Five eye World Junior selection

The Buffalo Sabres will have a total of five prospects participating in summer camps in preparation for the 2018 World Junior Championship that will be played in Buffalo.

Four of the five will be under the same roof when the 2017 World Junior Summer Showcase takes place at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan, from July 28-Aug. 5. The week-long camp will include 12 international competitions between Canada, Finland, Sweden and the United States.

Now keep in mind, these are just summer camps. No jobs are won in July and August. There is a looong way to go before these teams are finalized.

Several Sabres prospects have attended these sunny day gatherings in the past and did not make the cut. Sean Malone, Logan Nelson, Connor Hurley, Nick Baptiste, Anthony Florentino and Justin Bailey come to mind off the top of my head.

Others, like OHL standout Daniel Catenacci in 2012-13, were skipped over in the summer, but eventually made the grade for the World Junior Selection Camp, only to be cut prior to the final roster being announced.

Heck, a quick and engaged Marcus Davidsson stood out for Sweden last August at what was then known as the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp, but did not crack the final roster four months later.

Now a second-round NHL pick by the Sabres and with a full season of professional league experience under his belt, Davidsson enters his second World Junior camp as a virtual shoo-in for a Swedish team that will be looking to extend its 32-game winning streak in World Junior pool play later this winter.

If he does indeed make the team this winter, Davidsson will continue a recent run of Sabres prospects to compete for Sweden on the U20's highest stage, following Alex Nylander (2017), Rasmus Asplund (2017) and Victor Olofsson (2015).

The Sabres current group of World Junior hopefuls, though, is headlined by 2017 first-round pick Casey Mittelstadt, who will take a break from Da Beauty League, a Minnesota summer league comprised of NHL and collegiate players, to skate for Team USA White when the action kicks off Friday.

Mittselstadt is set to shine as a part of a powerful U.S. roster that boasts nine first-round picks among the 25 invited forwards. While the group will function as two teams (White and Blue) prior to the Tuesday cutdown, Mittelstadt is expected to be part of the consolidated squad that will finish camp with one game each versus Sweden (8/2), Finland (8/4) and Canada (8/5).

Mittelstadt is no stranger to international play as he was one of the top forwards at the 2016 IIHF Under-18 World Championship, scoring four goals and nine points in seven games to help the U.S. to a bronze medal.

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In Finland, Buffalo second 2017 second-rounder Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen appears laser-focused on being the undisputed top goaltender for Suomi come winter time.

Luukkonen's quest began Monday with 25 saves in a 3-2 summer tune-up triumph over the Czech Republic.

With no returning goaltenders from last year's U20 entry, Finland will look to Luukkonnen and Leevi Laakso, their starters from the last two IIHF Under-18 World Championships, to settle the crease with the newly-minted Sabres prospect being the clear favorite to become top dog for not only this year's tourney, but also the 2019 event in Vancouver and Victoria.

For now, Luukkonen should be expected to see his fair share of work when the Finns play their three games in front of a bleacher full of scouts in Michigan.

The official tournament is still a ways off, but hey you never know. Maybe Luukkonen can add to some of the more memorable World Junior moments posted by the Sabres Finnish prospects in recent years.

Obviously, the Rasmus Ristolainen golden goal in 2014 stands out...



But no one should forget the Joel Armia stick ride in 2012.


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London Knights forward Cliff Pu will attend his first U20 World Junior camp coming off a 35-goal, 86-point campaign in his draft+1 season.

While the OHL point totals suggest that Pu is a lock to make the team, that is hardly the case in reality with a stacked grouping that includes an impressive 11 first-round NHL draft picks among the 26 forwards in camp.

If you read the recent Sabres prospects rankings, the message is the same as it applies to Pu's fit at the World Junior level. If Pu is to make Team Canada, his role will likely not be as a primary scoring option.

Of course Pu is capable of scoring goals, but he will need to kill penalties, use his speed to gain separation, dominate at the dot and grind his way through as a complete 200-foot gamer much like he did for the Knights in their seven-game playoff series loss to Erie if he is to serve notice that his versatility is a commodity.

Even if a few of those first-round picks like Tyson Jost, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nolan Patrick stick with their NHL clubs, Pu still has his work cut out for him among the talented fleet. Pu's two-way game and matchup effectiveness are ideal for the task at hand, but the Canadian coaching staff would be wise to also value the 36 OHL playoff games the 19-year-old has enjoyed, along with that extra experience earned in the Knights' 2016 Memorial Cup victory.

On a related note, Ryan Jankowski, who was director of player personnel for Hockey Canada prior to being hired by the Sabres in July to headman the amateur scouting staff, was responsible for all of the Canadian player selections, with assistance from his regional scouts.

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One of eight defensemen on the Czech Republic's summer camp roster, Vojtech Budik appears to be one of the favorites to lock down a top-four role when the games begin in Buffalo. Budik, who notched one goal and 26 points last season for the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders, arrives as one of three blueline returnees from last year's squad, along with Ondrej Vana (DAL) and Frantisek Hrdinka.

The Czechs will not make the trek to Michigan, but regardless Budik is already asserting himself with one assist in Monday's 3-2 loss to Finland.

Before Budik's brief two-game cameo at last year's year's World Junior tournament, the Sabres didn't have a player skate for the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship since Jiri Novotny back at the 2003 event.

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A sixth Sabres prospect is eligible for the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, but much like last year, Sweden left Alex Nylander off the summer camp roster. The Swedes obviously know what they have in the young gun after watching him thrive in the 2016 and 2017 editions, so leaving him home creates space for others to be evaluated.

What's interesting about Nylander is that I'm not really sure he'd even get sent to the tournament this year.

I'm all for a young man getting another crack at leading his peers to a medal, and I'm sure Sweden would welcome him with open arms, but he may be elevated to a role in Buffalo by then, or perhaps the Sabres will opt to continue his development against grown men in Rochester.

You just never know.

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The complete World Junior Summer Showcase schedule:

DATE 
GAME 
TIME (ET) 
Sat., July 29 USA White vs. Finland 1 p.m.
USA Blue vs. Sweden 4 p.m.
Sun., July 30 USA Blue vs. Finland 1 p.m.
USA White vs. Sweden 4 p.m.
Tues., Aug. 1 Canada Red vs. USA White 4 p.m.
Canada White vs. USA Blue 7 p.m.
Wed., Aug. 2 USA vs. Sweden* 4 p.m.
Fri., Aug. 4 Finland vs. USA* 4 p.m.
Sat., Aug. 5 USA vs. Canada* 7 p.m.
*televised on NHL Network

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