While many eyes at this week’s Buffalo Sabres development camp will be on the likes of Owen Power, Peyton Krebs & Mattias Samuelsson, along with the team’s 2022 draft picks, there are also 11 free agent invitees in attendance. Who are they? Where’d they come from? And realistically, how good are their chances of earning an NHL or AHL contract?
Right Wing / 23 years old / 5’9” 174 lbs
Caufield spent the last four seasons at the University of Wisconsin, where he’s expected to play again this fall as a graduate student. His production with the Badgers was pretty steady, as he put up 19 and 17 points in each of his last two seasons, respectively. He also served in a leadership role last season. And of course — he is the older brother of Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield. (Here’s a great article from Neutral Zone about the pair.)
#Badgers beat Minnesota 4-3 in overtime with Brock Caufield getting the game winner. pic.twitter.com/5MisPJpb8Z— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) November 6, 2021
Forward / 20 years old / 5’10” 190 lbs
(This is the part where I need to disclose that I worked with McDonnell several years ago when he played for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres.)
From EliteProspects’ 2020 draft guide:
“On the breakout, he was smooth picking the puck up off the boards and moving his feet to transition. He had good speed through NZ and protected the puck to make the next play. A few times, he was at a bad angle and managed to shoot for a rebound, creating scoring chances in the slot for his teammates. He was right in the middle of things the entire game.”
McDonnell is the feel-good, local kid story of this development camp. He’s a Lake View native who spent his early years in the Jr. Sabres organization before making the jump to the USHL and OHL. He was drafted with the last pick in the 2020 draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning & spent the subsequent season with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. This past season, he split time between Kitchener and Barrie in the OHL, including serving as an alternate captain with the Rangers. An offensive powerhouse, he recorded 62 points in 63 games between the two teams.
Right Wing / 24 years old / 6’1” 187 lbs
Olischefski played three games with the AHL’s Rochester Americans last season after finishing up his collegiate career. He previously spent four seasons at the University of Denver - including the team that made it to the 2019 Frozen Four in Buffalo - and captained the team his senior year. Olischefski used his fifth year of eligibility to play for Providence College, where he had 18 points in 38 games. He previously participated in San Jose Sharks’ development camp in 2020.
Left Wing / 26 years old / 6’0” 194 lbs
Passolt joined the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones for six games last season after using up all of his college eligibility at Western Michigan. He served as alternate captain in each of his last two seasons with the Broncos and put up 108 points in 166 career games. He also previously captained the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede in the 2016-17 season before making the jump to the NCAA. He earned NCHC Academic All-Conference honors five times and was twice named an NCHC Distinguished Scholar.
Defense / 18 years old / 6’4” 194 lbs
The Blainville, Quebec native is one of the few CHL players invited to Sabres’ development camp. Buteau has spent the last two seasons with the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Eagles, a team he made as a 16-year-old despite being drafted in the fifth round of the 2020 QMJHL draft. (To be clear: that’s rare, and not easy to do.) Also: note his size.
From FCHockey‘s Zacharie Labrie:
“Buteau is an imposing shutdown type of defenseman. He uses his size to his advantage when it comes to the defensive side of the game. Thanks to his tall frame, he has a really long reach that he uses well to disrupt passing plays and deny passing lanes as well. He also likes to use his body when battling in the corner or to protect the puck.”
Defense / 20 years old / 5’11” 196 lbs
The Winnipeg native is entering his junior year at Wisconsin, where he played alongside aforementioned Brock Caufield for the last two seasons. Badger Herald said Kehrer was “consistently solid,” but noted that his inability to generate offense was a factor the team sorely needed. He’s a right-shot defender who previously attended LA Kings development camp in 2021; here’s an article from the Winnipeg Free Press with more about him.
Defense / 18 years old / 5’11” 179 lbs
A Columbus native, McBrayer grew up in the Ohio Blue Jackets AAA organization before making the jump to the USHL. This past season was his first full season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks, and he fared well, appearing in 61 games and accruing 22 points and 26 PIMs. He was named USHL Defenseman of the Week in February and is an Ohio State commit.
Defense / 23 years old / 5’9” 181 lbs
Metsa was named the ECAC’s best defensive defenseman this past season. following his senior year with the Bobcats. He served as an alternate captain, and while he’s been noted for his defensive play, the offensive side of his game isn’t too shabby, either. He recorded 27 assists and added 10 goals for 37 points in 42 games.
Here’s what USCHO had to say:
“Metsa led a defensive unit that put together one of the best seasons in the history of NCAA hockey, smashing the single-season shutout record with 16 blank sheets as a team. Metsa and the Bobcats led both the league and the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 0.93 goals per-game in 2021-22. He blocked 24 shots, and led the team with 34 points, 16 of which came in league play.”
The website Vancouver Is Awesome noted him as a potential right-hand target for the Canucks:
“Metsa has all the offensive tools you could want. He controls the pace of play with his patience and decisive passing, he has an excellent shot, he jumps up in the rush effectively, and is constantly pushing possession in the right direction.”
Defense / 18 years old / 6’1” 185 lbs
To the surprise of many, Sova went undrafted in his first year of eligibility, but appears to be a good free agent invite to camp. The Windsor native just finished his rookie season with the OHL’s Erie Otters, where he skated in 64 games and recored 19 assists. Add in nine goals and 14 PIMs, too. Dobber Prospects calls him “a smooth-skating defender with untapped offensive upside” and says his odds of reaching the NHL are about 45 percent. He was ranked 38th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting in their midterm rankings. His edgework, quick shot & transition play are noted as his strengths.
Goalie / 19 years old / 6’2” 163 lbs
Coward appeared in 35 games with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels this past season, posting a 2.51 GAA and .906 save percentage. He had two shutouts in the regular season & earned another shutout in his first playoff start. Following Sabres development camp, he’ll head to Calgary for Canada’s national junior team camp from July 23-27.
Goalie / 22 years old / 6’4” 216 lbs
Stejskal recently finished his sophomore season at Minnesota-Duluth, where he appeared in four games. He missed part of the season after announcing a battle with testicular cancer, undergoing surgery & chemotherapy, but made his return in February and helped push the Bulldogs to a 3-2 win over Denver. Previously, in his freshman season, he appeared in nine games, putting up a 1.83 GAA and .929 save percentage.
Here’s a moving Q&A that he did with UMD in November, where he opens up about his cancer diagnosis.
Sabres development camp runs from July 13-16. Learn more here.