The Buffalo Sabres have been running their 2011 Prospect Development Camp all week at Dwyer Arena on the Niagara University campus, and I went down yesterday to see what all the fuss was about.
For those of you who've never been, the camp is comprised of Sabres draft picks and invitees, with Tyler Ennis as the lone still-eligible Sabres regular, and Luke Adam the only other attendee with NHL experience; the full roster can be found here. They run two-hour practices each day that work on both fundamentals and learning the system that the Sabres play. The last two days this year will be full-team on-ice scrimmages.
On this particular day there were a number of 2-on-2, 3-on-2, and 5-on-2 drills, mostly dealing with puck retrieval, breakouts and zone entry. There were also a few 3-on-2 offensive zone drills and a shootout drill to close things out. The players can coaches were split up into two groups, one on the main rink and one on the auxiliary rink.
The following bullet points are general observations I made during the two-hour practice. It's tough to watch everyone and everything, especially with the two rinks, but I'll try to answer any questions you guys have as best I can, and for anyone who's attended a day of camp, feel free to add your own observations.
- The top line throughout the camp has been Luke Adam centering Tyler Ennis and Zack Kassian, and this line is heads and shoulders above everyone else. Ennis especially can dispy-doodle through any defender (or two, or three) with ease, and nobody's hands are even close to matching his quickness. During any downtime he was always fiddling with the puck, working on his quickness and coordination - rookies take note.
- For those of you on the Zack Kassian on the Sabres this year bandwagon, I'd advise you to cool off just a bit. Here's what I wrote about Kassian after last year's camp:
He's certainly a big physical presence, and he showed he knows how to use his body, but his skating was average at best (amongst this group) and he had some serious stone-hands on a couple of passes. I'm not saying he's a bust or he won't turn into our Milan Lucic like we all hope, I just think his development will take longer than most of us want it to.Much of that statement remains true. His skating has gotten better, but he still doesn't look as comfortable or fluid as some other prospects. He was fighting the puck just a bit, and he alternated making great passes with making really poor decisions. I think this kid needs a full year in the AHL - not just to improve these areas, but also to play with someone his own size; he's still a man among boys out there, and it will be good for him to play against someone who can shove him around a bit.
More observations after the break.
- Luke Adam looks like he's put on some weight, in a good way. He looked thick, the way Kassian does, and he was more physical than I remembered him being in a few of the dump-and-chase drills. He sounded pretty determined to make the team in his recent WGR interview, and it looks like he's putting in the work over the summer to do just that.
- A lot of folks are excited about Brayden McNabb, so I tried to keep an eye on him - he's a big boy to be sure, and for my money he had the biggest backside of any defenseman (think leg strength, not attractiveness.) He didn't really do anything to stand out, but his skating looked smooth and his positioning was solid in defensive drills. We'll get a better idea of what he can do in Rochester.
- Some other Sabres defensive prospects looked good as well - Mark Pysyk was looking very good in a retrieve-and-clear drill, and Drew Schiestel was probably the most consistently dominant defenseman I saw. He always seemed to be in the right place to make a play, and won most of his one-on-one battles along the boards.
- Daniel Catenacci is really fast. That's all.
- None of the goaltending prospects really showed anything surprising. For every good save there were two bad goals, but I don't really think anyone expected anything more. Some of the drills were unfair to them by design, but there were a lot of pucks that squeaked through holes that shouldn't have been there.
- A few goofy observations:
- During one stretching break, Lindy and few of the Sabres coaches took turns trying to score from really bad angles. Guess we know where Hecht gets it from. Oh, and Ruff fired the best slappers I saw all day by far.
- Heard from a college-age kid behind me, "I could be better than these guys if I played as much as they do. Never shoulda smoked pot." Indeed.
- The rink being run by Ruff was far more spirited than the auxiliary rink, probably because it was brighter, louder, and there were more fans. Lindy was also the most vocal coach by a long shot.
If you want to check out some of the scrimmages, and I highly recommend you do if you're interested, they'll be taking place on Saturday and Sunday from 10:30am-12:30pm at Dwyer Arena. Feel free to leave questions or your own observations in the comments, and I'll try to respond to as many as I can.