The Buffalo Sabres wrapped up their prospect development camp with the French Connection Tournament Saturday afternoon, a 3-on-3 round-robin tournament that saw 34 prospects split among four teams.
Team Martin, featuring Casey Mittelstadt, Lawrence Pilut, Miska Kukkonen, Eric Cornel, Ivan Chukarov, Joe Snively, Andrew Peski, Brett Murray and goaltender Jonas Johansson, won the tournament. Mittelstadt scored the winning goal in the shootout.
As Sabres head coach Phil Housley said after the camp wrapped up, it’s hard to evaluate any individual player at this point, based solely on the week-long camp.
“But it’s June 30th, and you can see the guys implanting what they’ve learned during the week int o Saturday, and it was spirited out there,” Housley said. “It was great to see that guys are competing for something and there’s something on the line at the end of the day.”
The camp includes not only on-ice sessions, but presentations on mental skills, nutrition and character: what Housley calls “becoming a Sabres, and what it means to be a Sabres and put on that logo.”
“We’re trying to develop a culture of character and a high standard of people,” Housley said. “We’re getting the players we feel are going to change the culture, that are going to believe in what it is to put that Sabres jersey on.”
Among the standouts: first-overall selection Rasmus Dahlin; Mittlestadt, Pilut and center Matej Pekar, Buffalo’s fourth-round draft pick in 2018.
Dahlin, of course, was the one many fans came to see. The stands were packed each day for the public, on-ice sessions, including for the sold-out, season ticket holder-only tournament Saturday.
Over the days, he showcased his prowess and knowledge for the game.
“You can see how good of a skater and how good his hands are, just from today,” Mittelstadt said of his future teammate following the French Connection Tournament. “It’s really exciting, and it’s a big piece for us.”
Dahlin called it ‘a fun tournament’ and said he was impressed with all the Buffalo fans.
“They want good guys, and on the ice, they want competitive guys. I’m trying to be that guy,” he said.
Mittelstadt himself had a strong camp, as one of only two players there with NHL experience (Brendan Guhle was the other.) On Saturday alone, he scored four goals and had the shootout winner to snag his team the championship.
Pilut and Pekar each scored twice on Saturday and had strong showings in camp as well.
Of course, the moment most Sabres fans will remember Pekar for: the hit from Dahlin. But he also chirped with Mittelstadt and appeared to get under several players’ skin, an attribute he loves to bring to the game.
Aside from Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen and Jonas Johansson, the Sabres brought in netminders Jake Kielly from Clarkson and Hunter Shepard from Minnesota Duluth. Both made some impressive saves during Saturday’s tournament and spent a lot of time during the week working with the goalie coaches and staff, but their futures with the organization haven’t been determined yet.
“It’s really more to get to know kids, particularly some of those college free agents we don’t know that well,” said assistant GM Randy Sexton. “The most important part for us, we came away feeling like we built stronger relationships with these kids.”
Sexton, like Housley, pointed to changing the culture of the organization, and changing the character.
“We look for good people,” he said. “Finding the good player’s the easy part. The challenge is finding the good human being who’s a good player. Leadership is a difficult thing to find.”