In a discussion of which Sabres prospects might compete for a roster spot in Buffalo this fall, the first names to come up would probably be the five with NHL experience already under their belt: Justin Bailey, Nicholas Baptiste, Hudson Fasching, Brendan Guhle and C.J. Smith.
Following an opening loss in the Prospects Challenge that was largely headlined by underdogs, Buffalo's game against Boston on Saturday was one for the veterans. All five of those players scored goals in a thrilling, physical 7-4 win over the Bruins at HarborCenter.
Video: Prospects Challenge Highlights: Sabres vs Bruins
On a micro level, the victory showed a great deal of discipline on behalf of the young Sabres while the Bruins took penalty after penalty in the third period. Long-term, it may have served as a preview for the roster competition set to take place over the next month.
"All of us want to make the team this year," Baptiste said. "There's potential for guys in my position to crack the roster this year and that's been my goal all summer long. That's what I've worked towards. Myself, Justin, Hudson, Brendan all had great games tonight. Three of us are older and guys who need to lead this younger group to be successful in this tournament but also moving forward."
Video: BAPTISTE: Postgame
The quintet of Bailey (one goal), Baptiste (1+1), Fasching (2+1), Guhle (1+2) and Smith (1+2) combined for 12 points. Vaclav Karabacek also scored a goal for the Sabres, while Cliff Pu and Vasily Glotov each tallied a pair of assists.
Only two of those goals were scored at even strength, one of which was scored into an empty net by Fasching with 1:05 remaining. The Sabres scored four times on the power play, while Bailey found the back of the net on a shorthanded breakaway.
Guhle in particular provided a glimpse of the versatility he might one day mean to the Buffalo power play. His assist on Fasching's power-play goal in the first period came in the form of a one-time shot from the point, creating a rebound for the forward to clean up and give the Sabres a 1-0 lead.
In the second period, Guhle showed his ability to move with speed and join the rush. He carried the puck across his own blue line and through the neutral zone before passing to Smith along the right wall. Smith fed a perfect pass back to Guhle at the Boston net-front, setting the latter up for a tap-in goal.
"I came in and saw C.J. over there," Guhle said. "He was open so I gave it to him and I just went to the net for a mid-lane and that's a pretty standard paly coming in off the rush. I know it was a power play and all but still, you never know. He made a perfect pass right on my tape."
A standard play, perhaps, but not something you normally expect to see from a 20-year-old defenseman.
"His speed there, and he continued on his route and scored backside there, it was amazing," Rochester Americans coach Chris Taylor said. "Not too many guys as a defenseman would continue to keep going, especially when you pass it off to the side there. Just a smart play, and he's a smart player."
Video: GULHLE: Postgame
Bailey and Baptiste are the two longest-serving prospects on the Sabres roster, both entering their fifth camps and thus feeling pressure to stand out amongst their counterparts. Bailey has applied his dynamic speed in both games thus far, but had been unable to finish on multiple scoring chances before a fallen Bruins player freed him for a shorthanded breakaway.
Baptiste, meanwhile, admitted to a sense of relief when he finally notched his first goal 2:49 into the third period, which would break a 3-3 tie and give the Sabres a lead they'd never look back from.
"I was gripping my stick a little bit in the first game and the first period of this game" he said. "But it's the second game of the year … It was definitely a relief to score, but I thought I felt better as the game went on and that's what's most important to me especially going into camp."
After Baptiste's goal, the Sabres would spend the majority of their third period with the extra man. What seemingly started with a charging minor against Fasching evolved into six third-period penalties for the Bruins as opposed to four for the Sabres, including matching fighting majors for Jake DeBrusk and Arvin Atwal after Baptiste was hit from behind in the corner.
The Sabres used those power plays to pull away, with Smith and Karabacek netting extra-man goals in the latter half of the period.
"Our guys played disciplined, I've got to admit," Taylor said. "I didn't see a lot of penalties on our side. The game came a little bit unraveled and I think our guys kept on coming at them and they were getting a little frustrated."
Video: TAYLOR: Postgame
Taylor praised the leadership of Bailey and Baptiste as a factor in the resiliency and discipline the Sabres showed in that period. What he said about the pair could go for all of the players who scored goals: On Saturday, internal competition was a win for the entire team.
"They really want to be a difference in this organization," he said. "I think they want to show everybody what they can do and how they can play and they're competing internally too. I like that. It's good, it's healthy, it's pushing each other, it's pushing everybody in the organization to be better."
Nylander out for remainder of Prospects Challenge
Alex Nylander, scratched due to a lower-body injury, will miss the remainder of the Prospects Challenge for precautionary reasons. The team announced the injury prior to puck drop.
"He just didn't feel right this morning," Taylor said. "It's precautionary, we're just going to hold him out for the rest of the tournament. We want to make sure he'll be back for training camp. But he'll get evaluated on Monday and Tuesday."
Prospects Challenge concludes Monday
The Sabres will conclude their Prospects Challenge schedule against the Pittsburgh Penguins at HarborCenter on Monday night. The Penguins are coming off a 6-2 win over New Jersey on Saturday afternoon.
Puck drop between the Sabres and Penguins at 7 p.m. Join us downtown or watch live on Sabres.com.