reminiscent of Reinhart's camp two seasons ago. Both were high draft picks with a chance to make the NHL roster at a young age, and both have fathers and brothers who have NHL experience to lean on.
So far, you can count Reinhart as one of the people who have been impressed by Nylander's first few days of camp, not only for his composure, but also for his skill.
"You can tell right away from being with him, he's got a lot of speed, he's got a lot of skill and he can shoot the puck," Reinhart said. "I think the more he plays, the more he's going to adapt and get used to the strength and things so it's going to be interesting how he can come along in the preseason here. I'm excited for him."
Video: Game Preview: Sabres vs. Wild
With the fast-paced nature of these opening practices, it's no wonder Nylander has been one to stand out. Kane said Nylander pulled away from his group in their fitness skating test on Sunday, and Nylander himself said he's enjoys the high-intensity practices that allow him to put his speed to good use.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said he's seen Nylander put his strengths on display more over the last three practices than he did during a trying Prospects Challenge last weekend.
"I think he showed a lot more pace and a lot more speed and a lot more skating over the last three days," Bylsma said. "Yesterday in one-on-ones, that's as fast a skater as we've had on the ice. In the games and the scrimmages that we've had you've seen his speed be a factor. He's attacked with his speed, gone to the net, ran the goalie over.
"I've seen a lot more of that from him the last three days and [it's] something we need to see from him in these exhibition games."
Puck drop between the Sabres and Wild is set for 7 p.m. on Monday night. The game can be heard live on WGR 550, with highlights and postgame coverage to follow on Sabres.com.
Playing at Penn State
The game on Monday will be played at Pegula Ice Arena in State College, Pa., home of the Penn State Nittany Lions hockey program. The venue is named for Sabres owner Terry Pegula, an alumnus of the university. Pegula donated $89 million to his alma mater in 2010 to fund construction of the arena, which helped the program make its jump to NCAA Division I hockey, and then added an additional $13 million for endowed scholarships.
More on the lineup
Johan Larsson will center Kane and Reinhart against Minnesota, presumably as a placeholder until Jack Eichel returns to practice for the Sabres. Eichel has been resting after playing in six games for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey, but Bylsma said he has passed his physical and is expected to practice with the non-game group on Tuesday.
Kane, Eichel and Reinhart found success together as linemates last season before Kane's season ended early with an upper-body injury, and Kane and Reinhart are eager to reignite the chemistry on Monday.
Watch: Dan Bylsma | Watch: Anders Nilsson
"It obviously worked. It worked well," Kane said. "We all like each other, we all enjoyed playing with each other. It looks that way with how things might start at camp. It's exciting and should give us all a good opportunity to have success."
Zemgus Girgensons will fill in at Larsson's normal spot centering Marcus Foligno and Brian Gionta. Bylsma said a goal of this camp is to give Girgensons ample time at center to establish his role going forward after he played primarily on the wing last season.
Anders Nilsson will make his debut in net for the Sabres and will play two periods prior to giving way to Linus Ullmark for the third. Here's how the rest of the lineup should shake out on Monday:
9 Evander Kane - 22 Johan Larsson - 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta
10 Cole Schneider - 19 Cal O'Reilly - 70 Alexander Nylander
48 William Carrier - 58 Giorgio Estephan - 56 Justin Bailey
Defensemen: 4 Josh Gorges, 45 Brendan Guhle, 34 Casey Nelson, 46 Erik Burgdoerfer, 41 Justin Faulk, 67 Brady Austin
31 Anders Nilsson
35 Linus Ullmark