The future is coming on for the Buffalo Sabres.
The Sabres take on the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday at the Bell Centre for their first preseason game at 7:30 p.m. and the Buffalo lineup is filled with young players striving to make the NHL this season.
Among those players are five first-round picks from the past four years. Mark Pysyk (23rd overall, 2010), Mikhail Grigorenko (12th overall, 2012), Zemgus Girgensons (14th overall, 2012), Rasmus Ristolainen (eighth overall, 2013) and Nikita Zadorov (16th overall, 2013) will all be on the ice for Buffalo. The game can be heard live on WGR 550.
For Ristolainen, 18, it’ll be his first game on North American ice against NHL-ready players. The 6-foot-4, 224-pound Finnish defenseman played with Zadorov and Girgensons in a prospect tournament in Traverse City, Mich. last week, but being in an NHL training camp for just a few days has already made him aware of some key differences.
“There is more tempo than in Traverse and in the Finnish league,” Ristolainen said after the morning skate at First Niagara Center. “I think I’m [big enough where I] can play the plays, take a couple hits and win the battles.”
Ristolainen is ready for his first real professional experience in a building that will likely be very rowdy. The Habs had over 21,000 fans show up for a scrimmage on Saturday.
“I’ve been waiting a lot to play a game,” Ristolainen said. “It’s nice to play in Montreal. I’ve heard it’s one of the best rinks in this league and all the fans there so I’m so excited.”
Sabres coach Ron Rolston said after practice that the preseason lineups will have a younger flair. The coaching staff is looking to give younger players an opportunity to showcase their talents while making sure the veteran players, while getting the necessary reps in, are well rested for the start of the season.
“There’s going to be a lot of opportunity for those [younger] players and they’re going to get a lot of time here in the exhibition,” Rolston said. “They’re important to where we’re headed. We have a lot of faith in all those guys so it’s going to be exciting to watch them grow even through this exhibition schedule.”
An example of mixing rookies in with veterans can be seen in the line combination of Johan Larsson between Girgensons and right wing Drew Stafford, who’s entering his ninth season in the NHL.
“We talked a little bit about combinations and we’re just trying to find the right chemistry, but also give guys opportunities like Zemgus playing with a guy like [Stafford] who’s a veteran offensively," Rolston said. "As far as [Larsson] goes, he’s a gritty, two-way center but he can make plays, so there are three guys there that can all make a play but we’ve got a lot of compete on that line, too.”
Rolston also said Jhonas Enroth and Matt Hackett will split time in Montreal. Enroth was the first goaltender off the ice during the morning skate, so he’ll likely start in goal.
Steve Ott – Mikhail Grigorenko – Ville Leino
Zemgus Girgensons – Johan Larsson – Drew Stafford
Luke Adam – Kevin Porter – Brian Flynn
Colton Gillies – Cody McCormick – Patrick Kaleta
Henrik Tallinder – Mark Pysyk
Mike Weber – Rasmus Ristolainen
Nikita Zadorov – Jamie McBain