Buffalo Sabres prospects and invitees are heading to Buffalo this week for the team’s annual Prospects Challenge, which takes place Sept. 6-9 at Harborcenter. The Sabres’ roster will face prospects from the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins.
In case you missed the full roster announcement, you can read it here.
With that said, there are a handful of interesting names to keep an eye on at this year’s tournament, aside from the obvious like Victor Olofsson (who probably doesn’t even need to be participating in a prospects’ tournament at this point, but who will certainly be a treat to watch anyways)
Here are five players who will be repping the Sabres’ blue and gold this weekend to watch:
- Pascal Aquin - For those who paid attention to the prospect pipeline last season, Aquin may be a familiar name. He only appeared in one game with the Amerks, but did quite well in his first pro season in the ECHL. In 68 games with the Cyclones, Aquin - a left winger - put up 27 goals and added 32 assists, for 59 points on the season. He also recorded 81 penalty minutes and was a plus-23. In 11 playoff games, he added three points.
#HighlightOfTheNight | @IslandersHKY’s Pascal Aquin skates around the d-man and the goalie before scoring on the backhand! pic.twitter.com/i3aZWFJbS1— QMJHL (@QMJHL) December 4, 2017
The former QMJHLer - he played with Gatineau, Shawinigan and Charlottetown between 2013 and 2018 - has signed with Rochester to a one-year AHL contract alongside goaltender Michael Houser and fellow forward Mason Mitchell. The 21-year-old will now look to get on the Sabres’ radar, and if nothing else, will offer a chance for Amerks fans to see what he’s capable of.
- Henri Jokiharju - With one professional season under his belt, the 20-year-old defenseman heads to Buffalo looking to secure an NHL roster spot. There are other factors at play, such as what exactly happens (or doesn’t) with Rasmus Ristolainen between now and the beginning of the season, but this weekend’s Prospects Challenge gives Jokiharju his first real chance to impress Sabres brass - and the fans.
Last season, the Oulu, Finland native appeared in 38 games with the Chicago Blackhawks, where he recorded 12 points. He also notched 17 points, including 15 assists, in 30 games with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs. Jokiharju previously spent two seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. He also appeared in both the 2018 and 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships, representing Finland and putting up a combined nine points in 12 games.
- Shaw Boomhower - Aside from just being an awesome hockey name, Boomhower is a relative unknown to Sabres fans, which makes him an appealing player to keep an eye on this weekend. He suited up in just 26 games last season for Cincinnati, recording seven points (3-4) and a whopping 82 penalty minutes. If nothing else - he seems to know how to stir the pot. Previous seasons have seen him record up to 150 penalty minutes!
The 20-year-old was invited to Blackhawks training camp last September. In late July, he signed a one-year AHL contract with the Amerks and should bring the boom - no pun intended (okay, a little pun intended) in Rochester this coming season.
- Matej Pekar - Ah, another prospect who knows how to stir the pot. The 19-year-old made a name for himself during his brief time in Buffalo last summer and then made his OHL debut with the Barrie Colts. He proved to be successful on the offense, potting 36 points (14-22) in just 33 games with the Colts. The previous season, Pekar notched 54 points - including 40 assists - in 56 games with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks.
Matej Pekar goes between the legs and sends a nifty backhand sauce to a teammate, then proceeds to punch a guy in the face in front of the net. Typical shift from him.— The Charging Buffalo (@TheChargingBUF) December 26, 2018
Aside from his physical play, Pekar certainly appears to have a strong offensive hand. He’ll be an interesting player to watch this weekend; he suffered a broken collarbone in mid-January, which effectively ended his season. Months later, he began skating with the Amerks, but didn’t end up seeing any game action before the season’s end.
- Matthew Welsh - Welsh is one of two goaltenders at this year’s Prospects Challenge for the Sabres, alongside Jonas Johansson. The 20-year-old is coming off four seasons with Charlottetown of the QMJHL, and he’s seen a lot of playing time as of late. This past season, Welsh appeared in 56 games with the Islanders, going 32-19-3 (W-L-T) with a .902 save percentage and 2.90 GAA.
He’s been called “the complete package” and “a playoff-proven winner” by Halifax-area journalists, and a Cape Breton newspaper spoke about his confidence in the crease as a key component of his game.
Although the Sabres are full in the goaltending department, with Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark, the organization at large certainly has some openings. Johansson and Andrew Hammond are likely to start the season in Rochester, with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen recovering from his April hip surgery, so perhaps Welsh could be a third AHL goaltender or find himself in Cincinnati.
The Sabres prospects will kick off their portion of this weekend’s tournament on Friday night, facing the New Jersey Devils prospects at 7 p.m. at Harborcenter.