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by Kris Baker / Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres squandered a three-goal late but showed their mental toughness Friday en route to closing out a 6-5 overtime victory over the New York Rangers at the 2013 NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, MI. Among the many contributors, eight players made lasting impressions in the entertaining affair that should bode well for their development moving forward.

Zemgus Girgensons
The second-year forward didn’t register a point in the victory, but he earned high marks for his all-around impact, with and without the puck. Starting off as the second-line centerman, Girgensons was shuffled up to the left wing spot alongside Johan Larsson and Joel Armia at various points in the second and third periods. He finished his hits with authority, blocked shots, executed with smarts defensively, and functioned well on the penalty kill to show that he’s on the right track to becoming a legitimate difference maker at the professional level.

Nikita Zadorov
Zadorov’s physicality continues to leave an imprint on opposing forwards, but the understated part of his game resides in his ability to pick the right spots to follow the play deep. Friday saw him do that more often than we’ve seen in the past 12 months with his home club, the London Knights. Sure, he launched a booming slap shot from the point to seal the victory in overtime, but his chip-and-charge approach kept the Rangers on their heels at times, while his knack for hitting the open spot down low saw him collect a power play tally in regulation.

Nicholas Baptiste
Even if Baptiste didn’t walk away with a three-point effort (2+1), he’d still earn praise due to his energy, smarts, and attention to detail in all three zones. The Sudbury Wolves standout makes the little plays that often go unnoticed, be it a simple nudge of the puck to nearby teammate or a more effective route on the back check. His game isn’t always the prettiest, but Baptiste simply gets the job done. The Sabres’ brass has definitely taken notice.

Eric Locke
A hard worker with excellent hand-eye coordination, Locke’s anticipation and opportunistic offense saw him lead the way Friday with a goal and three assists. The 19-year old has designs on keeping himself at the pro level in 2013-14. Maintaining his high level of play for the remainder of the week should have him well positioned to earn an extended look from Chadd Cassidy when building this year’s edition of the Rochester Americans.

Justin Kea
Outside of Girgensons, Kea was perhaps the most effective forward through the first half of the game while patrolling center ice between Justin Bailey and free agent invite Peter Trainor. His extra work on faceoffs at the morning skate really paid off, and his diligent footwork made him a notable presence in the defensive end of the ice. Even more compelling was Kea’s desire to play an ornery “old time” brand of hockey, as evidenced by his spirited bout with Paxton Leroux in the opening period. Continued use of his skating and toughness will come in handy as the Sabres look to build on the momentum of Friday’s hard-fought victory.

Rasmus Ristolainen
The Finnish rearguard continued to turn heads Friday thanks to his effortless skating and up-tempo style. He maintained position when executing classic hip checks, slid to block shots, and was quick and decisive when moving the puck out of trouble. Any team would enjoy a steady presence on the back end like what Ristolainen brings daily. His performance in Friday’s victory was just another example of his readiness to give the NHL a try when the veterans report for training camp.

Brady Austin
A mobile, stay-at-home defender, Austin stood out on Friday with good use of his size and an accurate stretch pass that sent Baptiste in all alone for the Sabres first goal of the game. Austin’s even-strength play has been rock solid, highlighted by his long reach, ability to push the play to the boards, and selective pinches in from the blueline to help sustain offensive pressure. The Sabres have 14 defensemen under contract entering training camp, but Austin’s steadiness has him in line to add to the already impressive depth being stockpiled on the back end.

Daniel Catenacci
Regular readers of the Sabres pipeline reports have become familiar with Catenacci’s well-rounded skill set. The versatility and attention to detail that Catenacci offers was again on display Friday, as his move to the second-line center role in the middle frame seemed to be the spark that ignited big days from fellow OHL products Baptiste and Locke. The Sabres are searching high and low for players that exude will and skill. Here is a player that has put together two solid efforts thus far in Traverse City, and it’s fair to think that a big goal is just around the corner before the club heads back to Buffalo.

For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker’s web site - You can also follow him on Twitter @sabresprospects for in-game updates throughout the week on any Buffalo prospects that are in action.
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