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PROSPECTS CHALLENGE MORNING SKATE: SABRES VS. DEVILS

by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

 SABRES VS. DEVILS 7 p.m. (Radio: WGR 550)
CATENACCI SEES BIG OPPORTUNITY
Daniel Catenacci has been coming to events like Development Camp in July, and/or Prospects Challenges like this weekend for five years.

Think about that.

Buffalo’s second choice, 77th overall in the 2011 draft, Catenacci followed that selection by progressing in goals and points in each of his remaining junior seasons.

And he went from 10-10-20 in his first year in Rochester to 15-14-29 last season with the Amerks, good for fifth-best on the team among forwards.

Yet here he is again, now a full four years older than many of those he’ll be playing with and against this weekend. And still without an NHL game played on his resume.

Thinking back to a conversation we had in July, I remember Catenacci already being focused on parlaying a strong second half in Rochester to a big September in Buffalo.

Well, here we are: Downtown Buffalo on a cool Sept. 12 day.

And after watching the morning skate in advance of the Sabres/Devils game tonight, it was really interesting to see how Catenacci was about to be employed by coach Randy Cunneyworth and his staff.

At 5-on-5, it looks as though he’ll play on the left wing with center Giorgio Estephan and right wing Eric Cornel. Definitely a skilled trio, even if listed as a third line behind the lines featuring Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.

Of most interest though, was the power play opportunity Catenacci may get – as the fourth forward on a unit with Eichel, Evan Rodrigues, and Nick Baptiste, a unit anchored by 18-year-old defenseman Brendan Guhle.

Cunneyworth had just spoken of how Guhle is in that spot so they can push his abilities, having him play with special players.

And when pushed on what it means for a 22-year-old like “Cat” to be given a similar chance, the answer was telling.

“It speaks to his ability. We’re not putting guys into situations that they can’t handle. We value them for being that style of player, and type of player,” Cunneyworth said.

“We’re kind of mentoring that, and teaching him how to be that player in that position. It’s a great opportunity for him, and we’ll look for some good things going forward.”

Personally, I love that. It’s good coaching, good mentoring, and instills in and/or reinforces what a player needs to succeed – belief in his own abilities.

My eyes will be on Catenacci tonight.
                                     -Brian Duff, Sabres TV Host
When Jack Eichel spoke to the media following Friday morning’s Prospects Challenge practice at First Niagara Center, he emphasized the speed-first style of play that the Sabres’ coaches were expecting from the young players throughout the weekend.

Saturday morning, Amerks head coach Randy Cunneyworth – who’s leading the prospects this weekend – spoke in a similar vein when asked what to expect from Buffalo’s first game against New Jersey.

“Well, I would love a quick game, a game where we’re getting a lot of pucks to the net, we’re using our speed, we’ve got a lot of guys involved,” Cunneyworth said. “I think hopefully what we’re trying to incorporate is a bit of [Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma’s] mentality where he wants D available to help out offensively.”

If playing hard and getting involved is the Sabres’ mission, their players certainly won’t lack motivation. This weekend’s games mark the prospect’s last chance to prove themselves prior to the beginning of Training Camp, which opens on Sept. 17.

Players like Justin Bailey, a Buffalo native entering his first year of professional hockey, have taken notice of the opportunity to have two extra games to compete against other organizations.

“I think we look at just the depth we have at every position, it’s a dog fight for spots on this team now and I think they’ve done a great job of bringing in prospects, bringing in guys to make the organization competitive and that’s something you want,” Bailey said. “I think it creates a real good atmosphere.”

According to Cunneyworth, every prospect at the challenge will receive playing time at some point, a decision he made along with Bylsma and Sabres general manager Tim Murray.

“We’ve got a few new guys that obviously we’re looking at and it’s an opportunity to see everybody,” he said. “We’re looking to win the game but also we’re looking to look at guys and see what they have to offer. And obviously if it’s something that we like then it’s gonna be something we look forward to.”


MAKAROV TO START
One of the big questions heading into tonight’s game was answered when Cunneyworth announced that Andrey Makarov will start in net against the Devils. The 22-year-old made 33 saves in his only performance at the NHL level last season, a 3-0 loss to the Islanders, and figures to possibly see time in net during the preseason.

Keegan Asmundson, a non-roster invitee out of Canisius College, is slated to dress at Makarov’s back-up against New Jersey, but Cunneyworth said that it has not yet been decided whether or not the two goalies will split time. Goaltender C.J. Motte, who signed an AHL deal with Rochester in July, is also at camp for Buffalo.


POWER PLAY PREVIEW
Eichel and fellow top-prospect Sam Reinhart were on separate power play units in Saturday’s practice. Reinhart’s unit featured Bailey and Vaclav Karabacek at forward along with defensemen Matt Prapavessis and Brycen Martin.

Eichel’s power play unit, meanwhile, included four forwards -- Eichel, Nicholas Baptiste, Daniel Catenacci and Evan Rodrigues – playing alongside defenseman and 2015 draft pick Brendan Guhle

“It’s obviously an opportunity to set up some plays, get the pucks the net, play with some special players too,” Cunneyworth said. “I think building up confidence is huge for these young guys to look at who they have the potential to be out there with. It puts a little pressure on them obviously when you’re playing with such elite guys, and that’s great.”


SATURDAY’S LINEUP

71 Evan Rodrigues – 41 Jack Eichel – 73 Nicholas Baptiste
74 Vaclav Karabacek – 23 Sam Reinhart – 56 Justin Bailey
43 Daniel Catenacci – 58 Giorgio Estephan – 86 Eric Cornel
70 Matt Garbowsky – 72 Jean Dupuy – 64 Cason Hohmann

45 Brendan Guhle – 81 Spiro Goulakos
53 Devante Stephens – 78 Matt Prapavessis
54 Brycen Martin – 85 Josh Chapman

1 Andrey Makarov
33 Keegan Asmundson

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