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Sharpen Up: Week of July 29, 2019

All the Sabres news you need to know this week

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak /

Summer puck is in the air as four Sabres prospects are competing in the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan.

Defensemen Mattias Samuelsson (second round, 2018) and Ryan Johnson (first round, 2019) are on Team USA Blue while goaltender Erik Portillo (third round, 2019), forward Filip Cederqvist (fifth round, 2019) and defenseman Linus Lindstrand Cronholm (fourth round, 2018) are skating for Team Sweden. 

A good number of Sabres prospects will be back in town in September to partake in the fifth-annual Prospects Challenge in September. We have the details for you here.

Also, the Sabres locked up another forward for next season. 

Here's what you need to know.  


Rodrigues signs 1-year deal

On Thursday, the Sabres announced that they had signed forward Evan Rodrigues to a one-year contract with an AAV of $2 million. The terms of the contract were based on the ruling of an independent arbitrator.

Rodrigues (5'10", 176 lbs., 7/28/1993) set career-high totals in games played (74), goals (9), assists (20) and points (29) in his fourth season with the Sabres in 2018-19. The Toronto, Ontario native recorded 25 (7+18) of his 29 points at even strength.

Since signing with Buffalo in April of 2015, Rodrigues has totaled 62 points (21+41) and 43 penalty minutes in 154 NHL games. Prior to beginning his professional career, he played four seasons for Boston University, where he helped lead the Terriers to a Hockey East Tournament title as a senior in 2014-15. He also served as an assistant captain that season and recorded a career-best 61 points (21+40), trailing only Jack Eichel for the NCAA lead.

Three other restricted free agents are scheduled to have arbitration hearings this week: Remi Elie (Aug. 1), Linus Ullmark (Aug. 2) and Jake McCabe (Aug. 4). 

Vesey impressed by Eichel's drive caught up with Jimmy Vesey, who commented on what he's seen from captain Jack Eichel during their summer workout sessions…

"I work out with Jack every day, skating with him three times a week," Vesey said. "I'm not sure how aware of this you guys (in the media) are, but he's just a specimen of an athlete. It maybe shows more true in the gym, not a lot of guys can keep up, but I know he's super excited for this year to help finally push through."

Vesey, who was third on the Rangers in even-strength goals with 16 last season, is hoping that is where he can help.

"Secondary scoring, I think I can contribute there," Vesey said. "The last two years I've scored a lot of goals at even strength (32) and talking with Buffalo, the coaches and management, that was something they were perhaps lacking. I bring a blue-collar work ethic to the rink, I like to get to the front of the net, and I think that's where a lot of even-strength goals get scored. I'm a competitor and I hope I can be part of bringing this team to the playoffs and beyond."

Read the full story here.

Prospects Challenge returns on Sept. 6

The Sabres will be joined by the Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins to compete in the fifth-annual Prospects Challenge, a round-robin challenge featuring prospects from each team, from Sept. 6-9. The participating teams will each play three games during the course of the event, which will be held entirely at Harborcenter.

Tickets for the games are $10 each and season-ticket holders and My One Buffalo members will have an opportunity to purchase tickets before they go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. on Aug. 2. Fans can purchase tickets in person at the KeyBank Center Box Office, by phone at 1-888-223-6000 or online at

Here's the full game schedule:
Friday, Sept. 6
• Pittsburgh vs. Boston, 3:30 p.m.
• Buffalo vs. New Jersey, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 7
• New Jersey vs. Pittsburgh, 3:30 p.m.
• Buffalo vs. Boston, 7 p.m.

Monday, Sept. 9
• Boston vs. New Jersey, 9:30 a.m.
• Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh, 12:30 p.m.

World Junior Summer Showcase underway

The week-long World Junior Summer Showcase includes 11 international competitions between Canada, Finland, Sweden and the United States. It's a good preview into what programs could be looking for when they need to select rosters for upcoming international tournaments, including the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, which will be held in the Czech Republic in December. 

Samuelsson and Johnson started Sunday's game against Finland as a pair. Team USA White, meanwhile, was shut down by Portillo and Team Sweden 2-1 on Sunday. Portillo made 32 saves on 33 shots in his first start of the showcase. 

Check out USA Hockey's website for full stats and recaps. 

Games resume on Tuesday when a combined Team USA squad is set to take on Team Canada at 4 p.m. NHL Network's coverage will begin on Wednesday. just published this story about Samuelsson:

Mattias Samuelsson is earning his way to a future with the Buffalo Sabres both on and off the ice. 

After an impressive freshman season with Western Michigan University, where he had 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 35 games, the 19-year-old defenseman learned he'd been selected as one of four alternate captains for 2019-20; one other will be a junior and two will be seniors, as will captain Hugh McGing, a St. Louis Blues prospect.

"It was super cool. Coach [Andy] Murray told me a couple of days before they announced it that they wanted me to wear a letter," Samuelsson said during Sabres development camp in June. "It's not common for a sophomore to wear a letter in college, so it's super special to me. I'm going to play the same style of game with or without one, but to know that coaches look at me as a leader and players do, too, is pretty special."

Players filled out a questionnaire featuring different leadership categories and asked to list teammates who best fit the criteria. Samuelsson, who was selected by the Sabres in the second round (No. 32) in the 2018 NHL Draft, rated high in numerous categories. Only Murray and his staff saw the results and had the final say in selecting the leadership group.

You can read it in full here.

During development camp last month, we also spoke with him and some of his Broncos teammates about last season and Samuelsson's role as an emerging team leader:

For insight into Mattias Samuelsson's leadership skills, look no further than the two Western Michigan forwards practicing with the Sabres as invites to development camp.  

Dawson DiPietro and Josh Passolt were part of a vote that resulted in Samuelsson being selected to serve as a captain for the Broncos next season, rarified territory for a sophomore. 

"That hasn't happened many times in Western Michigan history," DiPietro said. "I think that shows a lot about his character as a player."

"It's very impressive," Passolt added. "In the culture of our hockey program at Western, it's a senior-led team. For a guy like that to come in as highly touted as he was and just go about his business every day, it's very impressive."

Samuelsson was lauded for his leadership after being selected by the Sabres in the second round of the 2018 draft. Assistant general manager Randy Sexton said then that the Sabres were struck by his maturity, having already captained Team USA at the U18 World Championship. 
It didn't take long for Samuelsson to make that same impression as a freshman with the Broncos last season. Though he was making the difficult transition to college hockey, Passolt said the defenseman led by example through his actions on and off the ice. 

"He's an awesome guy," Passolt said. "I can't say enough good things about him. I mean, there's a reason he was the captain of the National Development Team. He just goes about his business, wants to get better every day. He's real solid for us."

You can read the full story here.

Sharpen Up will return next week. 

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