Well, today's the day. Hockey is back in downtown Buffalo, with the Sabres prospects set to practice at HarborCenter this afternoon in advance of this weekend's Prospects Challenge. We previewed the Sabres roster yesterday, now let's take a look at their opponents.
The Bruins, Devils and Penguins bring with them a No. 1 overall pick (Nico Hischier), a Hobey Baker Award winner (Will Butcher), the reigning leading scorer in the NCAA (Zach Aston-Reese) and a combined 13 players who skated in the NHL last season.
Here's a quick look at the players to watch on each of the three opposing rosters this weekend.
Boston - Charlie McAvoy, D
The Bruins selected McAvoy with the 14th pick in 2016, and if last year's postseason was any indication, they may have gotten a steal. McAvoy turned pro upon completing his sophomore season at Boston University and made his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With injuries depleting their defensive corps, McAvoy was thrusted into top-pair minutes playing alongside Zdeno Chara. He averaged 26:12 of ice time in six games and tallied three assists, leaving the impression that he'll be ready to make an impact for the Bruins this season.
Other names to watch: Anders Bjork has become a highly-touted prospect since being drafted in the fifth round by Boston in 2014, and he may crack the Boston lineup as a first-year pro this season. Bjork scored 52 points (21+31) in 39 games as a junior at Notre Dame last season.
Two other names that fall into that category as first-year pros with a chance to challenge for a roster spot: forwards Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Zachary Senyshyn. Forsbacka Karlsson, who projects as a reliable two-way center, scored 33 points (14+19) as a sophomore at Boston University last season.
Senyshyn, a speedy winger and one of Boston's three first-round picks from 2015, scored 65 points in each of the last two seasons for Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL.
New Jersey - Nico Hischier, F
Hischier surpassed Nolan Patrick as the No. 1 pick in this summer's Draft following an 86-point (38+48) campaign with Halifax of the QMJHL, his first season in North America. Here's what Kris Baker of SabresProspects.com wrote about him in his annual prospect rankings for Sabres.com:
The team that picks Hischier is getting a high-octane force who can outthink and outskate the opposition with a dangerous one-on-one game suited for all three forward positions. He backs defenders off when entering the zone with his precise cuts to the net, and he packs an impressive array of shooting and passing skills.
… With what appears to be an unlimited ceiling - making him a legitimate threat to be the first player selected - Hischier's quick-thinking brain and all-around two-way skills have him on track to become an elite offensive player at the game's highest level for many years to come.
Other names to watch: We know you've heard of Will Butcher. The reigning Hobey Baker Award winner as the NCAA's top player was linked to the Sabres upon becoming an unrestricted free agent in August, but ultimately opted to join New Jersey after hearing pitches from a number of teams.
Butcher is an offensive defenseman, having scored 37 points (7+30) in 43 games as captain at the University of Denver last season. He'll compete for a roster spot with the Devils in training camp.
The Devils' talent doesn't end there. Defenseman Steven Santini played 38 games with New Jersey last season, forward Blake Speers is expected to challenge for a roster spot after concluding his career with Sault Ste. Marie, and 2016 first-round pick Michael McLeod is coming off a 73-point campaign (27+46) with Mississauga of the OHL.
Pittsburgh - Zach Aston-Reese, F
Aston-Reese's 63 points (31+32) as a senior at Northeastern University last season led the NCAA, and he picked up right where he left off upon turning pro. Aston-Reese joined Pittsburgh's AHL club in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the tail end of their season and tallied eight points (3+5) in 10 games.
Look for Aston-Reese around the net, where he'll use his body to gain position and create offense.
Other names to watch: Daniel Sprong is right there with Aston-Reese in terms of chances to see time in Pittsburgh this season. Pittsburgh's second-round pick from 2015 has a bit of NHL experience under his belt, having scored two goals in 18 games for the Penguins in 2015-16.
Sprong concluded his junior career with a 59-point campaign for Charlottetown of the QMJHL last season. As the Penguins proved last season with players like Jake Guentzel, both he and Aston-Reese could be called upon as major contributors even if they do begin the season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Now, looking back to Buffalo, here are a few announcements that were made on Wednesday.
Individual tickets for World Juniors go on sale this month
If you enjoy watching prospects, there's no better tournament than the World Junior Championship. Tickets for the outdoor game between Team USA and Canada at New Era Field go on sale on Monday, Sept. 25 at 10 a.m. while tickets for all other preliminary-round games go on sale Friday, Sept. 29 at 10 a.m.
Want to secure your tickets early? There will be presale opportunities for USA Hockey members, Bills and Sabres season ticket holders and My One Buffalo members. Presale for the outdoor game will be available on Sept. 21 and 22. The presale for all other preliminary-round games will take place on Sept. 27 and 28.
Sign up for My One Buffalo here, and find more information on tickets by clicking here.
Kick-off Luncheon set for Oct. 3
Want to have lunch with Jason Botterill, Phil Housley, Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel? Tickets for the Sabres Season Kick-off Luncheon are on sale now, with proceeds benefitting the Sabres Foundation. Corporate tables of 10 can be purchased for $500, while individual seats are available for $55.
Botterill, Housley, O'Reilly and Eichel will take part in a roundtable discussion while other Sabres players, coaches and alumni will join guests at their tables for lunch. For more information, contact Nick Fearby at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.
We'll be on hand for Buffalo's Prospects Challenge practice at HarborCenter at 3 p.m. Check back later for a full report as well as interviews with the prospects.