|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)
It's been some time since we've seen our players lace up their skates in downtown Buffalo. But with the Draft behind us and free agency also largely in the rearview mirror (welcome, Kyle Okposo), we've finally reached the point of the offseason when there is real, actual hockey to be played.
Welcome to development camp, the one time of the year when you can watch the Sabres' future stars on the ice and, afterward, still be met by a beautiful summer evening (and a pretty good place to spend it at Canalside). It's the best of both worlds, right?
This year's camp comes with an added bonus –it will now be held in its entirety at HARBORCENTER, which should make for a more intimate setting whether you're there for a practice session or the annual Blue & Gold Scrimmage.
Once you've gotten there, however, you'll want to know who to keep an eye on. You can check out the full roster here, but we've simplified it with a few basic storylines that should be fun to follow at development camp 2016.
1. REMEMBER THESE GUYS?
Some of the players at this year's camp already made a mark at the NHL level with the Sabres last season. That groups includes forwards Justin Bailey, Hudson Fasching and Evan Rodrigues.
All three of those names impressed in their own way in limited time with the Sabres last year. Bailey – a Buffalo native – played eight games and, while he didn’t score, he certainly came close a number of times due to his unique combination of size and speed.
(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)
Fasching joined the Sabres in March once his college season ended and played seven games. A skilled power forward, he scored a goal in his first game.
Then there was Rodrigues, who improved throughout his first pro season in Rochester after joining the organization as an undrafted free agent out of Boston University last summer. He finally got his cup of coffee in the final two games of the season for Buffalo, and he scored a goal and an assist.
Those three names were the three that Sabres General Manager Tim Murray mentioned at his season-ending press conference as players who could potentially fill in again at the NHL level this season. With that on their minds and some pro experience already under their belt, it will be interesting to see how they've progressed so far in this young summer.
2. THE PROGRESSION OF BRENDAN GUHLE
Guhle was the Sabres' second-round pick in 2015, and it was at his first development camp when he quickly became one of the stars of the offseason. He was a mere 17 years old at the time, yet he impressed with his skating and defensive poise and then carried that into a strong training camp and preseason.
He was so good, in fact, that Sabres coach Dan Bylsma wouldn’t completely rule out the potential for Guhle to join the Sabres as a rookie out of training camp last year until his preseason was cut short by a hit from Dion Phaneuf.
Naturally, there will be a lot of focus on how Guhle comes into development camp now with one more year of junior hockey under his belt. He scored 28 points in just 63 games for Prince Albert last season and set a career-high with 10 goals.
He's still young, so the expectations shouldn’t be too high. But it's not unreasonable to think that another summer and fall like the ones he had last year could result in some heads being turned yet again.
3. THE NEW DRAFTEES
|(Photo Credit: Getty Images) |
The 2016 Draft class is packed with interesting storylines. It begins at the top with first-round pick Alex Nylander, who will skate in a Sabres sweater for the first time this week, and continues all the way down to seventh-round selection Austin Osmanski, a local product out of East Aurora who grew up wearing the No. 36 for Patrick Kaleta.
Nylander possesses a combination of speed and offensive skill that should one day allow him to fit nicely into Buffalo's top-six forwards. This will be our first chance to see Nylander display those talents live, and he'll be doing it against future teammates.
We'll also get to see forward Rasmus Asplund, who the Sabres traded up to select with the 33rd pick. Asplund is a two-way center who spent time on a line with Nylander in international play. Murray said the Sabres had him graded as a first-round talent.
One more guy to keep an eye on: Cliff Pu, the Sabres' third-round selection with the 69th pick. Pu really elevated his game with 13 points in 18 games during London's playoff run last season, which ultimately concluded with the Knights winning the Memorial Cup in the Ontario Hockey League.
Like any third-round pick, Pu will likely need more seasoning before he begins a pro career. But what sets him apart, and what will be fun to watch this week, is his skating. Sabres Director of Amateur Scouting Greg Royce told Brian Duff that Pu might have been the best skater in this year's Draft.
4. FUTURE GOALIES JOIN THE MIX
The Sabres goalie depth, as it stands, begins at the top with Robin Lehner. Anders Nilsson was acquired last week from St. Louis and figures to begin next season as Lehner's backup. That would likely leave Linus Ullmark to start the season in Rochester, where he'll be joined by Jason Kasdorf assuming Kasdorf agrees to a new deal (he's currently a restricted free agent).
Two guys who figure to join that conversation in the not-so-distant future are Cal Peterson and Jonas Johansson, and both will be present at HARBORCENTER this week. Petersen was great as a sophomore for Notre Dame, starting all 37 of the team's games and posting a career-high .927 save percentage, which ranked 12th in the nation.
Johansson, meanwhile, had a .913 save percentage while playing a career-high 42 games for Almtuna IS of the Allsvenskan hockey league in Sweden. He'll be hard to miss if you're in attendance – he's 6-feet-4-inches tall and 205 pounds, similar in build to Ullmark, a fellow Swede.
Sadly, Ullmark won't be joining in on the fun.
Rather, Petersen and Johansson will be joined this week by Antoine Samuel, an undrafted invite who was ranked as the No. 7 North American goaltender in this year's Draft by NHL Central Scouting.
Check back to Sabres.com throughout the week to learn more about all of the Sabres prospects and to see what new storylines unfold at HARBORCENTER.