It's become a hockey staple in Buffalo at this time of year, and it's back this week. The NHL Scouting Combine returns to HarborCenter and KeyBank Center, which has played home town the event since 2015 and will continue to host through 2019.
The top prospects eligible for this year's draft will be in town, undergoing interviews throughout the week and conducting physical tests on Friday and Saturday.
With this being the third go-around, you might be familiar with the process by now. But in case you're not, here are a couple things to know about the Combine.
What NHL teams and executives have loved so much about the setup in Buffalo is the unique logistical convenience made possible by the proximity of KeyBank Center and HarborCenter. Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, called it "the ideal location" for the event in a press release last month.
The event is split so that the suites at KeyBank Center can be used throughout the week for teams to conduct interviews with the prospects, while HarborCenter serves as the grounds for the physical testing. The convenience of a Marriott Hotel in the same building for the prospects to stay in is icing on the cake.
The physical portion of the Combine includes 12 tests of balance, endurance, strength and agility. They range from more standard exercises, like the bench press, standing long jump and pull-ups, to the demanding VO2 max, a bike exercise designed to push the athlete to the point of exhaustion.
New this year
While the Combine is traditionally not open to the public, there will be good reason for you to pay a visit to downtown this weekend. The NHL Fan Centennial Arena will make its stop at Tops Alumni Plaza on Friday and Saturday, a free event open to all ages.
The Centennial Arena has been making its rounds throughout all NHL cities to commemorate the League's 100th year. It includes a 53-foot museum truck with interactive displays and memorabilia catered to Sabres history, a second trailer that will air team highlights and more, a pop-up ball hockey rink and a virtual reality experience that allows you to race a Zamboni. So, a bunch of fun stuff.
The festivities run from 10 a.m. through 8 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. on Saturday. The Stanley Cup will be on displayed from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday.
And, in spirit of the Combine, Brian Duff will sit down with top prospects Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, Casey Mittelstadt, Gabriel Vilardi and Michael Rasmussen for a public event beginning at 3 p.m. on Friday. Don't miss it.
More information on the NHL Fan Centennial Arena can be found here.
Now, onto the rest of the news from a busy week for the Sabres.
The Sabres have a new defenseman
His name is Victor Antipin, and he signed a one-year, entry-level deal with the team last Thursday. The 24-year-old defenseman scored 24 points (6+18) in 59 games for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League last season, a campaign that earned him a place on the league's season-ending All-Star team.
"Victor is a well-rounded defenseman who has played in all situations at the pro level," Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill said in a press release. "His mobility and puck-moving skills make him a perfect match for what we're hoping to build with our defense corps next season."
We took a deeper dive into the defenseman's background and broke down some of Antipin's highlights that display his offensive instinct and puck moving ability. Here he is, for instance, shooting on the rush and beating a goaltender over the shoulder:
You can find more Antipin highlights and learn about the defenseman here.
Lambert relieved of his duties as coach Amerks
Botterill has spoken often about his desire to build a winner at the AHL level in Rochester, and the team opted on Friday to start fresh with a new coach. Dan Lambert was relieved of his duties following one season behind the bench with the Amerks.
"I would like to thank Dan for his hard work and contributions to our organization during the last two seasons and I wish him the best in the future," Botterill said in a press release. "I felt this was the right move for both the Sabres and Amerks and we will begin the process of searching for a new head coach immediately."
Botterill joins The Instigators
The GM joined Andrew Peters, Craig Rivet and Marty Biron last Tuesday to update us on his first two weeks on the job, discuss Buffalo's coaching search and more. If you missed the conversation, hit play to the SoundCloud link below to listen in its entirety.
Don't have time to hear the whole thing? We broke down the highlights of what Botterill had to say, which you can read here.
Sabres have a new ECHL affiliate
On Thursday, the Sabres announced a new affiliation agreement with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. The Elmira Jackals had been Buffalo's ECHL affiliate since 2014-15 prior to ceasing operations at the end of this past season.
Here's some background from the release:
Since returning to the ECHL before the 2006-07 season, the Cyclones have been Kelly Cup Champions twice (2008 and 2010) and made the playoffs in eight of nine seasons. The team also won its division in 2009 and 2013 and was crowned ECHL Eastern Conference Champions in 2014.
The original Cincinnati Cyclones franchise debuted in the ECHL in 1990 before playing in the International Hockey League from 1992 to 2001. Prior to the 2001-02 season, a new franchise returned to the ECHL under the Cyclones name before going dormant from 2004 to 2006.
This isn't the first time Buffalo has had a minor league affiliate based in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Swords served as Buffalo's AHL affiliate from 1971-1974, even winning a Calder Cup in 1972-73. The franchise folded once Cincinnati was granted a WHA team in 1974.