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Aaaaand....they're off!

Written By Kris Baker on Sunday, August 29, 2010 | 8/29/2010

The zambonis are tuned up, new sticks have been ordered, and the billets have cleared space. With QMJHL camps breaking ice and the rest of the CHL starting to follow suit, so begins another season of SabresProspects coverage.

Finally.

Aside from going to LA for the draft, hitting up prospect camp for a few days, doing early prep for the 2011 draft, and lending a hand to Puck Daddy, it was pretty mellow summer hockey-wise. All of a sudden I'm eager for games that count and glad to be able to provide your daily fix on the happenings of the future Buffalo Sabres. Things are looking good for the current batch of hopefuls. Not that size always matters, but they're seemingly bigger than ever with many in good positions to succeed.

We're going to try some new things this season, but before that let's take a brief east-west cruise through CHL training camps.

QMJHL

As usual, the Q was the first to get things going with their mid-August camp dates. The Sabres will have just two prospects skating in the league this season, down from their usual four, as some of their recent mindshare has shifted towards the WHL.

One of the more offensive-minded blueliners in the stable and currently the youngest Sabres prospect, Kris Letang Jerome Gauthier-Leduc will continue his development with the Rimouski Oceanic in 2010-11. The 'Nics broke the seal on August 18th and two days later dropped the puck with Baie-Comeau for a four-game exhibition series. JGL appeared in three of the four outings, finishing +3 with an insurance goal in a 6-4 win on August 20th. He skated even the following night as the Oceanic defeated the Drakkar, 6-2. The 6'1 defenseman posted a -1 with four shots on goal and three blocks to close the series with a 3-1 loss on Saturday. Rimouski will continue their pre-season on Thursday against Bathurst. 

Cedrick Henley, the Sabres sixth rounder in June, returns to the Val-d'Or Foreurs looking take a dramatic step forward after notching 31 points over his first two Q seasons. After sitting out the Foreurs first two exhibition contests, the 6'5 wing scored the opening goal in their 6-1 defeat of Rouyn-Noranda on August 22nd. Henley was given the night off in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Huskies.

OHL

The upcoming week will see four forwards, including three aggressive grinders and a developing playmaker, reporting for duty in what should be a wide-open season in the "O".

Fresh on the heels of a strong showing in Team Canada's U20 Evaluation Camp, Zack Kassian and now re-building Windsor Spitfires will open camp on Tuesday, August 31st. For now, the back-to-back Memorial Cup champs look to have thrown in the towel in their quest for a third by trading Justin Shugg and Marc Cantin to 2011 hosts Mississauga earlier in the week. Windsor may have as many as nine OHL rookies on their roster this season, putting Kassian under the offensive microscope from the get-go. At this point, let's hope Kass embraces the role as the Sabres want his all-around game to keep spiking. The Spits their exhibition schedule with a Labor Day matinee with Plymouth.

Recently turned 19-year old Marcus Foligno will head to Sudbury Wolves training camp on Spetember 2nd to begin his first OHL season without his father Mike behind the Wolves bench. Foligno is likely to again skate alongside center John McFarland (FLA) at some point this season, but with new faces dotting the Wolves roster comes the possibility of Foligno starting as the #2 center. Much of that will shake out beginning September 10th when the Wolves open the pre-season against Barrie. 

As Mississauga continues to load up for their Memorial Cup date, perhaps there is an outside shot of something developing similar to last season when Luke Adam was joined in Cape Breton by fellow Sabres prospects Maxime Legault and Jacob Lagace. A line with Foligno and fellow hard-hitter Gregg Sutch would be outstanding for Sabres fans to enjoy next spring against the CHL's best. The Foligno family has been a big part of the Sudbury hockey community for many years, but the franchise may be best served for the future by evaluating the option as the season matures. Nothing like some wild Eklund-esque speculation to grease things up...

Sutch, the Sabres fifth round pick in June, will enter the Majors camp with a clean slate after an injury riddled draft 18-year old season. The 6'2, 193-pound banger has shown the propensity to do damage on the forecheck and with his fists, and will no doubt be eager to get his season on track beginning with the first team's first pre-season game Sunday, September 5th versus the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL.

Steven Shipley will return to Owen Sound for his third OHL season when the Attack open main camp on Monday. The 6'2, 200-pounder went from 39 to 63 points over his first two seasons, and should show another healthy increase in 2010-11 as he uses his size and heavy skating stride to take the puck to the net. The Attack kick off the pre-season with a home-and-home versus Barrie on September 5th and 6th before engaging Sutch and Majors on the 12th.

WHL

For the first time since 1999-2000, the Sabres will have a six-pack of prospects brewing in the "Dub" providing this ESTer with plenty of late-night viewing options this season.

Mark Pysyk speaks to the media after being selected 23rd overall.
The Sabres top pick in the June draft, Mark Pysyk reported to Edmonton on Saturday for fitness testing and the start of the Oil Kings training camp. The team will hit the ice on Monday in prep for their exhibition opener on September 5th against Medicine Hat. Pysyk is carrying the momentum of his Team Canada U20 camp showing into the season, where his excellence in special teams will be relied upon as main catalyst to the Oil Kings success in 2010-11. With a simple and steady fall, Pysyk has as good a shot as any to make Team Canada come winter.

