Twenty-eight players are donning blue and gold as part of the Prospects Challenge, and a three-man broadcast crew is awaiting a view from different angles and personal perspectives.
WGR 550’s longtime Sabres beat reporter Paul Hamilton will do play-by-play and, not unlike Rochester Americans coach Randy Cunneyworth, who will be behind the bench for the round-robin tournament, Hamilton is focused on the team first.
“I'm looking to see these kids start jelling as a group. Last year in Traverse City, you could see there was talent, but it was all individualized,” Hamilton said. “I think it's important they start getting to know each other and play for each other. I saw that two years ago when they went to the finals against Detroit.”
The tournament begins Saturday night when the Sabres host the New Jersey Devils at 7 p.m. at First Niagara Center, and will be broadcast live on WGR Sports Radio 550.
Former Sabre and current co-host of Sabres Hockey Hotline Andrew Peters will serve as analyst next to Hamilton in the Ted Darling Memorial Press Box.
“I think Buffalo has the strongest roster of the three teams,” Peters said. “I'm not saying they should win every game, but I expect them to be the hardest working team and the hardest team to play against.
Also, they have no excuses for their PP to not score or at least create some great chances with that talent they have.”
And staying on the team theme, Kris Baker of SabresProspects.com – who will be viewing the game from ice level between the benches – has three points of emphasis.
“Firstly, the Sabres will need to establish a consistent net-front presence. The team has struggled the past few rookie tournaments in terms of creating chaos down low. They’ll need to make the goalies work more to see shots and be there for second chances,” Baker said.
“Secondly, the power play needs to click and make the most of their chances. They have the firepower in place with Eichel, Reinhart, McCabe, Baptiste et al. to be dominant with the man advantage. Look for Baptiste to open up in the low left circle for one-timers and we should expect McCabe to creep into the high slot as the puck circulates.
“Lastly, the Sabres have a fairly deep group of forwards, so the defensemen will need to be sharp with their outlets…quick decisions when given an open lane should make a huge difference in terms of offensive flow.
|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert) |
Given their draft pedigree Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel are expected to garner the lion’s share of attention at this Prospects Challenge, presented by Tops, Post Foods and Honey Bunches of Oats – probably from fans and media alike, Hamilton included.
“I'm almost more focused on Reinhart than Eichel,” he said. “Of course I’m intrigued to see Eichel, but Sam's lack of size and skating hurt him in Traverse. After what I saw in July, I'm really looking forward to seeing him and where he is.”
But his view, and call, will be far from two-dimensional.
“I have become a huge [Brendan] Guhle fan,” Hamilton said of the Sabres 2015 second-round pick. “And that was after just seeing him in prospects camp. The stable of young D has been flipped to forward and they need to get a few back into the organization. I'm really looking forward to seeing where he and [Brycen] Martin [the 74th overall selection in 2014] are in their development and if they can become top prospects.
“I also want to see how much [Eric] Cornel has improved. He had a good first game last year [in Traverse City] and disappeared. Vaclav Karabacek really came on in the second half for his junior team [Baie-Comeau] and had a great playoff. Can he translate that skill he has into the pro game?”
Hamilton adds “[Evan] Rodrigues is somebody I just have a feeling might be able to make it in a few years. I saw enough in July that I'm interested to see where he is against other prospects.”
|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert) |
Baker offered up this list of those vying for his attention.
“Justin Bailey put a lot of work (and his own money) into his summer training. His ramp-up has been evident since being drafted, and he was perhaps the most determined Sabres forward last year in Traverse City. He’s starting to realize how big and strong he is, so we’ll be looking to see that confidence level elevated in these two games as he prepares for his first professional season.
“Guhle will be the youngest skater at the Prospects Challenge. The games versus New Jersey and Boston will be a nice litmus test to see how the defender’s strength level and one-on-one skills hold up against forwards who are bigger and stronger than he’s accustomed to facing in the Western Hockey League. He certainly has the speed and four-way mobility to stay in plays.
“Giorgio Estephan showed impeccable timing and craftiness at July’s Development Camp. He might be a mere blip on the radar for many at this stage as a sixth-round selection, but he closed well in the second half last season in Lethbridge and looks like a lower-line player who can make things happen when given the opportunity.
“Jean Dupuy earned a free agent contract from the Sabres last November thanks to two-way work ethic, toughness and ability to kill penalties. While he has the look of a defensive forward at the pro level, he knows what to do when he gets the puck on his stick. I’ll be looking for Dupuy to set a physical tone in these two games. When he’s on, he plays big beneath the goal line and finds space for his mates.”
When one looks honestly at the Sabres Prospects Challenge roster, it’s hard to envision more than four of these players sticking with the big club all year.”
ONE MORE FROM PETEY
Peters – in light of everything that has happened with the Sabres this off-season – served up this take on Jake McCabe, who enters his second late-summer prospects event.
“He’s a left-handed defenseman that needs to have a solid camp the whole way through,” Peters said. “People think the Sabres might need another lefty or ask one of their righty's to play the offside. Either way, McCabe wants and needs to make it known to management that he can be on the big club for good.”
In addition to Saturday night’s affair, the broadcast team of Hamilton, Peters and Baker will also be tackling Buffalo’s game Monday night against the Boston Bruins.