The Sabres 2014 development camp wrapped up today with the Mikhail Grigorenko and Mark Pysyk led grey team winning the 3-on-3 tournament. As the Sabres top prospects now go their separate ways, here are some of the players that stood out and notable storylines from the week of practice.
Let's start off with the previously mentioned Grigorenko, who I discussed in the pre-camp article as being a player to watch out for. He had posted on his Facebook page that he had bulked up, and it was noticeable on the ice. Although his skating still leaves some to be desired, his stickhanding was very impressive this week.
Grigorenko looked like a completely different player that he has in the past. He made numerous nifty plays during the 3-on-3, especially with Justin Kea, that earned reactions from the crowd watching. Don't give up on Grigorenko just yet. Although he'll likely start the season in Rochester, he may still develop into that top talent the Sabres built him up to be after the draft.
Speaking of build up, it seems that many fans were a tad disappointed with Sam Reinhart over this week because he didn't blow the First Niagara doors off. However, a player like Reinhart shouldn't be expected to dazzle every day of the week. He showed his ability to read the ice and is by far was the best passer at the camp.
The player that I was most impressed with this week was Rasmus Ristolainen, who looked like a man among boys. He was thrust into a leadership role in the scrimmage and served as the backbone of the defense. He also dazzled with the puck in the 3-on-3, showing that he also has the offensive ability as well.
Ristolainen looked ready to be in the NHL, and the way the Sabres line-up is set up there should be a spot for him. The defensive definites include Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges, Mike Weber, and Andrej Meszaros. In his third season with the team it's fair to say Pysyk will be up too. With Chad Ruhwedel and Ristolainen they have some flexibility. They can start one in Rochester if they'd like, they could rotate the seventh defenseman, and by the end of the year when they are absolutely certain both are ready they could even ship Meszaros off at the deadline.
Nikita Zadorov looked very good as well, but I can't help but think he could use another year in juniors. Preferably he should be in the AHL, but we've gone down this road with Grigorenko before. He is using his body very well, and does not get pushed off the puck. However he often puts himself out of position to make a big hit. Frankly, he just looks a little young.
Hudson Fasching really impressed me today with his ability to create turnovers. He's another player that uses his size very well and also has the ability to finish plays. After watching him you won't feel as bad about the Sabres giving up two second-round picks in that trade. JT Compher had a good camp too, getting under the skin of his teammates during the scrimmage and practice. Although both seem a few years away, the Big Ten will be very fun to watch for Sabres fans this season.
Brendan Lemieux, who is notable mostly for being a pest, is a much better skater than I expected. He's a hard worker who isn't afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice. He also stayed back late to sign autographs more than anyone else. Fans are going to like this kid.
His fellow second-round pick Eric Cornel has quite the shot. He pegged corners multiple times during the tournament today and is another big body to deal with.
A few of the Sabres late picks this season made Tim Murray's scouting ability look impeccable this week. The two notables were Maxwell Willman, the Sabres fifth-round pick, and Victor Olofsson. With prospects of this nature it usually takes a few years, but they both showed signs that they could have been steals in this year's draft.
The goalies were particularly impressive in the tournament today, as they had to face consistent 6-on-0 play for two hours. You'd expect there'd be some take back rule like in half-court basketball, but no. It was an all-out-whoever-has-the-puck shoot affair.
Linus Ullmark is the goalie that impressed me the most. I know he won't even be in North America for another season, but he'd be my frontrunner for the future starting goalie of the Sabres. Nathan Lieuwen, Andrey Makarov, and even recently drafted Jonas Johansson all looked strong as well. Even if Ryan Miller is gone, the Sabres are in good hands between the pipes.
William Carrier, acquired in the Miller trade, looked very crisp this week. He'll be in Rochester this season and will be one of their top offensive prospects.
A few of the camp invites had a pretty good go against the Sabres prospects this week. Drake Caggiula was earning plenty of praise from folks today, and Hockey Hotline discussed the strong play from Patrick Russell. Caggiula, only 20-years-old, still has two years of eligibility left at North Dakota. He likely wouldn't sign right now to just be a Rochester guy, but I can certainly see him hooking on with a team when he graduates.
There weren't too many players I left very disappointed in. Joel Armia looked like he was going through the motions earlier in the week, but got somewhat physical today. He's turned into the forgotten first-round pick, and this could be a big year for him. Brycen Martin will need to work on his defense, as the offensive defenseman was caught out of position on multiple occasions. Jordan Samuels-Thomas showed potential, but he also struggled to keep up with players at points. His poor skating led him to grab a hold of opponents more often.
It would have been nice to get a look some of the players who were unable to participate, including Connor Hurley, Gustav Prossler, and Vaclav Karabacek.
Overall, I left the final practice amazed by the talent the Sabres have put together. That's even before the Sabres three first-round picks in next year's "strong" draft. There are still plenty of players I haven't mentioned who had solid camps, including Zemgus Girgensons, Nick Baptiste, and Anthony Florentino. This organization is oozing with young talent, so much so that even Murray would crack a smile watching. Having the camp at the arena allowed Fans were aware that the future is bright. This week just reinforced that.