Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
The Buffalo Sabres are in Raleigh, NC tonight getting ready for their final preseason against the Carolina Hurricanes. And for a handful of players, this will be the last chance for them to impress before a decision is made on where they'll start the season.
It was a spirited, workmanlike 2014 training camp full of competition for roster spots, something that was a focal point of the organization heading into camp.
One of the players battling for a spot is Sabres defenseman Tyson Strachan who was signed by GM Tim Murray to a one-year deal back in early July. The well-traveled journeyman came into camp this season with promises from the Sabres that there would be an open competition for what roster spots were available. And to him, the team delivered on that promise.
"Honestly, that was what they told me in July, and I think that’s what they’re doing now,” defenseman Tyson Strachan said yesterday. “Really, at the end of the day, that’s all you can hope for and all you can appreciate is getting a fair look and being given the opportunity. What you do with it is on you.”
Strachan has performed very well thus far and the former 5th round pick (137th overall) will have another opportunity to show what he can offer while playing against the team that drafted him back in 2003.
According to WGR's Paul Hamilton, Strachan will be joined on the blueline tonight by Josh Gorges, Nikita Zadorov, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, and Andrej Meszaros. Defenseman Tyler Myers is nursing a minor injury and will stay in Buffalo as will fellow defensemen Andre Benoit and Mike Weber. Mark Pysyk was already ruled out. He still has an "upper body injury."
Of the six d-men playing tonight, three are battling for a roster spot. Myers, Gorges and Meszaros are locks for the roster while the injury to Pysyk would seem to have solidified Ristolainen as a roster player. Head coach Ted Nolan likes Weber so that would leave two of seven spots open.
If I were a betting man, Zadorov should be on his way back to London for one more year of junior with the Knights soon after tonight's game. And, as well as McCabe has played, he has a long career in front of him and doesn't need to clear waivers so he may be headed to the Amerks. Rochester begins preseason tonight with their season opener set for October 10. A spot opposite Drew Bagnall on the top pairing along with valuable all-situations minutes awaits McCabe should they send him down.
Strachan might get the last spot until Pysyk returns. I can't see the Sabres interrupting the beginnings of a youth-movement on the back-end to make room for Strachan at the expense of either Ristolainen or Pysyk.
Sabres forwards Tyler Ennis, Brian Gionta and Chris Stewart also remained in Buffalo, according to Hamilton, while Patrick Kaleta and Johan Larsson are out of the lineup with injuries.
Forwards Matt Moulson, Drew Stafford, Cody Hodgson, Zemgus Girgensons, Marcus Foligno, Nicolas Deslauriers and Cody McCormick, who are all pretty much locks for roster spots, will be on the ice tonight. Five other forwards--Sam Reinhart, Mikhail Grigorenko, Torrey Mitchell, Brian Flynn and Zac Dalpe--will be looking to make an impression and not be the only one left out after the four remaining spots are filled.
Dalpe was another player signed by Murray in July. He has also impressed, mainly with his speed and how he uses it. He knows what's at stake, “It’s another game to try and prove why you belong in this league," he said yesterday.
He, like Mitchell and Flynn, would need to clear waivers if sent down and of the three, Dalpe may be the odd man out should Murray decided to go that route.
Reinhart could be sent to junior and would probably be the easiest move for the team to make while Grigorenko looks like he's earned an extended stay because of his off season commitment and strong play. He would not need to clear waivers were be to be sent to Rochester.
In net tonight will be Michal Neuvirth. He'll be in his second preseason game after getting torched for six goals on 28 shots in his only other start. Neuvirth's "battling" Jhonas Enroth for the #1 goalie spot and it's a pretty safe bet that, barring injury, Enroth and his 2-0 preseason record with a 0.50 gaa and .983 sv% will get the opening night nod.
Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News put out a list of The 50 NCAA players you need to know this season.
Which is very cool and also quite fitting.
Two of the projected top three draft picks in June are in college right now--Boston University's Jack Eichel, who's battling for 1st overall status at the draft and Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin who's slated to go third.
The Sabres placed four players on Kennedy's list.
Coming in at #15 is Michigan Wolverine forward, JT Compher whom Kennedy describes as "gritty, annoying and talented." Compher had a great US Evaluation Camp at Lake Placid before going down to a hand injury. He looks to be the captain of the US squad when the world juniors takes place in Montreal and Toronto this December.
Right behind Compher on Kennedy's list is 6'3" 214 lb. Hudson Fasching. The Minnesota Golden Gopher powerforward was a part of the Brayden McNabb trade with Los Angeles at the trade deadline in March. Kennedy's blurb on his 16th overall NCAA player to watch? He's a "tank-sized power forward [who] was brilliant at 2014 world juniors. Rights strangely traded from Los Angeles to Buffalo last season."
Notre Dame freshman forward Connor Hurley was picked in the second round of the 2013 draft with the 38th pick, three spots behind Compher. Were Hurley born one day later, he would not have been eligible that year and most think that he'd have been a shoe-in for the first round in 2014. As it was he was able to spend one more season in the USHL before committing to the Fighting Irish. Kennedy had Hurley at No. 32 noting his "speed and vision upfront."
Finally Kennedy placed defenseman Anthony Florentino at No. 36 and mentions the Providence Friars' hard hitting and all around game.
It's good to see the NCAA get some attention and it's even better to see four of the top-36 players on this list in the Sabres system.
And, what's cooking in Rochester?
Tonight the Amerks play their first preseason game in Schromberg, ON to faceoff against the Toronto Marlies.
Matt "Freakin'" Ellis and Drew Bagnall both cleared waivers on Wednesday and are with the Amerks. Ellis is the oldest player on the team at 33 yrs. old with Bagnall being second-oldest at 30. Both will be wearing letters this season with Ellis returning again as captain.
Bagnall is an AHL veteran who knew the score when he entered camp. Making the squad was a longshot but according to Kevin Oklobzija, "he was grateful to have been given a chance to play for the Buffalo Sabres in a preseason game (at Toronto on Sunday)."
He has the attitude and is in tune with what the organization expects of all their players moving forward, "We'll be talking and communicating and making sure all our goals are aligned," he said recently. "It's the compete level and the tenacity guys play with," he continued. "If we get beat, it's because the other teams make great plays."
Bagnall played a big part in the development of Ristolainen last year when they were the top-pairing.