Nine players registered points Sunday as the Buffalo Sabres advanced to the championship game of the 2013 NHL Prospect Tournament with a 7-4 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. The stands will be packed with scouts Monday when the Sabres battle the Detroit Red Wings for the tournament crown. Here is what we saw from some of the top producers in the win that got them there.
Right from the opening shift, Girgensons brought a high level of intensity to help get the Sabres out to an early lead. His vision was clearly evident at the left wing spot on the Sabres’ top offensive unit, and his motoring legs made an impact at both ends of the rink. The second-year forward continued to display strength on the boards, winning a number of battles to help sustain pressure deep in the Hurricanes zone. The Sabres will need more of the same Monday when they look to complete their title defense.
With Chad Ruhwedel nursing an upper body injury, Gauthier-Leduc was thrust into a leading role on the Sabres blueline, and his performance did not disappoint. He wired an accurate shot from the left point to give the Sabres a 2-0 lead in the opening period, but his mark was made with his physical play and mobility in front of Sabres goaltender Connor Knapp. From quick tape-to-tape passes or key shot blocks, the QMJHL product seemed to improve with each passing shift while paired with rock-solid Brady Austin.
Paired with Nikita Zadorov, Ristolainen again proved effective with his efficient two-way style for the full 60 minutes. He added motion on the power play, covered a lot of ground on the penalty kill, and used his body to clear the Carolina forwards out from in front of the Sabres net. The top Sabres defender through the first three games, Ristolainen will need to continue his high level of play and seal off backdoor opportunities if the club is to walk away from Traverse City with a perfect record and their second title in as many tries.
Larsson’s three-zone poise and strength on the puck were major factors Sunday. The Swedish workhorse calmly carried the puck through traffic entering the zone, distributed to his wingers with a soft touch, used his thick frame to absorb hits along the wall, and showed a keen playmaking sense around the goal mouth. When the Hurricanes were gaining momentum by scoring three power play goals in the second period, Larsson slid to block a wide-open point shot to prevent any damage on the scoreboard. It was a heart-and-soul play that only added to an already valuable body of work.
The smallest forward on the Sabres roster, Locke continued to show that his heart is perhaps the biggest among all of the tournament’s players. Sunday’s winning effort found him adding two more points (1+1) to his Traverse City resume while playing with energy and passion all game. He was fearless entering the corners and did a nice job disrupting passing lanes and causing turnovers. Part of an impressive 2013 draft class, the seventh-rounder likely has the Sabres considering a contract offer on the eve of training camp.
Baptiste’s “in your face” style was again on display, powering his way to the edge of the crease for a goal and two assists while getting under the skin of the Carolina skaters with hits and chirps. A winger with a knack for being in the right place at the right time, Baptiste’s feet are always moving. The Sudbury Wolves standout has been a revelation with his tournament-leading point total (3+4), and seems poised to become a dominant player when he returns to the OHL at the close of training camp.
Catenacci used his speed and two-way dedication to add a pair of assists to his week’s stat line. Anchoring the Sabres second offensive unit, Catenacci was supporting his defense all game long by competing for loose pucks and quickly gaining separation out of the zone to start the transition game. When the Sabres were hit with a rash of penalties in the middle period, Catenacci’s skill on the forecheck sent him over the boards for key penalty kill minutes. The Sabres can find themselves in good position on Monday if the OHL line of Locke-Catenacci-Baptiste can continue creating chaos in front of the Detroit net.
Simple works in the game of hockey, and Bailey was a player who played within himself in a lower line capacity while picking up his second goal of the tournament late in the game. The Sabres need to develop right wings who know what to do when the pucks hits their stick, and Bailey did well capitalizing on the space he was given in the offensive zone, while smartly chipping the puck deep when a better play wasn’t available.
Jacobs recorded an assist for the third-straight game, but his greatest value came at the faceoff circle where he helped the Sabres control the puck possession battle by winning the majority of his draws. The Texas native is still working on improving his acceleration, but his big body down the middle was more noticeable on Sunday. All signs point to a player becoming more effective from the experience gained.
The lone forward invite on the Sabres roster made an impression with a very solid effort from start-to-finish on the Sabres fourth line alongside Justin Kea and Bailey. The QMJHL product has an excellent release of the puck that saw him just miss a goal in the second period, but he was rewarded with an empty-net tally to seal the victory and send the Sabres to Monday’s title tilt. Trainor earned praise from head coach Chadd Cassidy following the game, and it’s fair to think that another strong performance on Sunday could get him an extended invite when the Rochester Americans look to round off their 2013-14 roster.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker’s web site - sabresprospects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @sabresprospects for in-game updates throughout the week on any Buffalo prospects that are in action.