Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Summer Notes: Traverse, 2015 draft and other stuff

Some news and notes as I squeeze out every ounce of summer (OK, and study for my upcoming FFB drafts) before beginning another fun year of sticks and pucks....

We'll be wheels up for Traverse City on Thursday, Sept. 11. The following day, the Sabres will begin

divisional play at the NHL Prospects Tournament against Carolina. The official roster release is likely a couple of weeks away, but we can still speculate on what it might look like.

Roster rules have always been a bit ambiguous, but teams have generally been able to play each game using four players with at least one year of professional experience. College and Junior A players do not participate in training camp (and thus will not be available), while the Sabres' Swedish quartet of Linus Ullmark, Jonas Johansson, Gustav Possler and Victor Olofsson will be in season with their SHL clubs.

Rasmus Ristolainen will enter the second year of his pro career, but was on the Sabres' NHL roster for too many games last season. This is the same reason that Mikhail Grigorenko was deemed ineligible for the 2013 tourney.


Lemieux - Reinhart - Baptiste
Carrier - Catenacci# - Armia#
Karabacek - Cornell - Bailey
Samuels-Thomas - Kea - (invite - see below)


Zadorov - Austin
Martin - McCabe#
Prophet^ (?) - (invite - see below)
(note: these are all LHD)


* training camp invitee
# "veteran" spot
^ D-Camp invitee -- not confirmed for Traverse City

*Note: there are up to four other rumored camp invitees likely to be suiting up for the Sabres - Michael Joly (RW - Rimouski), Jayden Hart (F - Prince Albert), Colton Bobyk (D - Spokane)Jared Walsh (D - Mississauga). They will be slotted once confirmed.

Armia, Catenacci, McCabe and Makarov make for a solid "vet" grouping. A few more invites are needed, but that's my best guess at the framework.


The New York Rangers released their 23-man Traverse City roster last week, headlined by former QMJHL goal-scoring machine Anthony Duclair. After a good showing at their summer development camp, former Sabres prospect Logan Nelson will skate for the Rangers. Nelson logged a goal and an assist in four games with the Sabres at the 2013 event.

We'll have more thoughts soon on how the other rosters shape up...


Believe it or not, training camps have already opened in the SHL and QMJHL with a few Sabres prospects taking the ice.

Vaclav Karabacek missed development camp and the Czech's recent trip to the American and Canadian summer evaluation camps with an ankle injury, but seems healed and good to go moving forward. The left wing prospect, chosen by the Sabres in the second round of June's draft, has been skating in Gatineau in preparation for what should be a big season with the Olympiques.

Reingning SHL Goalie of the Year Linus Ullmark (MODO) kicked off his preseason Thursday with a 31-save victory over Skelleftea. Victor Olofsson was also in action while fellow MODO sniper Gustav Possler is skating with the team but did not play.


If you weren't following along on Twitter or at Sabres.com, it should be noted that a gaggle of Sabres prospects posted excellent performances recently at the Canadian and American World Junior camps.

JT Compher emerged as a leading candidate to captain Team USA with his blend of work ethic and skill. He was a difference maker all week before his camp was cut short with a hand injury. Compher was noticeable at both ends of the ice, very effective on the penalty kill and made countless "heads up" plays when he had the puck, especially from behind the net. Consider him a lock for the team.

A returnee from USA's 2014 edition, Hudson Fasching didn't score in the international portion of the NJEC but played a steady and heavy two-way style that is sure to get him back on this winter's roster. Fashing's versatile skill set offers the USA staff a hard-working element, be it on the second line or the fourth.

The surprise of the week was defenseman Anthony Florentino, who survived the initial round of cuts to keep his name in play as a potential bottom-pair defender. Florentino was physical and active in following the play deep, limiting his mistakes while displaying a sharp and decisive passing game. Even if he doesn't crack the final roster in December, the experience should boost Florentino to greater heights as a Providence College sophomore.

Sean Malone and Connor Hurley each did their thing in split scrimmages but did not make it past the wave of cuts.

For Sweden, Jonas Johansson was excellent in his first outing but was overpowered in his second start by the condensed USA roster en route to allowing six goals on 22 shots. Victor Olofsson scored one goal all week, but showed his ability to make smart plays with the puck. It is expected that both players will be on Sweden's final roster in December, with Johansson lined up as the starting netminder and Olofsson being a checking line forward.

In Quebec, both Sam Reinhart and Nick Baptiste put forth strong efforts as the team-building process began for Team Canada. Both Sabres prospects were effective at both ends of the rink while getting quality minutes on both sides of the special teams coin. Reinhart was especially consistent with his offense, while Baptiste's rapid acceleration and knack for getting to the goal mouth earned high praise for the Canadian brass.

