It is November yet? Not quite, but the first month of hockey is nearly in the books for Sabres prospects.
We spoke with assistant general manager Steve Greeley on Wednesday to discuss five young players who have had particularly strong starts to their seasons.
Let's start with Matej Pekar, who recently signed an entry-level contract. What did the organization see that warranted giving him a deal?
Well, we were really happy with him in September when he was in Buffalo, getting to know the person and the player. We didn't think that waiting any longer was worth it. Getting him under contract was great. He's off to a great start in the OHL.
He's being productive, he's putting up points, but he plays a very tenacious and fast, competitive style. We certainly appreciated everything he did in September and thought it warranted giving him an entry-level deal.
We spoke with Dale Hawerchuk recently and he spoke highly of Pekar's work ethic. Is that something that stood out to you?
Yeah, absolutely, and our amateur scouts did a great job of identifying his work ethic, his compete, his tenacity. That's exactly what we saw in September and what we've seen in the Ontario Hockey League in early October. I think Dale Hawerchuk and the amateur scouts are dead on that this is a kid that I don't think will be denied in his pursuit to be a National Hockey League player."
Has he exceeded your expectations offensively?
I wouldn't say he's exceeded, I would say he's meeting them. He's doing exactly what we hoped. The tough part for him will be staying that consistent offensively, but I think what we've been happy with is the opportunities. I think he's leading his team in shots on goal, the points are coming, and like with any young player there'll be some ups and downs, but we know that his downs won't be the result of his work ethic or his compete level. Every player goes through a little bit of a time where he's snake-bitten, but as long as he keeps generating chances and impacting the game offensively, the points will come back. We're just so pleased with his start."
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is coming off a shutout over the weekend. What are you looking for from him in his first North American season?
I think the thing we've been excited about is it is different ice sheets. It's a different game, the shots are coming from different spots on the ice. It's probably a little quicker around the net, things happen a little faster. So, we've been really excited with just how quickly he's adjusted to North American play.
Seamus Kotyk, our goaltender development coach, has been up there to see him a few times and they have a great relationship going. It's certainly nice having Luukkonen closer to us this year just from a development standpoint. We've been thrilled with his start and we think he's done an excellent job at adjusting to North American hockey.
Jacob Bryson has four points in five games for Providence. As a smaller defenseman, how much of his game is based on offense and adding on the rush?
I think Jacob's an elite puck mover. He relies on his brain and his hockey IQ, and the points are starting to come, which is great to see. I think he's their leading-scoring defenseman, but it's the manner in which he's doing it. He's always up in the play, he's part of the rush, but he also starts his team's breakouts.
I know, for the coaches at Providence College, they're confident that they're going to get out of the zone when the puck's coming to his corner or the puck is on his stick. That's what we like. He plays a fast, offensive-minded, transition type of game that we think can translate to the pro level.
He was put into a leadership role as a sophomore last season. Is that something you've identified in him, and how important is that for the organization?
Yeah, he's certainly a leader and a high-character guy. You kind of see it in the trust level with the coaches at Providence and the amount of ice time they give him and the situations they use him in. We are looking for leaders and high-character guys that we think play winning hockey and understand how to put the team before themselves.
Jacob isn't a player who gets caught up the ice trying to make sure he gets his points. This is a guy that knows how to play winning hockey and understands the importance of all three zones.
Oskari Laaksonen has been playing on the top pair for Ilves in Finland. What kind of responsibility does that present him?
It's a huge responsibility, playing in the Elite League in Finland in front of big crowds and major fanbases. For him to be playing such an important role as a young kid we think is excellent for his development. He played just under 24 minutes on the weekend. I think his point production is at a great pace right now, so his development over there is excellent. This is his first full season in the Finnish Elite League, really, and we're thrilled with the direction it's going.
Have you noticed physical growth since he was drafted?
Yeah, he certainly gained some weight and I think our strength coaches and our development coaches have done an excellent job at making Oskari understand the importance of the weight room and nutrition and working on his frame so that he can play versus men in Finland and North America.
Lastly, Marcus Davidsson is beginning his second season in the Swedish Hockey League. What would represent growth for him?
Certainly ice time, seeing him put in even more situations than last year. I think that's a good indicator of the trust level from the coaches, just how often he's being used. I think that we're starting to see some growth from him offensively, he's off to a good start. But Marcus is such a responsible player that we're not just looking at goals and assists. He's a guy that we think can be used in all situations there and sometimes that's dictated by your team and how they use you. So, for Marcus, just seeing him continue to get increased ice time in the SHL and play an important role for Djurgardens I think will be great for his development.
Nights of firsts
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (2017, second round) recorded the first shutout of his OHL career on Saturday in Sudbury's 2-0 home win over Kingston. He made 29 saves and improved his season record to 6-2-0.
Up next for the Wolves: They'll face Peterborough on Thursday, host Kingston again on Friday and travel to Ottawa for an afternoon game on Sunday.
On Tuesday, freshman defenseman Mattias Samuelsson (2018, second round) potted the first goal of his collegiate career as Western Michigan defeated Bowling Green 4-1. The Broncos have the weekend off and will resume action on Nov. 2.
Ilves defenseman Oskari Laaksonen (2017, third round) is riding a three-game point streak after picking up an assist an each of Ilves' last three contests. He also skated 23:33 and recorded five shots on goal in a 6-2 win on Wednesday against KalPa.
Linus Weissbach (2017, seventh round) picked up an assist in a loss against Clarkson on Friday and a pair of helpers in a 7-1 win over St. Lawrence on Saturday. The Wisconsin sophomore is also on a three-game point streak with a goal and four assists in that stretch. The Badgers host Michigan Tech for a pair of games this weekend.
|Skater ||Position ||Team (League) ||GP ||G ||A ||PTS |
|Christopher Brown ||F ||Boston College (NCAA) ||3 ||0 ||2 ||2 |
|Jacob Bryson ||D ||Providence (NCAA) ||5 ||2 ||2 ||4 |
|Ivan Chukarov ||D ||Massachusetts (NCAA) ||2 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
|Marcus Davidsson ||F ||Djuragardens (SHL) ||10 ||1 ||5 ||6 |
|Casey Fitzgerald ||D ||Boston College (NCAA) ||3 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
|Miska Kukkonen ||D ||Tappara U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga) ||15 ||0 ||3 ||3 |
|Oskari Laaksonen ||D ||Ilves (Liiga) ||15 ||1 ||8 ||9 |
|Linus Lindstrand Cronholm ||D ||IK Pantern (Allsvenskan) ||6 ||1 ||2 ||3 |
|Brett Murray ||F ||Youngstown (USHL) ||8 ||1 ||4 ||5 |
|Philip Nyberg ||D ||UConn (NCAA) ||4 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
|Matej Pekar ||F ||Barrie (OHL) ||13 ||7 ||8 ||15 |
|Mattias Samuelsson ||D ||Western Michigan (NCAA) ||6 ||1 ||0 ||1 |
|Linus Weissbach ||F ||Wisconsin (NCAA) ||4 ||1 ||4 ||5 |
|Maxwell Willman ||F ||Boston University (NCAA) ||3 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
|William Worge Kreu ||D ||Linkoping J20 (SuperElit) ||7 ||0 ||0 ||0 |
|Goaltender ||Team (League) ||GP ||W ||L ||OTL ||SOL ||GAA ||SV% |
|Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen ||Sudbury (OHL) ||8 ||6 ||2 ||0 ||0 ||2.39 ||.928 |