With training for the 2012-13 season not officially beginning until late August, a group of Sabres prospects will get a head start by skating with their respective national teams as a first step towards earning a roster spot at the IIHF World Junior Championship. The 2013 tournament will take place in Ufa, Russia from December 26th to January 5th.
The Sabres top pick in 2012, Mikhail Grigorenko, was among 29 players named to Russia's preliminary roster for the Canada-Russia Challenge. The four-game event, which this year replaces Canada's National Junior Development Camp, will be split between Yaroslavl, Russia (August 8-9) and Halifax, Nova Scotia (August 13-14). Filling a prominent role in international play over the past few seasons, the talented center posted five points (2+3) in six games at the 2012 tourney while playing through an ankle injury suffered in the Russians' third tilt. The 6'3 pivot will likely center a line featuring 2012 #1 pick Nail Yakupov down the right side during the series with Canada, who will ice a summer squad absent of any Sabres prospects for the first time since 2007.
Also among the highlighted prospects is 2011 first-round pick, Joel Armia. The 6'3 wing, who recently participated in his first NHL development camp, is a veteran of two U20 tourneys with Team Finland, including a five-goal, seven-point effort at the 2012 event, and should be considered a virtual lock for continued scoring line duty in 2013. A year removed from what he thought was his "worst game ever played", the big-bodied 19-year old will return to New York State (Lake Placid) on August 4th for the four-nation tournament at USA's National Junior Evaluation Camp.
Two picks from the 2012 draft, Jake McCabe and Logan Nelson, will skate in Lake Placid as USA Hockey evaluates a total of 46 under-20 players. The Americans will be split into Team White and Team Blue for intra-squad games and international tune-ups before cutting down for a round robin tourney with their European visitors.
A mobile left-handed warrior, McCabe is one of 17 defensemen in camp, a group that includes four first round NHL picks (Jacob Trouba, Connor Murphy, Jordan Schmaltz, Brady Skjei) and another eyed for top-five status in 2013 (Seth Jones). The 6'0", 195-pounder is set to enter his sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin, where he is expected to again log major minutes while manning a point on the Badgers' top PP unit. The Eau Claire, WI native has previous international experience with a 2011 U18 gold medal and should be right in the mix when USA releases their preliminary roster in December.
Nelson, 18, shot on to the radar following his impressive WHL rookie season that saw him collect 23 goals and 62 points (3rd on team, 4th among league rookies) with the Victoria Royals. Playing with an edge while going to the net, the 6'1" wing demonstrated a significant jump from the 6-3-9 posted in 41 games the year before as a member of the USHL's Des Moines Buccaneers. If the momentum of his stunning rise continues, there is a decent opportunity for him to get a deeper look from the staff headed by fellow Minnesotan and former Sabres first-rounder, Phil Housley.
Linus Ullmark, 19, is one of four netminders in Norrtälje this weekend as Sweden prepares for a two-game set with the Czech Republic on August 1st and 2nd. The 6'3" stopper joins Oscar Dansk (CBS), Niklas Lundström (STL), and Joel Lassinantti in the nets before the Swedes trim their roster from 34 to 22 and head over the pond for USA's camp tourney. Dansk and Lundstrom represent very stiff competition so a strong showing will be necessary for Ullmark to survive the cutdown and get a leg up entering the year with Modo.
Zemgus Girgensons is eligible to play for Latvia at the 2013 tourney, but his availability likely won't be addressed until their selection camp in December. As a contracted NHL player, the Sabres will dictate whether or not he participates. There is no question that the Latvians would love to have their prize forward help them compete after their 2012 promotion.