Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Not sure what the NHL schedule makers were thinking when they matched up the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Buffalo Sabres in tonight's only NHL game, but what we have tonight is the NHL's marquis game featuring the 28th place Jackets and the 23rd place Sabres.
That said, as both teams have been well out of the playoffs for some time now, both organizations are loaded with young talent already making their mark in the NHL who are backed by a pretty strong pool of prospects. Columbus, who many picked to be in the upper echelon of the Metropolitan Division, or at least battling for a wild card spot, boast the talents of 23 yr. old Brandon Saad, Boone Jenner (22,) Seth Jones (21) and Ryan Murray (22) while the Sabres have Jack Eichel (19,) Sam Reinhart (20,) and Rasmus Ristolainen (22.)
All will be on the ice tonight along with some pretty talented young vets who constitute each teams core as well as newbies, some of whom will be a part of the future.
Buffalo recently introduced powerforward Hudson Fasching (2013, 188th-overall, LAK) and defenseman Casey Nelson (2016, FA) to the NHL and both have acquitted themselves admirably in the six games they've played. Fasching scored a goal on his first shot in his first game while Nelson garnered four assists in his first three games becoming the first Sabre to record points in his first three games since Calle Johansson in 1987-88, according to Sabres PR.
Tonight two more Sabres prospects will get their feet wet in the NHL as the Sabres announced that forwards Evan Rodrigues and Cole Schneider were called up from Rochester and will play tonight against Columbus.
Rodrigues was a 2015 free agent signing by Buffalo out of Boston University. The 5'11" 174 lb. winger is best known as riding shotgun on the Eichel Express as the Terriers made it to the 2015 NCAA Men's Hockey Championship game. While on Eichel's wing at BU Rodrigues rocked his senior year with 21 goals and 40 assists in 41 games last season. Although the adjustment to the pro game has been somewhat slow, but he's picked things up this calendar year with 19 of his 28 points coming in 2016.
“It’s been an adjustment, obviously, going from the college game to the pro game,” Rodrigues told the gathered media yesterday. “Over the last 20, 30 games, I’ve really come along and got back to playing the way I can. I’m looking forward to the opportunity here.”
Schneider's story has a hometown feel to it as the Williamsville native grew up a Sabres fan. The 25 yr. old had Sabres season tickets and played in the annual Bowman Cup when he was in high school. It was the only time he'd played on the First Niagara ice.
An obviously ecstatic Schneider couldn't hide the sheer joy of playing in the NHL for the first time, especially while donning the hometown Blue and Gold. Even when he mentioned briefly about asking for a trade from the Senators organization, Schneider remained bright-eyed.
The impetus behind the trade request was his steadily increasing production without the opportunity to display his wares at the NHL level in Ottawa. Schneider played 11 games with the Senator's AHL affiliate in Binghamton after signing as a free agent in 2012. The following season his 35 points (17g + 18a) tied him for third on the team and in 2013-14 he was third again upping his production to 20 goals and 34 assists. In the 2014-15 season he scored a team-leading 29 goals while placing third on the team in scoring once again with 58 points. And before being a part of a seven-player AHL deal between Buffalo and Ottawa, the 6'1" 198 lb. winger tallied 42 points (17 + 25) in 54 games, which is still good for third on the Senators.
In games for the Amerks since the trade, Schneider has three goals and nine assists bringing his season total to 20 goals and 34 assists. He was on a pace to once again up his year-over-year production.
At practice yesterday Schneider was on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and Zemgus Girgensons a player he'd skated with before during the off season. Rodrigues was on the fourth line with David Legwand and Matt Moulson.
Over in Rochester two more prospects will be getting a taste of regular season pro hockey.
Defenseman Brendan Guhle will hit the ice for the Amerks tonight after a reassignment by Buffalo following the conclusion of his WHL season. This is the second pro appearance for the 6'2" left-handed rearguard as he attended Sabres training camp this year and played in the preseason before getting wrecked by (then) Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf. He was returned to Prince Albert for another year in Junior but made a great impression on the team.
“For kind of a quiet, unassuming kid, he’s shown a lot of confidence in how he can play,” said head coach Dan Bylsma to the gathered media before the Sabres second preseason game vs. Ottawa. “He’s shown a lot of compete against NHL players.
"His skating and ability has been shown pretty well against NHL players. You see him in the summer time and in rookie development, then you see him against NHL competition...the Buffalo Sabres aren't the only people saying right now, 'That's a late second-round pick' and being surprised about it."
Guhle was signed by GM Tim Murray on July 27, just a month after the Sabres selected him with the 51st pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Another 2015 draft pick, Giorgio Estephan had a career season a Lethbridge as he placed third on the team in scoring with 51 points and goals with 23 before signing an ATO with Rochester this week. The 19 yr. old Edmonton Alberta native was selected by Buffalo with the 152nd-overall pick was well aware of the status of the Sabres when the Sabres drafted him in the 6th round.
While talking with Lethbridge play-by-play man Dustin Forbes post-draft, Estephan talked about how Buffalo was "a team on the rise" and that they were "bumped up a little bit with all the trades they made." Although he, like every other prospect was "a little disappointed" at where he was taken in the draft, Estephan "it was nice and special going to Buffalo" and that he was happy, from his point of view for the future, but he also said that he'll "definitely be trying to prove people wrong in terms of my skill-level and trying to make an impact."
He'll have the opportunity to begin that process when he hits the Blue Cross Arena tonight of the first time as a pro.
Also of note, the Rochester Americans just announced that Eric Cornel (2013, 44th) and Stu Wilson, a 24 yr. old Rochester native who just finished his college career at Yale have signed ATO's with the Amerks.
Cornel is coming off of a career year in Peterborough where he tallied 83 points (27+56) good for second overall in scoring for the Petes. The 19 yr. old Cornel appeared in six games for the Amerks last season posting one assist and a minus-2 rating.
Wilson had a career-high eight goals and 18 assists in 31 games for Yale. As a freshman he helped the Bulldogs to their first-ever NCAA Championship.
The Amerks also signed Rochester native and former BU Terrier Matt Lane who was a teammate of Eichel and Rodrigues.
GM Murray has said all along that he looks to see an influx of two or three youngins near-term as the team build for the future so it's showtime for these prospects.