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Summer school wraps for future hopefuls

Written By Kris Baker on Saturday, July 10, 2010 | 7/10/2010

With the Sabres concluding their 2010 Development Camp on Friday, there's little doubt that the 40+ players in attendance rejoiced at the sound of the final buzzer. Temperatures reached the 90's in Western New York, creating a grueling backdrop for a week involving lessons in physical fitness and on-ice drill work. The action was tighter on Thursday, and needless to say the play was somewhat sloppier by the time Friday's scrimmage took place.

I can't imagine the Sabres are looking for excuses about players being gassed though, as the development camp is a large part of their team building strategy. The old days of drafting a player and hoping he develops with his amateur club are long gone. The organizational coaching begins immediately and continues throughout the season with video, mid-stream visits, and phone calls. Jobs aren't won or list at these sessions, but it's in the players best interests to leave everything they have on the ice including pools of lactate.

I'll post some brief notes below. Some of this has been tweeted and I'm not sure I'll cover all of the players. Additional remarks will drive content for the new Top 25 rankings...



- There's not really a ton to note on the goaltending front. Jhonas Enroth continued to be the pacesetter, showing good angles and a refined "paddle down" approach as a result of the week's work with Jim Corsi. He's getting better at challenging the shooter....The closest to Enroth in terms of size and athleticism, North Dakota goalie Brad Eidsness exhibited his sharp reflexes and technique in drill work, and made a few decent saves in the scrimmages. A couple juicy rebounds were kicked back, but for the most part no egregious positioning errors were recorded...Nick Eno appeared to be fighting the puck in the Thursday scrimmage. but was more composed on Friday.  He's a big kid who can hold ground in tight, but his puckhandling is still a little suspect....The biggest goaltender in the system, Connor Knapp kept it simple by covering most of the net and steering most of his rebounds. He played the puck well aside from a gaffe in the Friday scrimmage that created a goal against. He's got the size and mechanics, but his hang up will be quickness. Pekke Rinne is an athletic freak, but regardless he is the NHL standard for big goaltenders. Of all the positions, goaltending is the hardest one to gauge at these off-season camps due to the lack of action and rhythm leading in.

- Definitely the case on Friday, T.J. Brennan may very have been the best defenseman throughout the entire camp. Good at moving the puck north-south, Brennan got more involved over the course of the two scrimmages. His defense looks sturdy, with his 6'0 frame and added upper body strength creating a situation where he can drive upward on a guys chest with his forearm to break up plays. He got turned around and caught watching when Corey Tropp made a great feed to Luke Adam on Thursday, but overall he committed few mistakes and looks to be a guy who is more in-tune with how to pick his spots matriculating the puck. If I'm looking at year-over-growth, Brennan was most impressive.

- I really enjoy watching Marcus Foligno patrol the zone and finish his checks. His pivoting has vastly improved and his pursuit routes are where they need to be. I'm less enthused by the hat trick he posted in Friday's scrimmage, and more excited by the feeling that Foligno may very well be future letter material. Regarding his offense, Foligno will collect loads of rebounds and tap-ins inside the hash marks. Frankly, I think he's more effective when he doesn't need to think about making a play. He lined up at center this week. He's not even 19 yet, but I really like where his development is heading.

- Similar to previous viewings, Chilliwack's Kevin Sundher competed and created at a high level throughout the course of the week. Sundher looks good entering the zone, using his body and lateral movement to create angles for additional passing options. Just a very aware player wired to produce under pressure. His shot is pretty accurate, and it's clear that the Sabres have themselves a natural center option brewing.

- Brayden McNabb is going to be a tough cut for Team Canada this winter. The simpler the better - both physically and offensively. He's solid in front of his net, and he works hard to keep the puck down low in the opposing end.  When Chris Butler wrenched his back on Thursday, McNabb was traded between periods to assume his spot on team blue.

- 2010 third-rounder Matt MacKenzie looked like a  camp veteran out there. Sure being a late-'91 birth date may have something to do with it, but his composure and vision were top notch. He scored a beautiful backhand goal on Thursday when he shot in the left lane and roofed it stick side. I like his level of engagement and thought he communicated well with his partner. Not a lot of flash, but very good overall.

- A pair of recent signees, Luke Adam and Corey Tropp, lined up with Nathan Gerbe for what was perhaps the best juxtaposition of skill sets in camp. Gerbe motors, Adam gets space, and Tropp battles. All three can shoot. If Gerbe goes down to Portland to begin the season, here is one of your projected scoring units. Adam continued to consistently swoop into scoring position and get off his thick shot. Tropp went hard, faring well one-on-one to both distribute and get shots off.  

- Christian Isackson has the vision and offensive understanding to get the job done. An excellent passer, this kid has good hand-eye coordination and understands how to use the space that's given to him to better use his teammates. The future Gopher made a few nice set ups in the Friday session.  If he can improve his first three strides and hit a higher top end, expect Isackson to make some noise in the WCHA down the road. Nothing short of an excellent find by the Sabres Minnesota bird dog, Nik Fattey.

- Gregg Sutch was very businesslike all week, showing good puck control skills and strength on the forecheck. Nice framework for a checking line forward. He made a nice play in Friday's scrimmage to get to the crease on Knapp, but couldn't slide the puck past the wall. Had a wraparound attempt as well that rolled on him.

