Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-8-2017
Much to the dismay of many a Sabres fan, the 2017 Buffalo Sabres Development Camp, which got underway today, will not include the annual Blue and Gold Scrimmage. That's too bad, because it was a fan favorite. Perhaps the Sabres decided upon a full-on business-like approach this year instead of having the prospects face each other in a live-game situation.
Back in 2015, hockey euphoria hit Sabreland with the drafting of Jack Eichel and the Blue and Gold Scrimmage that year brought in over 17,000 fans on a hot day in July. Last year Alexander Nylander wowwed fans with some penalty shot wizardry while Sabres broadcast legend Rick Jeanneret was in the booth making the call for a live stream at Sabres.com. Back in 2014, Zemgus Girgensons welcomed second-overall draft pick Sam Reinhart to the league with a heavy check and later on in the scrimmage Anthony Florentino and Justin Kea dropped the gloves, a rarity at D-Camps.
For as much as we fans like the scrimmage it's a camp, like the name says, that keys on development. Sabres management, the coaching staff and scouts will be in the stands evaluating the incoming draft class while also looking to see were the rest of the prospects are on the developmental curve. In looking as we laid it out here, there are plenty of lower round picks on long developmental curves wo are in the mix, which is one of the benefits of drafting players headed to college or those of whom are overseas.
After three days of various drills, the camp culminates with the 3-on-3 tournament named for the French Connection. This is a favorite of the organization as it pits many teams consisting of five, or even four, players going against each other in six minute games with :45 second shifts. Three players from each side are on the ice for the half-ice games and they're played without interruption during the round-robin portion.
Player's like Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste and even Brendan Guhle, are known quantities at this point but they're development will still be under scrutiny while the Sabres will be getting their first up-close look at 2017 NHL Draft newbies like Casey Mittelstadt, Marcus Davidsson and Oskari Laaksonen. There are also five invitees in camp looking to make an impression.
Here's a look at some of the 40 players to watch:
--D, Anthony Florentino (2013, 143rd overall): "Flo" graduated from Providence this past year and got himself a five-game audition with the Rochester Americans on an AHL contract. As shown by the contract, the previous regime wasn't all-in on the 6'0" 207 lb. native of Boston but with a new regime in place, he'll have an opportunity to make a good first impression. The Sabres shored up their defense this off season and with new head coach Phil Housley liking mobile puck-movers, we're not sure how or if Florentino fits in. But there are openings in the Amerks lineup right now.
--D, Devante Stephens (2015, 122nd): Stephens enters his first pro season after finishing his junior year with career highs in goals (13) and assists (35) for the Rockets and he's the type of mobile, puck-mover that fits right into what Housley and Co. may very well be looking for. At 6'1" 171 lbs. he still has room to grow into his frame and the athleticism the previous regime drafted him for is still there. He should be in the top-six mix in Rochester.
RW, Judd Petersen (2012, 204th): At 24 yrs. old, the Duluth, Minnesota native is the eldest of the vets at camp this year. Petersen was on an uber-long developmental curve as he spent two seasons in the USHL before attending St. Cloud State. This will be the senior's final college season and after taking a statistical step back in 2016-17 from the prior season, Petersen should light things up this go-round. The Sabres will be looking to see how far he's come along in his fourth D-camp.
C, Connor Hurley (2013, 38th): Hurley was the youngest player taken in the 2013 draft and he's needed every possible year of development. The skill-level is there as he has some of he best hands in the league, but lack of size and strength has hampered his confidence which in-turn has kept him away from the scoring zones. Hurley will have one more season at Notre Dame and if he cannot improve statistically, he'll be looking like a miss for the organization.
C, Casey Mittelstadt (2017, 8th): There was a mini uproar in Sabreland when Mittelstadt, who plays a position that's a strength for the organization, was selected over a defenseman, most notably Timothy Liljegren. Mittelstadt was widely considered a top-five pick that dropped to Buffalo and Sabres fans will have the opportunity to see his skill-level at camp.
C, Cliff Pu (2016, 69th): Pu had an excellent camp last year and an even better year for London in 2016-17 where he posted career numbers for the nights (63 games, 35 goals, 51 assists.) As shown by those numbers, he's well on his way developmentally.
D, Will Borgen (2015, 92nd): A lot is being expected of Borgen as he'll be entering his junior season at St. Cloud State. Most expect him to leave college early and begin his professional career with an entry-level deal. Borgen and fellow 2015 draft pick Brendan Guhle are the cream of the prospect crop on defense for the Sabres.
LW, Alexander Nylander (2016, 8th): Nylander got his taste of the NHL last season when he appeared in four games for the Sabres, while collecting his first NHL point (an assist.) Size and strength are his areas to focus upon this off season but also to be closely watched is his compete-level. The knock on Nylander at the draft was that he disappeared before pulling off a brilliant display of skill. Being engaged every second of every shift should be the goal for him. Showing the staff he's all-in on that concept at camp will go a long way towards convincing Buffalo that he's just about ready.