Prospects Challenge: Potential combos

We're a few short weeks away from the Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils coming to Buffalo for the second annual Prospects Challenge. Let's take a few minutes to sketch out what the Sabres line combinations might look for the two games.

NCAA players do not attend training camp, a situation that eliminates 11 players from this exercise. The Sabres' four Swedish prospects will be in season with their home clubs and should not be expected to participate.


Alex Nylander - Evan Rodrigues - Justin Bailey

Full disclosure here: my original draft of lines had Giorgio Estephan between Nylander and Bailey. Estephan is a top-line WHL pivot that needs the challenge of becoming a faster player. Having him keep up with his flankers here would only force the issue prior to entering a key developmental season. I still like this idea as Estephan packs the creative talent and truly understands the centerman's  two-way responsibilities to make this work.

Let's set Estephan aside for a moment, though. I originally was thinking that Rodrigues could get a hall pass for this tournament, but he should probably play at least one game to help the Amerks staff get an idea of what he might be able to do for them for this season.

The simple plan is to place speed on the outside with an experienced worker down the middle. Rodrigues, who brings plenty of straight-line acceleration of his own, found his way to the pros primarily as a winger, but he'll be inserted at center as the best way to match talent and ensure that the better players get the bigger minutes.

In both scenarios, you're putting Bailey with two creative elements to get him plenty of early looks to hopefully build both confidence and momentum prior on the eve of his second professional training camp.

William Carrier - Jean Dupuy - Hudson Fasching

Kind of a simple concept in play here - get pucks deep, own the walls, create chaos in front of the opposing goal. This trio could work well together in a north-south, puck control game and combine with their defense to execute as a smart, five-man unit in their own zone. This trio makes sense if you're constructing an AHL lineup that is tough to play against, so why not try it here? After all, there is a very good chance that all three are in Rochester to start the season.

Brandon Hagel - Cliff Pu - Nick Baptiste

A little lightning to the previous thunder, this unit could employ an up-tempo style to apply pressure, force turnovers and win the majority of their shifts. The tenacious Hagel and speedy Baptiste complemented each other well with Judd Peterson between them in the Blue-Gold scrimmage. Inserting a fast, versatile player like Pu down the middle could make for some exciting offensive moments.

Vaclav Karabacek - Vasily Glotov - Eric Cornel

The Sabres could choose to round out the attack with two first-year pros and a North American rookie looking to get moving in the right direction. Karabacek and Cornel played together at times at past Traverse City tournaments, and each have the crafty instincts to gel with a creative talent like Glotov. Bringing a dogged effort away from the puck will be key if this trio is formed.

By the way, I feel that this is the best bet for using Estephan (in place of Glotov) if he doesn't get aligned with Nylander/Bailey. While having him with Baptiste/Hagel seems enticing, I think this line could have decent flow, especially if Karabacek comes ready to play on his off wing.

Also available: Daniel Muzito-Bagenda, Matthew Lane

You have to think that two players brought in on AHL contracts will be a part of the attack. We could have chosen other spots to use Muzito-Bagenda (20) and Lane (22), but maybe you can toss them with Rodrigues if the second-year pro doesn't get a look with Nylander/Bailey.


It gets a little trickier on the back end. If there is any dart throwing here, this is it.

The biggest thing to note is not the pairings, but rather the simple fact that the five Sabres draft picks set to attend rookie camp are all left handed. Clarkson graduate Paul Geiger, the 24-year-old signed to an AHL contract in May, is also a a lefty.

Brendan Guhle - *Jalen Chatfield*

You can toy with the idea of having lefty WHL teammates Guhle and Budik play together in this spot, but I'd rather venture outside of the box and suggest that the Sabres invite free agent Jalen Chatfield back for main camp and see what he do on a bigger stage.

The 20-year-old Chatfield, who attended development camp in July, is a mobile, two-way defender who can really move pucks up ice and add to the offense -- and he's a right-hander.

You may ask why I'd place an undrafted free agent with the system's top defensive prospect. I'll ask why not? You could pair Guhle with Brycen Martin, as that actually would make for a pretty decent duo to gobble up special teams minutes in addition to their even strength assignments, but I'd be willing try to Chatfield in this spot if he's truly on the radar for a contract.

Brycen Martin - Paul Geiger

Matching Martin's mature all-around style with a young, raw-ish Budik, who is still carving out a North American projection, could be interesting since Budik skates so well to the point that you want to see him become more aggressive when given space. However, we'll pair Martin with Geiger to form a more experienced if not efficient duo that could end up playing together in Rochester.

Vojtech Budik - Austin Osmanski/Devante Stephens

Throwing Chatfield into the mix, and making it an even longer shot by pairing him with Guhle, muddies the waters a little. Any combination of these three seems like a possibility. I'd be particularly interested to see how Stephens performs in his second pro camp. He definitely had his ups and downs last season in Kelowna, but played some inspired hockey during the Rockets' playoff run. I'm guessing that former Kelowna bench boss Dan Lambert will know exactly how to use Stephens, so let's see what happens.


Linus Ullmark
Jason Kasdorf

Back when Eichelmania was beginning in Buffalo. a former sixth-round pick was rehabbing both of his hips after a spring surgery. When the 2015 Prospects Challenge was taking place, Ullmark was just getting back into his equipment and seeing light work.

This year is different, as he'll be healthy and ready to go for his first NHL training camp. Getting him as many as pucks as possible will not only key the next stages of his development, but also help with his readiness in the event that Robin Lehner isn't quite ready to go in October.

Next Post »