Last night, over 17,000 fans gathered on a sunny, summery Friday night to watch the Buffalo Sabres development camp scrimmage, and let me start this recap by saying what a great feeling it was to see that building full of fans who were all excited to watch the future of the Buffalo Sabres. Last season is done with, and the future looks as bright as the July sun outside the arena.
As expected, the game was dominated by a #2 overall draft pick, but it was Sam Reinhart's blue team that soundly defeated Jack Eichel's gold team by a 5-2 score.
Let's get this out of the way first - Jack Eichel did not have a great game last night. It was obvious that he was tired out there - whether from the week of drills and testing or from an entire summer of World Championships and nonstop draft press, it's tough to know - but by the middle part of each period Eichel looked like he was just out of gas.
It didn't help that his gold team struggled with possession all night, and thanks to the general sloppiness of a prospects game thrown together in one week, we didn't get to see Eichel at his full power. What we did see, however, were glimpses of the skill and vision that made him a surefire #2 pick.
Eichel's vision and anticipation were miles beyond his peers, and he made a few passes that seemed to surprise his teammates in a "how could that puck even get to me from where you were?" kind of way. Eichel also made a number of nice steals thanks to his ability to anticipate where the defender was going with the puck almost before they did. While he wasn't physically able to dominate the game, everything between his ears was operating at an NHL level.
But the real story of the night was the domination of one Mr. Samson Reinhart. Reinhart scored two goals and an assist, and drove in the highlight of the post-game shootout for good measure. It's a common thing to remark at a rookie scrimmage, but Reinhart looked like a man among boys out there. Physically, he looks bigger, faster, and more confident than last season, and his calmness handling the puck, making plays for his teammates, and burying the chances he was given left a big impression on the crowd, who gave him the largest ovation of the night.
I went in to this game unsure whether Reinhart should start the year in Buffalo or Rochester, but after seeing the leap in his strength and his play from last year to this year, I'm ready to see him in blue and gold next October.
As expected, many of the older players stood out in the scrimmage, especially defensemen Jake McCabe and Anthony Florentino. Neither made any spectacular plays, but both had a calmness and a purpose to their games that some of the other younger players lacked. McCabe especially handled his business well, and I can't recall seeing him make one bad decision all night.
Two other forwards that stood out on team blue were Justin Bailey and Hudson Fasching. While playing on Reinhart's line certainly helped, both players showed enough individual skill to get fans excited. Bailey scored the goal of the night when he fell to his knees trying a wraparound and still managed to flip the puck top shelf over the goalie's shoulder. His size and speed on the ice were heads and shoulders (sorry) above most. Fasching is a large man, and I feel like I felt a few of hits sitting seven rows up. He has the makings of a big, physical, possession-driving forward.
Unfortunately, due to our seats being so close to the ice (humble brag) I wasn't able to keep eyes on every single player on the ice, but the players I noticed most were Evan Rodrigues, William Carrier, Justin Kea, and goalie Jason Kasdorf, who pitched a shutout in his 30 minutes of work.
Overall it was a great night to be a Sabres fan, and the fact that it seems like we're saying that more and more often these days has me excited for the fall. Let us know your thoughts on Reinhart, Eichel, and the scrimmage in the comments.