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Sabres take the ice for first day of practice

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Much like when they opened camp a year ago, the Sabres were treated to high-tempo, fast-paced practices along with a scrimmage on Friday. But unlike a year ago, when many of the players were unfamiliar with each other and all were unfamiliar with coach Dan Bylsma, there was little they didn't expect.

"I know a lot of us, even the younger guys that just did the prospects tournament and everything, were all familiar with the drills so that's kind of why it can be high-tempo," defenseman Jake McCabe said. "We know what we're doing out there so let's get in the corners, get the pucks going, let's get after it."

Friday was broken into three practice groups for three spate sessions with a scrimmage between the first two, which means there's a lot to cover. So let's get to it:

Examining the lines at camp

It's important not to make too much out of the lines on the first day of camp, particularly when the team's top two centers were both absent for the World Cup of Hockey. But by looking at the initial lines on Friday, it's fair to assume they might provide some insight as to what we might see going forward.

One question to begin camp, for example, was who Kyle Okposo would play with to begin the season. He played opposite Tyler Ennis on Friday with Johan Larsson as their center, and it's easy to imagine Ryan O'Reilly sliding into that center role once he returns from the World Cup.

Watch: Dan Bylsma | Watch: Jake McCabe | Watch: Anders Nilsson  

Sam Reinhart, meanwhile, centered a line with Evander Kane and Alexander Nylander. Kane and Reinhart had success as linemates with Jack Eichel as their center late last season, so perhaps that's a clue that their line will stick together.

So much can change by the time the season starts, of course, but it will be interesting to watch how the lines differ once O'Reilly and Eichel join their teammates.

Speaking of Eichel …

While O'Reilly and Team Canada are still contention at the World Cup, Eichel will be back sooner after Team North America was eliminated from the tournament on Thursday. Bylsma said Eichel returned to Buffalo on Friday and that he and the team will meet Saturday to discuss when he will join practice. All that said, Bylsma also said that Eichel will not play in the first two preseason games.

It makes sense why the team would give Eichel some time off after playing six competitive games at the World Cup. Even if he waits until the third game for his first preseason action, which would be next Thursday against Toronto, that would still leave him with up to five chances to play with his teammates prior to the regular season.

Somebody owes Cole Schneider hats

Schneider had quite the start to his first camp in Buffalo, scoring three times in a 5-0 win for his team at the scrimmage on Friday. Sadly, he wasn't adorned with hats, which might have had something to do with the fact that two of his goals were deflections and thus incredibly hard to see, but it was a strong start nonetheless for a player competing to make the Sabres' roster.

Video: Sabres in :90

Bylsma said Friday that the competition for the 13th forward spot is wide open, and Schneider figures to be one of the candidates for the job. The 26-year-old Williamsville, N.Y. native spent three seasons as one of the top scorers in the AHL for Binghamton before being traded to Rochester and making his NHL debut at the end of last season.

Cal O'Reilly and Derek Grant might also be veteran candidates for the open forward spot, or the Sabres could go with one of many prospects in the NHL. You can also keep your eye on the battle for the role of seventh defenseman, which Bylsma said is also wide open this preseason.

Join us at HarborCenter

The practices continue at HarborCenter throughout the weekend, and all are open to the public. The first sessions on both Saturday and Sunday will begin at 9 a.m., with a scrimmage to follow at 9:50 a.m. Find the full schedule for the weekend in Friday's Sharpen Up.





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