Saturday, September 17, 2016

The 2nd annual Buffalo Sabres Prospects Challenge starts today with practices

Although the 2016 World Cup of Hockey is garnering most of the attention of these days, including those of us Buffalo Sabres fans with a keen eye on participants Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly, the NHL hockey season is just around the corner. Training camps around the league begin next week while in Buffalo, the warm-up act begins with the 2nd annual Buffalo Sabres Prospect Challenge as three teams--Buffalo, the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey--ready themselves for an extended weekend of round-robin play to crown this year's champion.

Buffalo won the inaugural tournament last year.

The Prospects Challenge is an event in which youngins from the participating teams have the opportunity to face off against their peers In a live game setting. The Sabres had previously participated in the eight-team Traverse City Tournament hosted by the Detroit Red Wings, but last year they decided to strike out on their own by hosting their own tournament. All Games will be played on HARBORCENTER ice with the cost of admission at $10.

Today teams will hold practice sessions with games beginning tomorrow. The schedule, courtesy of Sabres PR:

Friday, Sept. 16
  • Buffalo practice: 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
  • New Jersey practice: 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
  • Boston practice: 3 – 5 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 17
  • Buffalo morning skate: 10 – 11 a.m.
  • Boston practice: 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
  • New Jersey morning skate: 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • Buffalo vs. New Jersey, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 18
  • Buffalo practice: 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
  • Boston morning skate: 10 – 11 a.m.
  • New Jersey morning skate: 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • Boston vs. New Jersey, 7 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 19
  • Buffalo morning skate: 10 – 11 a.m.
  • Boston morning skate: 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • Buffalo vs. Boston, 7 p.m.

Buffalo fans can look forward to seeing some intriguing Sabres beginning with Justin Bailey.

After a slow start to his professional career, Bailey caught fire for the Rochester Americans last season and finished third on the Amerks in scoring with 20 goals and 45 points in 70 games. He had an eight-game stint with the Sabres last season where he impressed despite not hitting the scoresheet. Of all the Sabres prospects he looks to be the favorite to make the Buffalo roster out of camp. He has  size (6'4" 206 lbs.,) speed, skill and plays a powerful north/south game.

Hudson Fasching left the University of Minnesota after his junior year and joined the Sabres for seven games to finish the 2015-16 season. He scored his first NHL goal on his first shift and added an assist in his seven-game stint with the club. Fasching is one of GM Tim Murray's "heavies" clocking in at 6'2" 207 lbs. and plays a big game, especially around the net.

At the opposite end of the scale is smaller but highly-skilled winger Alexander Nylander. The 18 yr. old was picked by the Sabres with the 8th-overall pick in June and will be hitting the HARBORCENTER ice with more pure skill than any other Sabres player. This will be Round-2 for Nylander against his peers and the Sabres will looking for more from him than his fairly average outing at the Blue and Gold Scrimmage in July.

Defenseman Brendan Guhle hits the ice as the most intriguing d-prospect. Last year he dazzled at training camp to the point where many had him starting the season in Buffalo for at least a nine-game audition. Unfortunately he got leveled by a check, suffered an injury and went back to junior. Although past results are not indicative if future performance, Guhle had a another strong season with the Prince Albert Raiders and looked right at home in his pro debut with Rochester. In six games for the Amerks he scored a goal, added three assists and never looked out of place playing against much older competition.

Some other skaters to watch this weekend include Evan Rodrigues and Giorgio Estephan.

Rodrigues is another one who picked things up in the second half of the season as he got more acclimated to the professional game. He also impressed in a short, two-game stint with Buffalo where he had a goal and an assist for the Sabres. The 5'11" 174 lb. free agent signee and former Eichel linemate will be an interesting player to watch this year. Although it's highly doubtful he cracks the Sabres lineup, he could very well be an impact player for the Amerks while getting more time with Buffalo as a call-up.

Estephan had a breakout season for the Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL) last season scoring 74 points (30g+44a) in 59 games while adding four points (2+2) in five playoff games. He got a taste of professional hockey last season with the Amerks posting a goal in six games. Normally not much is expected of a sixth-round pick but the leap he made last year got noticed. The Sabres scouting staff  waded through some fairly decent, but not stunning, stats his draft year and found out that this very talented centerman had forces that were stifling him. A mid-season GM and coaching change unleashed the beast in Estephan and he's been running with it ever since.

Eyes will also be on the 4X6 as two goalies--Linus Ullmark and Jason Kasdorf--look to be tuning up for a season in Rochester. Of particular importance is Ullmark, who finished his first pro campaign on a down note in the AHL after performing very well with the Sabres. Unlike last season, Ullmark had a full off-season to train which should help him remain sharp throughout the long AHL season. Kasdorf is entering his first full pro season and looks as if he'll be backing up Ullmark in Rochester this season.

The 2016 Prospects Challenge lineup for the Sabres:


56  Bailey, Justin
73  Baptiste, Nicholas
48  Carrier, William
86  Cornel, Eric
72  Dupuy, Jean
58  Estephan, Giorgio
52  Fasching, Hudson
83  Glotov, Vasily
62  Hagel, Brandon
74  Karabacek, Vaclav
75  Lane, Matthew
85  Muzito-Bagenda
70  Nylander, Alexander
59  Pu, Cliff
71  Rodrigues, Evan


67  Austin, Brady
79  Budik, Vojtech
64  Geiger, Paul
45  Guhle, Brendan
54  Martin, Brycen
51  Osmanski, Austin
53  Stephens, Devante


33  Kasdorf, Jason
35  Ullmark, Linus

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