Fellow Team Canada invitee, 6'4 Brayden McNabb will return to Kootenay as one of the league's top rearguards. The sixth leading scorer among WHL defenseman last season and fourth in team scoring with 57 points, McNabb's hard work at both ends should position himself near the top of the Hockey Canada's radar for December. With plenty of good tools in place, the Ice will open the pre-season at the Tri-City Tournament on September 10th against Seattle. As far as Sabres training camp goes, I fully expect the hard-worker to earn a pre-season game before going back to Kootenay.

Corey Fienhage began his WHL career on Thursday when he checked in for Kamloops Blazers training camp. The two seasons in the University North Dakota's program, including use of the supreme facilities at Ralph Englestad Arena, should greatly benefit 2008 third rounder in his transition to the Dub. Big and rugged in his newly measured 6'4, 220 pound frame, the 20-year old Fienhage has the athleticism and ripping shot to be leveraged by the Blazers in various situations nightly. For those who tracked Nick Crawford and the Barrie Colts last season, think of Fienhage as a Dalton Prout type - a big, physical righty anchoring the 2nd pair. Kamloops opens the exhibition schedule on September 3rd against Kevin Sundher and the Chilliwack Bruins.

The experienced Sundher is expected to man the top-line pivot for the Bruins this season after scoring 25-goals and 61 points in his second WHL campaign in 2009-10. The Surrey, B.C. native is a prospect that wasn't invited to to Canada's summer evaluation camp but could very well get land at their Selection Camp in December if he and Ryan Howse (CAL) can heat up quickly. Regardless, he's already a prime candidate for for next season's U20's.

Solid two-way defenseman Matt MacKenzie willl look to build on his Memorial Cup experience when the Calgary Hitmen open main camp on September 3rd. Entering his fourth season on the WHL circuit, MacKenzie will be counted on for big things in both leadership and point production as the Hitmen graduated a slew of talented players from last season's squad. The club opens the exhibition season with games against Red Deer on the 8th and Medicine Hat on the 14th. 

Power forward Riley Boychuk, 19, and the Portland Winterhawks opened camp this week as a serious contender for the WHL title. With injuries behind him and Portland brimming with talent, the right situation could see the hulking 6'5, 220-pounder double his 2009-10 line of 14-16-30 and realize the potential that made him a top-bantam draft pick a few years back. The 'Hawks will make their preseason debut on September 3rd against Seattle. 
8/29/2010 | 3 comments | Read More

Handy Kassian's nifty move

Written By Kris Baker on Tuesday, August 10, 2010 | 8/10/2010

Zack Kassian recently scored a goal and an assist over his two games at the Canadian U20 Evaluation Camp held in St. John's, Newfoundland.  Kassian, who was throwing his weight around throughout camp, wowed the crowd with a sharp display of hands against 2010 draft pick Calvin Pickard as the event concluded with an exhibition shootout on Saturday.


8/10/2010 | 1 comments | Read More

Kassian grabs late goal as White doubles up Red

Written By Kris Baker on Saturday, August 7, 2010 | 8/07/2010

Zack Kassian scored a third period goal Friday as Team Red lost the opening scrimmage of Canada's U20 Evaluation Camp to Team White, 6-3.

With the bulk of his time spent on the right wing of a line with Curtis Hamilton and Riley Sheahan, the 6'3 Kassian elevated his physical presence and forechecking ability in a strong third period. Bringing good energy to keep the puck low, Kassian's spark earned time on the Tyler Seguin line (in place of Tyler Toffoli) in the final twenty while at one point also getting double shifted to skate with Ryan Johnasen's unit. His goal, a backhand finish of a rebound to the left side of the net, was as much a typical Kassian play as the poke in the back of the knee on Erik Gudbrandson that led to each receiving minor roughing penalties. Minutes before, Kassian set a tone for Saturday's intrasquad match-up by advancing the puck and finishing a hit on projected 2011 top dog Sean Couturier. Kassian is playing his aggressive game in highly skilled setting.

Couturier (1G, 1A) helped lead Team White along with linemates Louis Leblanc (2G), and Quinton Howden. Kings prospect Brayden Schenn also added a pair of goals for the winning side. I expect all to receive a few bumps from Kassian on Saturday as players start to separate themselves on the Canadian depth chart.

Kassian is one of four Sabres properties skating in the evaluation camp in St. John's, Newfoundland, joining WHL defensemen Mark Pysyk and Brayden McNabb and QMJHLer Jerome Gauthier-Leduc.

Team Red played poorly through the first forty minutes, making too many casual plays with the puck and not communicating well enough in all three zones. 2010 first rounder Mark Pysysk was one of the Red defenders who put forth an "ok" performance. Paired with Pens prospect Simon Despres, Pysyk made a good play in the early third when he followed his sharp pass to a breaking winger by sliding into a shooting lane to register a clean shot on goal. I expect the Pysyk-Despres pair to tighten things up on Saturday as Red bounces back from a listless effort.

On the White blueline, #23 McNabb played steady and conservative while #6 Gauthier-Leduc also looked to keep things simple. At times it appeared as if Gauthier-Leduc wasn't focusing on the body as much as he was the puck. He was mainly looking to clear his zone throughout, once coughing it up near his net as Red applied pressure late in the game. In the shootout round to end the game, he showed great hands by roofing a backhand to the delight of the fans.

On Saturday, expect to see McNabb continue his sound defensive play while making good looks up-ice and supporting the offense with keeps at the blueline. Gauthier-Leduc's game will be angles and awareness in his own end to help get the puck out and make plays when it crosses into the opposing end of the ice. He's not overly physical, but his footwork should be used a little more to cancel out his man to allow others to fish for the loose puck.
8/07/2010 | 5 comments | Read More