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CHL-eligible prospects set for start of Sabres camp

Kris Baker takes a look at Buffalo's top junior prospects

by Kris Baker @SabresProspects / SabresProspects.com

With the Prospects Challenge complete and the youngsters set to be joined by the veterans for the start of main camp, let's review the prospects likely to be returned to their junior squads for the 2017-18 season.

 


OHL

Entering his second NHL training camp, London Knights forward Cliff Pu (2016, third round) emerges from the Prospects Challenge as the forward that enhanced his stock the most in the eyes of the Sabres' brass. 

The speedy Pu, who recorded one assist and a fighting major in his only preseason appearance with London prior to heading to Buffalo, thrived in the tournament's three games, notching one goal, three assists and seven shots on goal as he centered the top even-strength unit and earned plenty of power-play time.

After getting an extended look from Phil Housley's staff in main camp, Pu is expected be back in a leadership role with the always-competitive London lineup, where he paced the Knights last season with 86 points (35+51) in 63 games, producing 14 more points than the next closest scorer, while winning 60 percent of his faceoffs. 

Pu blazed out of the blocks last season, notching 39 points in his first 20 games, which included an 18-game point streak. He immediately vaulted to the top of the OHL scoring list, where he hovered all year before finishing 8th among all league scorers.

Pu's personal goals for the year would include signing his entry-level contract with the Sabres and leveraging his versatile two-way skill and playmaking sense to skate for Canada at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo.

Because he was drafted out of the Canadian Hockey League and will not be 20 years of age by Dec. 31 of this year, Pu is not eligible to be play in the American Hockey League this season. 

 

Mississauga defenseman Austin Osmanski (2016, seventh round) played in two of the three games for the Sabres at the Prospects Challenge, amassing four minor penalties along the way as a third-pair defender.

Once his training camp work is complete, Osmanski will embark on his third OHL season as one of the Steelheads' four returning defensemen from last year's Eastern Conference champion.

Osmanski, who produced two goals and eight points last season, can certainly play a physical game. 

This season, he'll want to build off that and prove to scouts that he can skate at a high level, carry the puck with poise and confidence, and display pinpoint passing skills.

Before coming back to his hometown of Buffalo for camp, Osmanski rung up three helpers in two preseason tilts with the Steelheads. He hasn't been a major point producer since making the leap to major-junior with four goals and 18 points in 120 career contests, so driving play more often from the backend should lead to statistical growth as he is relied upon to be a more assertive locker room leader.


WHL

One week before departing for Buffalo, Red Deer forward Brandon Hagel (2016, sixth round) hobbled to the bench after taking a knee-on-knee blow in a Rebels' training camp scrimmage.

It is unclear if it impacted Hagel, a scrappy sparkplug who can fill the net, in his two appearances at the Prospects Challenge, where he finished with two shots on goal and tripping minor before sitting out the final contest versus Pittsburgh.

Hagel is expected to head back to Red Deer, where he returns as the club's top returning scorer following a 31-goal, 71-point cruise in 2016-17.

Hagel closed strong last season, cashing 16 goals in his final 13 games (including the playoffs) as he rode shotgun to Czech standout Michael Spacek (WPG) all season-long on the Rebels' top line.

With Spacek off the pro ranks and the bar set high, Hagel is looking to reproduce the rhythm in camp with a new Czech centerman as Kristian Reichel, son former NHLer and IIHF Hall of Famer Robert, arrives on the scene for his inaugural North American season. He notched a pair of assists in his only preseason appearance with the Rebels in a game that saw Reichel record a hat trick.

This season will tell a clear story about Hagel's future projection in his contract year. 

We know he battles hard every shift with a greasy net-front mentality, so scouts will want to see him build on his core skills, smooth out his passing game, and continue to not only attack the zone with speed, but continue to finish plays at a high rate from close range.

Coming off a solid development camp effort, Prince Albert defenseman Vojtech Budik (2016, fifth round) played all three games of the Prospects Challenge on the Sabres' top defensive pair alongside former Prince Albert Raiders teammate Brendan Guhle.

Budik was relatively steady in the tournament, overcoming the odd turnover with pass attempts across the middle of the ice to provide stout play in front of his net and yeoman's work on the penalty kill. He finished with no points while producing one shot on goal in each of the three games.

With a booming point shot and the ability to lead the rush out of his zone, Budik looks poised for a big year on the Raiders blueline that should see him eat up top-pair minutes in all situations, play a big role for the Czech Republic's World Junior entry and make a strong push for an entry-level contract.

Budik took his game up a notch last season, finishing second on the team with 25 assists, including 12 of those helpers in the final 14 games as the Raiders' young group trended upward to set the table for elevated expectations in 2017-18.


QMJHL

A microcosm of the entire Sabres squad, Vasily Glotov (2016, seventh round) seemed to improve with each passing period in the first two games of the Prospects Challenge. 

Glotov set up Pu for the Sabres' first goal of the tournament and showed early chemistry with second-year pro Vaclav Karabacek prior to working his way up the lineup for the final two games. 

In the final game against the Penguins, a 5-3 loss, Glotov did not record a point, but noticeably skated with a purpose, keeping his legs pumping on every shift right to the very end.

He finished the tournament with three assists and three shots on goal.

Glotov has yet to sign an NHL contract, and while he is eligible to play in the AHL, he is set to play out the season as a 20-year-old European import with the Shawinigan Cataractes following an offseason trade from Cape Breton.

Glotov was a 15-goal, 50-point scorer a season ago, and should get a good chance to challenge the point-per-game benchmark this season with his new club. 

He's a bigger, quicker forward this time around, and the top line minutes aided by a mobile Cataractes defensive corps led by Samuel Girard (NSH) should be just what the doctor ordered.

It appears he's on a good track as Glotov poured in three goals and an assist in his first two preseason games with the Cataractes prior to coming to Buffalo.

The Sabres open training camp on Thursday, and the first on-ice practices take place Friday morning at HarborCenter.

For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker's website, SabresProspects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@SabresProspects).

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