The 2014 development camp will have as much raw talent on the ice as their ever has been in First Niagra Center. The list of camp participants includes 6 camp invites to go along with 35 of Buffalo’s prospects. The notable missing from the camp roster are Connor Hurley and Gustav Possler. Other young players like Larsson and Deslauriers aren’t on the list most likely because of their years as a pro already. Possler is no surprise as he’s still recovering from a knee injury and was in Buffalo earlier this year to get an evaluation. Hurley’s absence is unknown but shouldn’t be a cause of concern, last year Armia and Larrson were excused for personal reasons and Hurley’s absence is probably along those same lines. There’s also a change in format for this year’s camp. Usually the scrimmage is held at the end of the week’s practice, this year it’s the second day followed by a 3 on 3 tournament at the end. Judging by the format this year looks more like an evaluation camp then development camp. Out of the 5 times the prospects are on the ice 60% of that time will be in pure evaluation form in either scrimmage or on ice testing. This is another Murray move and how he’s changing the way Buffalo evaluates and develops players. So for any who are going to camp this week here are some storylines to check out while you’re there.
The New Faces
The 2014 draft is bringing 9 new faces to camp with one being one of the new faces of the franchise in Sam Reinhardt. This will be Reinhardt’s first chance to show he’s ready to play in the NHL this year and should have a strong showing this week. The three second rounders will be interesting to see how they stack up with the more experienced players at the camp. Lemieux will stick out with his hardnosed style of play but may not be consistent offensively in his first action against other top end talent. Cornell and Karabacek are two offensively gifted players that will get to see where their talent matches up with others in the system. The other new draftees may not stick in their first camp but there could always be a surprise like last year with Baptiste.
The other new faces at camp (not including try out players) came to the organization through three separate trades and an undrafted signing from last year. Fasching, Carrier, and Samuels-Thomas all have an opportunity to make a strong first impression with the team while Schaller makes a push for a bottom line NHL role. Fasching could be the most impressive out of the 4 with his impressive combination of size and skill. He was also the main piece Buffalo was looking to get from LA when they traded McNabb and two seconds. Carrier and Samuels-Thomas are both trying to make strong impressions to show they belong in key roles with Rochester this season. Tim Schaller is the only other new face as he was unable to make camp last year after signing as an undrafted rookie the previous year.
Who’s Using Camp to Propel Their Season this Year?
Last year Nick Baptiste had an extraordinary camp and followed it up with a strong showing at the Traverse City tournament giving him a lot of momentum going into this past year with Sudbury. This year there a few guys who might get the ball rolling at this year’s development camp.
Eric Cornel- Like Baptiste, Cornel was also formally a very high pick in the OHL draft and took some adjusting to get use to the increased competition like Baptiste did. Buffalo took Cornel because of his raw talent and high end potential, he went from scoring 16 points in his rookie year to 62 this past year. Cornel needs to become more consistent this year and continue to become bigger and stronger in order to have another spike in production.
Vaclav Karabacek- The third of three second rounder’s Karabacek is another high end potential player. Going into his second year of North American hockey Karabacek is going to have to continue to grow his game in order to build on his strong rookie season. His straight forward game and knack for finding soft spots could benefit him in a big way in the scrimmage, especially if he gets minutes with Reinhardt or Grigorenko.
Justin Bailey- Bailey was drafted as a project but most would have probably thought he’d score at a higher rate than he did last year scoring 43 points. Some of that is contributed to playing for a bad team but a lot of that is Bailey struggling to find consistency. At last year’s camp Bailey showed how good he could be by just dominating play at times. But like his season Bailey wasn’t consistent through camp. If he finds consistency he could have a season like Baptiste had this past year.
This battle will be fought over the course of the next several seasons and includes other players like Hackett, Enroth, and Neuvirth competing to be the Sabres future goaltender. Last year Cal Petersen might have been the most impressive but Linus Ullmark also had a strong showing which led to both having strong amateur seasons. Both should build on their strong season and be the two most impressive goalies at the camp but they’ll have tough competition at camp. This will be round 1 for Lieuwen and Makarov on who will start in Rochester or start for Rochester if Hackett’s not healthy. Johansson will get his chance to see how he stacks up against the other goalies in the system but may see the least amount of action just based on how early he is in his development and having 4 other prospects available.
Who Needs a Strong Showing?
This is by no means a make or break situation but a few players need to show more than they have in the past.
Mikhail Grigorenko- I’ve been in Grigorenko’s corner as much as anyone since he’s been drafted but the time has come for him to start turning his potential into production. Grigorenko hasn’t looked bad over the past two development camps but hasn’t dominated like he could. This year he’ll be one of the more experienced players and has had a very strong off season bulking up to about 220. This is a pivotal season for Grigorenko and needs to start it off well this week.
Joel Armia- Armia finally showed the player he could be last year in the AHL playoffs. Going into his second year of North American hockey Armia needs to consistently bring that level of compete every game. Last year Armia missed development camp for personal reasons but like Grigorenko will be one of the more veteran players at this year’s camp. He’s going to spend a lot of time on the wing of either Grigorenko or Reinhardt so there should be no excuse for Armia to not have a strong camp.
Gauthier-Leduc/Sundher- Both Gauthier-Leduc and Sundher are at points in their career with Buffalo that they need to progress or won’t be tendered at the end of the season. Gauthier-Leduc had a pretty strong camp last year and looked as if he could make a big step but ended up getting demoted to the ECHL before the seasons end. Sundher hasn’t found success since his final junior season and needs to start at this camp. Both players could be auditioning for a spot with Rochester so they don’t get sent down to Elmira.
Camp MVP and Sleeper
Many players stick out as possible camp MVP’s. The most obvious choice is Girgensons, he was the most impressive player last year at camp and had a strong rookie season. He’s also going to be one of the most veteran players at camp and should dominate again. Reinhardt could also be a strong possibility being the most talented player at the camp and should have some of the systems top talent on his wing. My choice to be Camp MVP is….
Rasmus Ristolainen- Ristolainen had a really strong season with Rochester and a strong second showing with Buffalo. There might not be another player who progressed more than Ristolainen during the season and could be ready to make another big jump this year. Ristolainen had a very strong showing last year at camp and looks like he could be in a position to come out and dominate the camp this year.
Last year had a couple camp sleepers. Baptiste came in as a 3rd round pick and was very impressive as was Cal Petersen as a 5th round pick. This year theirs a couple guys who could be in a position to have a very strong camp. My choice for the camp sleeper is….
Victor Olofsson- There is a couple reasons I think Olofsson could be in a position to put on a strong showing this week. The first is Buffalo has a lot more quality centers then they do wings so it’s not out of the question that he could see time with either Cornel or Compher. The second is he’s got amazing speed and soft hands which could put him in a position to make a lot of plays this week.
Prospect Depth Chart
This isn’t a camp depth chart as there are some lower end prospects who weren’t invited. The camp also includes players like Girgensons, Pysyk, and Samuels-Thomas who don’t have prospect status anymore to go along with the camp invites.
LW C RW
Lemieux Reinhardt Armia
Carrier Grigorenko Baptise
Karabacek Compher Fasching
Deslauriers Cornel Bailey
Catenacci Hurley Possler
Willman Larrson Olofsson
Sundher Kea Peterson
Locke Schaller Issackson
If you have any other players who you think are set to make headlines this week please post in the comments. Hope you all can make it out for at least part of the camp.