- Aside from guys like Ennis, Gerbe, and Byron, Jacob Lagace may have the most talented set of shooting hands among the forward prospects. He was automatic in drill work from between the dots and he worked to get to front of the cage. When the real action takes place, I still have lingering concerns about his play away from the puck. He's going to score his share of goals for sure, but whether it's at the AHL or NHL level will be determined by his desire to pay the price to light the lamp.

- A full season of regular ice time and weight room activity in the USHL has had a positive impact on Roo Adams. He's looks bigger and more adjusted to the flow. He did commit a stick penalty in one of the scrimmages to compensate for a guy getting past him, but the coaching of Tim Army and David Berard should greatly benefit the big kid over his career at Providence.

- Another NE prep/USHL product, Drew MacKenzie, looked a year wiser. A straight forward "classic defenseman", MacKenzie is steady and good at staying within his box. Guys that do too much get exposed and he rarely does that.

- The youngest player in camp, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc has some things to work on but clearly has the tools to generate offense down the road. Good feet and a decent defensive foundation in place. I think he understands and is more committed to his defensive responsibilities than Marc-Andre Gragnani at the same stage, but I'd be lying if I didn't deem the few shifts he had paired with Dennis Persson as adventurous. Granted much of that was due to Persson coughing the puck up twice within their first :20 together. As a whole Gauthier-Leduc didn't seem to get overpowered along the boards and made good decisions to get the puck out of his end. 

- Mark Pysyk is smart, smart, smart. He goes to the right places positionally and is decisive with the puck. Real good vision. His skating is smooth and effortless as if he's on rails, and his shot stays low and gets through. When the going gets tough, I expect Pysyk to adjust with a conservative yet effective style. No issues from last season's foot injury.

- Zack Kassian is simply a specimen. Long arms and torso and thick as a tree trunk. He carves the ice at every turn, and while his feet generally stay moving, I've yet to see an extra gear (both ways). He can pump a shot and he showed some deft little puck plays, but overall there wasn't a ton of intensity in the scrimmages when guys like Travis Turnbull and Maxime Legault were tossing their weight around.

- The unit of Legault-Turnbull-Riley Boychuk was quite physical. Solid at the dot, Turnbull always looks good in these camps. Legault put forth a consistent drive and finished what he could. Boychuk has some skating work to do, but his size and shot as a 19-year old are a welcome addition. 

- I can't say that Justin Jokinen put forth a better effort than last year's camp, but I'm getting the feeling that he's just getting started. You see the size and basic offensive elements, but he needs to put it together this season to validate the package. A few times he entered the zone and appeared to pull up and think about what he wanted to do, giving the defender time to close on him and force an unfavorable outcome. He can fix this and I think it will happen with increaseed ice time as a junior.

- Steve Shipley didn't do a ton to get noticed. He made some decent effort plays in drill and width-wise shinnies on Wednesday. His feet will drive his compete moving forward, but you can see offensive elements.

- I thought Nick Crawford displayed his cool nature on the ice. Another guy who communicated well, Crawford is patient with the puck and good with his angles and gaps. He was a shutdown guy in the OHL, and it'll be interesting to see how he takes guys coming at him at top speed in the AHL. His upper body will need a little work.

- I mentioned Drew Schiestel's agility on Twitter. Looks to be more in control with the puck. Good shot, but like Brennan, didn't get many chances to pop it off. I expect gradual improvement defensively in year two. Consistency is the key in his own end since he has little issue helping push it up ice. He loves his forehand/backhand deke on the breakaway.

- Cedrick Henley is another long, lanky player who can go nowhere but up. He's pretty average with his skating and stick skills in his 6'5 frame, but his presence at the edge of the crease can cause trouble for the opposition. That alone should see him score 15 goals in the QMJHL next year.

- Paul Byron did not attend camp due to a bout with mononucleosis. Tough blow for one of the speedier, more offensively talented Pirate forwards. Byron joins Brad Eidsness, Corey Tropp, Luke Adam, and Drew MacKenzie as players to battle the infection after being drafted by the Sabres.

- Another skater, rearguard Corey Fienhage, was in town but did not see the ice due to a foot injury suffered in summer workouts. Fienhage recently bolted the University of North Dakota to see more playing time with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL.

Feel free to fire questions about guys not mentioned or if you need me to expand on anything above. Next up, the adjusted Top 25. 
7/10/2010 | 53 comments | Read More

Tropp in the fold

Written By Kris Baker on Tuesday, July 6, 2010 | 7/06/2010

The Buffalo Sabres are set to announce the signing of Michigan State right wing Corey Tropp to a three-year entry level contract. Orignally chosen in the third round of the 2007 draft, the Grosse Point Woods, MI native comes to the Sabres organization after a three-year NCAA career saw him collect 29 goals and 70 points in 100 games with the Spartans.

Tropp, 20, got off to a blazing start in 2009-10, leading the nation with 17 goals through his first 21 games before cooling after the new year. The team’s MVP, Tropp would finish the season with 20 goals and 22 assists in 37 games as the Spartans were bounced in the first round of the CCHA tournament. The 6’0, 185-pound right wing is a skilled effort guy who possesses a quick shot release and a willingness to go to the dirty areas to get it off. His hands and two-way skills will enter the next phase of development with the Portland Pirates in 2010-11.
7/06/2010 | 1 comments | Read More