Focus shifts to U20

The summer usually offers a much-needed break from pucks, but the beat goes on for a group of Sabres prospects hoping to represent their countries at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. While the tournament is still five months away, the work begins with summer evaluation camps once the calendar flips in August.

The United States will welcome Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic to the National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, NY August 3-8. The Sabres boast five of the 42 Americans invited, the most of any NHL team. Canada will conduct their national junior team summer evaluation camp the same week in Quebec, where they’ll be joined by the Czechs, Finns and Russians.

Hudson Fasching returns to Lake Placid for the second straight summer after a strong freshman season with the University of Minnesota. Fasching, who was the youngest forward to attend the NJEC a season ago, clawed his way onto the 2014 edition and proved himself as a powerful workhorse as USA finished without a medal.

Fasching will be joined by reigning B1G Freshman of the Year, JT Compher from the University of Michigan. Like Fasching, Compher was excellent at last summer’s NJEC, and seemed destined to get a spot on the roster before injuring his foot during the selection camp.

Both Fasching and Compher should be seen as favorites to survive the summer cuts and go on to represent Team USA over the winter. Three other Sabres prospects will look to separate themselves among the best American U20s, but they’ll first need to make it through the first three days of intrasquad scrimmages prior to a round cuts.

Connor Hurley will get to gauge himself against an elite peer group on the eve of his first collegiate season at Notre Dame. The 6-foot-2 playmaker was masterful the last time he donned a USA jersey, posting three goals and 10 points in four games at the World Junior A Challenge as the Americans marched to a gold medal.

A product of the United States National Team Development Program, Sean Malone is set for a key role as a sophomore at Harvard University in 2014-15. The speedy sparkplug gathered six goals and 20 points as a rookie to earn All-Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Year honors. Prior to entering the ECAC, Malone was a 16-goal scorer with the National Under-18 team.

Providence College sophomore Anthony Florentino will be the only Sabres defensive prospect in Lake Placid, and one of 14 total blueliners invited. The sturdy freshman potted five goals and 11 points last season for the Friars.

The favorite to man the nets for Sweden at the 2015 World Junior Championship, Jonas Johansson is one of seven returnees from last year’s silver medalists set to attend Sweden’s camp. The Swedes will be in Lake Placid Aug. 3-8 to play a total of four games before heading to Quebec on Aug. 9 to take on Russia’s top U20s. Johansson should pull the majority of the starts while sharing the crease with two other goalies.

Joining Johansson on Team Sweden will be Victor Olofsson, the Sabres seventh rounder from the 2014 draft.  Olofsson looked good at the recent development camp, and could offer a well-rounded offensive dimension to the Swedish attack. 

Two Sabres prospects will participate in Canada's summer evaluation camp, as Sam Reinhart and Nick Baptiste are among the 41 players who will start positioning themselves for U20 duty.

Reinhart, who is a virtual lock to play in the tournament if he’s not in the NHL, is one of 10 returnees from Canada's 2014 entry that will take part in the summer evaluation. A 105-point man last season in the WHL, Reinhart notched two goals and five points as a winger on Bo Horvat’s line at the 2014 event in Malmo.

A 45-goal scorer in Sudbury a season ago, Baptiste last skated for Canada at the 2013 U18s, where he gathered eight points (3+5) en route to a capturing a gold medal. The speedy Baptiste likely will be vying for a checking role for the Canadians.

There is a good chance that Vaclav Karabacek will be kept out of action when the Czechs make their summer rounds. The Gatineau Olympiques forward, who did not skate at the Sabres development camp due to an undisclosed injury, ended the year with a solid showing at the U18s and is still considered a good bet to play in the U20 event come December.

The Russians could enlist the services of 19-year old defenseman Nikita Zadorov when they skate at Canada’s Summer Evaluation Camp. Zadorov was paired with fellow Sabres prospect Rasmus Ristolainen on the 2014 World Junior Championship All-Star Team. There's a chance that Russia will elect to evaluate others, but the big defender does have one more year of U20 eligibility remaining. EDIT: Zadorov will not participate in Russia's summer evaluations.

Canada will host the prestigious U20 event Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Montreal and Toronto.
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