Sunday, August 24, 2014

The nucleus of the Sabres "new core"

Reprinted with permission from

When Connor McDavid came to the First Niagara Center on Thursday, fans and media had a sparkle in their eye.

McDavid and Jack Eichel sit atop a very strong 2015 NHL draft class and the Buffalo Sabres may have a shot at landing one of them (or in certain scenarios, both.)

The Sabres and the OHL's Erie Otters were holding a joint press conference to announce a game on October 22 featuring the Otters vs. the Niagara Ice Dogs at the FNC. Sabres President Ted Black and Sherry Bassin, general manager and managing partner of the Otters, made all the official proclamations, but McDavid was clearly the star of the show.

Already being likened to a "once in a generation" player like Sidney Crosby, the hype machine will really be cranking up for the 17 yr. old McDavid in this his draft year. It's something he seems at ease with as he calmly, thoughtfully and intelligently answered a multitude of questions.

He (perhaps too) humbly answered questions about his place on the Canadian World Jr. Team, "It will be a good experience if I'm lucky enough to make the team." He also talked about the NHL changing the draft lottery rules possibly because teams are throwing seasons to get him or (Eichel,) "It's pretty crazy. I don't think too many teams are throwing seasons. I don't think that's how hockey works."

He also had kind words about some of the Buffalo Sabres players he's interacted with either as a teammate or an opponent. McDavid called Canadian World Jr. teammate Nicholas Baptiste "a legit goal scorer [who] can flat-out fly." And of defenseman Nikita Zadorov, "It's not a whole lot of fun [playing against him]. He's a pretty big body."

But his best, and probably most sincere, words came when he talked about the Buffalo Sabres Sam Reinhart who was selected 2nd overall this past June.

"I know Reinhart," said McDavid. "He's counted on to be a leader, wearing the "C" out there. It's nothing new for him, he's a captain everywhere he goes, it seems.

"He never gets to high, never gets too low. When stuff doesn't go his way, he doesn't get down, he just keeps working. He's a good guy to model yourself after. He's a great leader. He's been my (World Junior) captain now in two different events. A great role model."

That term, "role model" was also used by Eichel earlier this month at the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid when talking about Sabres prospect, JT Compher.

Compher suffered a hand injury at the camp blocking a shot on a 5-on-3 penalty kill vs. Sweden in a game that was all but over. Although he could have left camp early, Adam Kimelman of wrote, "Playing or not, [Compher] is too important to the process of building the team that will play for the United States at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship."

Eichel was a teammate of Compher's on the USNTDP U-18 team in 2012-13 and knows the type of leadership he brings to the table.

"He does everything on the ice so well," Eichel said of Compher. "He's just so good wherever he is, in the faceoff circle, in the [defensive] zone, he's great killing penalties, great on the power play." .

But it's Compher's work ethic and commitment that make the biggest impression. "He's a great kid and a great leader. He works so hard everywhere. Everyone else tries to match him. Everyone tries to work as hard as him. He's a guy that you can just try to model your game after.

"He's a role model to me and I really look up to him."

Both Reinhar and Compher will eventually be joining a long line of character players and leaders forming the nucleus of a "new core."

The Darcy Regerian days of placing skill first and relegating character and leadership to lower levels are pretty much over. It was a recipe for mediocrity that caused this team to eventually blow up nearly everything associated with that approach.

With Regier and his "core" eradicated from the organization, the face of the "new core" just might be Zemgus Girgensons.

Girgensons (2012, 14th) has always had the skill to contribute at every level he's been at. But it's his will that has always preceded his skill.

His former coach with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, Jim Montgomery said of his captain, "His skill and will have been elite since day one. That’s why he was an NHL first round pick. Whatever situation he is put in the coach is going to love him and his teammates are going to love him. He is the ultimate team player that helps you win every night.”

Although he doesn't have the numbers yet, the 20 yr. old with one full NHL season under his belt has the intestinal fortitude and will to squeeze every ounce of talent out of himself.

Two other players, both of whom captained their international teams to World Jr. gold medals, will also play prominent leadership roles in the development of a strong, "new core" nucleus.

Defenseman Jake McCabe (2012, 44th) left the University of Wisconsin a year early and will be entering his first full pro season this year.

McCabe was named captain of the 2013 US World Junior team and lead them to the gold medal. He's a tough, rock solid d-man who plays with an edge. Some of the words to describe him have been "old soul" and "wise beyond his years."

Finnish defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (2013, 8th) was an alternate captain for the 2014 World Juniors. He scored the gold medal goal in overtime vs. Sweden in the finals.

Both are high character leaders who were named to their respective tournament all-star teams.

Mark Pysyk (2010, 23rd) is another high-character leader.

The steady, heady defenseman captained his Edmonton Oil King Junior team from 2010-12 leading them to a Western Hockey League championship in 2012.

Reinhart, Compher, Girgensons, McCabe, Ristolainen, Pysyk.

All of them high-character, leaders with talent, and strong work ethic forming the nucleus of the Sabres "new core."

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