There were many young players that impressed on the third day of the Buffalo Sabres summer development camp, but even amidst a bevy of young talent, a few players stood head and shoulders above the rest, some quite literally.
Out of a group of prospects chock full of talent and potential at today's practice, Cody Hogdson clearly stood alone as the best of the bunch. Every move Hodgson made on the ice oozed with confidence, smoothness, and power. Nobody could match the speed and quickness of his wrist shot, and he drew several big reactions from the crowd thanks to his rockets into the top corner of the net.
Hodgson also wowed fans with his skating. One aspect of the training regimen with Gary Roberts that helped to elevate the games of Steven Stamkos and James Neal to superstar status was increasing the power and quickness in their skating, and Hodgson showed that same power today. His straight line speed and burst off the line look to be improved, and he lost a few skating drills only because he took some really wide turns around the cones. Despite that, his impressive shot, coolness with the puck, and ability to make plays for his teammates today should have Sabres fans excited about what this upcoming season could hold for the young center.
Luke Adam is another player who impressed, and it was once again because of the vast improvement in his skating. Adam went from being a very average skater last season to being one of the quickest at practice today; I didn't see him lose a single skating drill all afternoon. His mediocre feet have always been a problem for him, but it looks like Adam has dedicated the time and energy this offseason to get rid of that problem.
Despite the dominance of Hodgson and Adam, the play of the day belonged to Zemgus Girgensons. On a one-on-one drill, he muscled his way past second round pick Jake McCabe, then roofed a nasty backhand while fending off the defenseman with his body. Girgensons was also one of the most vocal players on the ice and never seemed to take a drill off. His intensity and leadership qualities lived up to the expectations today, and he showed flashes of nice offensive upside
After the break, some short thoughts on other players, including Mikhail Grigorenko, Marcus Foligno, and Joel Armia.
- Grigorenko did well today in most drills. He showed that he has great hands and is very comfortable skating and stickhandling through traffic during the 5-on-5 drills, and he also made a few passes that showed glimpses of his highly-touted playmaking ability. He's not overly physical playing the puck, preferring to stick check rather than take the body, but it was good to see him dish out a few hits after getting knocked down fairly easily in a previous drill. He played the polar opposite of Girgensons on most defensive drills, poking and swiping whereas Girgensons would look to be physical more often than not, but Grigorenko's hands are quick enough that his poke checks usually worked. All in all, he clearly flashed talent, but I'll reserve judgement on whether or not he can start immediately until after the scrimmage tomorrow, and possibly training camp.
- Joel Armia looks as advertised: he's a big, smooth skating winger with a heck of a shot. If you imagine a slightly better skating Thomas Vanek, you'll know what to expect from Armia. The Girgensons-Grigorenko-Armia line was the best trio on display today; all three of these guys seem to be on the fast track to the NHL within the next year or two.
- Marcus Foligno is yet another guy who has really worked on his skating in the offseason. He had a great burst off the line during sprinting drills, and was quick when moving in tight spaces. Foligno also win's this year's "Man Among Boys" award - even standing around Grigorenko or McNabb, he still looked big. He elicited some nice reactions from the crowd for a nice shot here and there as well.
- Speaking of Brayden McNabb, he and Mark Pysyk were far and away the most impressive defenseman. McNabb looks a bit bigger than last year, and was skating well. Pysyk is incredibly smooth, and never seems to be out of position. If these guys are both in Rochester next year, the Amerks will have their top pairing set.
- Jerome-Gauthier Leduc showed some impressive offensive stuff today, making one memorable juke at the blue line that left my shoes in Row 16, but he was equally depressing defensively, falling over more than anyone else and looking very uncomfortable when asked to battle in front of the net or cover a 2-on-1. His offensive potential is enough to leave me feeling positive on him, but let's hope today was just a rough practice defensively and not the norm.
- I don't think seventh round pick and high schooler Judd Peterson ever stopped smiling, even while sprinting around cones, which was awesome. He was a lot of fun to watch and has plenty of speed to burn.
- The fastest players on the ice were, in no particular order: Kevin Sundher, Daniel Catenacci, Judd Peterson, and Jonathan Parker, with Luke Adam and Cody Hodgson not far behind.
The team will hold their blue and gold scrimmage tomorrow at the First Niagara Center at 6pm. Tickets are $10 - anyone going?