If Reinhart isn't in the NHL, he's a no-brainer for World Junior duty. Based on his body of work over the last calendar year, Baptiste looks like a safe bet as well.


Connor McDavid (CAN) and Jack Eichel (USA). You may have heard of them when it comes to chatting up the 2015 NHL draft. Expected to go 1-2 next June, the duo recently showed well at World Junior development camps, especially Eichel with his impressive eight points in two games versus Sweden and Finland. It'll be a fun debate all year long on both sides of the border.

In reality, though, there are plenty of other names that folks will be dropping over the next 10 months. A few of them recently earned a gold medal as Canada captured the title at the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup - a tournament which marks the unofficial start of the scouting season.

After leading all OHL rookies with 26 goals and 70 points a season ago, Ottawa's Travis Konecny is poised to follow in the footsteps of former 67's star Sean Monahan as a top-10 NHL draft pick. Averaged sized with above-average speed, Konecny has the requisite offensive tools to approach the 100-point mark in his draft season. Fantastic finishing skill and an energetic work ethic helped the London, Ont. product to five goals and one assist in five games at the Hlinka.

London Knights forward Mitchell Marner eased his way through the lineup in his rookie OHL season, eventually working his way into a key role by the time the playoffs rolled around. He can dance with the puck in tight, and is more than capable of putting it in the back of the net. Marner, Canada's co-leader in points at the Hlinka (5gp 2-5-7), will again play a major role in the Knights' quest for four consecutive Memorial Cup appearances.

A bit of a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins clone, Mathew Barzal has been hyped as a natural playmaking talent since his early teens. Now in his draft year, look for Barzal to be among the CHL's leading assist men while playing a poised two-way style. He generates offense every time he's on the ice, as evidenced by his 54 points as a WHL rookie, and seven points (2+5) in five Hlinka contests to tie Marner for the team lead.

Canada's leading goal man at the Hlinka with six in the tourney's five tilts, Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs continued to prove himself as a future NHL power forward. He's physical with good speed and hands, and he isn't afraid to drop the mitts (he logged five scraps last season including the playoffs). Expected to be a top-15 pick in 2015, it's clear that teams looking for the pro package of size and skill will be keeping close tabs on the former Elgin-Middlesex Chief in 2014-15.

Rounding out Canada's top-five scorers at the Hlinka was Dylan Strome, a 6-foot-2 centerman from the OHL's Erie Otters. The brother of New York Islanders forward Ryan, Strome's game is marked by excellent speed, great hands and supreme vision. He matched Konecny with five goals and an assist in the five-game Hlinka run, and it's fair to think that the hits will keep coming when he and McDavid lead the Otters' attack in 2014-15.


From the "not at the Hlinka but a stud 2015 draft prospect regardless" category is Daniel Sprong, a speedy goal scorer from the QMJHL's Charlottetown Islanders. Sprong potted 30 goals last season as a 16-year old in the Q, and could be aiming for the 50 plateau in due time. We'll be getting into all of these guys as the year plays out, so for now, check out this 2013-14 sampler that showcases the Dutch-born forward's tantalizing ability.


Finland's roster for the NJEC wasn't as loaded as years past, but one player that stood out all week was 2015 draft eligible Aleksi Saarela. Currently projected to go somewhere in the middle of the first round, Saarela doesn't have the bone-rattling frame, nor did he score in games versus Sweden and the USA, but showed excellent quickness and smarts while generating several prime opportunities throughout the week. Saarela, 17, will play this season in Liiga for Joel Armia's former club, Assat Pori.


And to think that, aside from mentioning Eichel, we've yet to touch on the American crop yet. It's too early to say if it can rival the 2010 class, which saw 11 American-born players taken in the first round, but it's a solid group regardless.

Noah Hanifin (Boston College), Colin White (USA U18) and Kyle Connor (Youngstown) could join Eichel as high picks. Paul Bittner (Portland), Jordan Greenway (USA U18), Brandon Carlo (Tri City), Zack Werenski (Michigan) and Thomas Novak (Waterloo) are some others that could go in the first round. Novak recently led the Americans to a third-place finish at the Hlinka with five goals and 11 points in the tourney's five games.

All are expected to participate at the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game Sept. 25 at First Niagara Center.

And while discussing American prospects, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention 16-year old Auston Mathews, who looks set to crack the USA roster for this winter's IIHF World Junior Championship.

The 6-foot-1, 202 pound Arizona native tore it up at the U18s in April (5+2) and continued to set the tone at the NJEC with four assists in three games. He's not eligible for the draft until 2016, but his rifle from between the circles and size around the edge already has scouts talking about his high NHL ceiling.