Forty-three Buffalo Sabres prospects and camp invitees have taken over Buffalo’s LECOM Harborcenter for the next few days, hitting the ice at the team’s annual development camp. This is the first time the Sabres have been able to hold a formal development camp in a few years (thanks, COVID), so in addition to the newest draft picks, some of the others from years past are also experiencing their first taste at such a camp.
Here’s my Cliffnotes version of Wednesday’s initial sessions, which featured a lot of half-ice work that Rochester Americans head coach Seth Appert called “not goalie-friendly.” Appert is helping run the on-ice portion of the camp, along with a number of other familiar names: Michael Peca, Mike Weber, Nick Tuzzolino & Tim Kennedy among them.
- Matthew Savoie, the Sabres’ first pick in the 2022 draft, is in Buffalo but won’t be on the ice. He suffered a shoulder injury in June when his WHL team was knocked out of the playoffs. While he managed to avoid surgery, Sabres doctors aren’t comfortable with putting him on the ice at unnecessary risk. Better safe than sorry!
- Aleksandr Kisakov is the other name I’ve seen Sabres fans asking about. Unfortunately, there’s been some immigration papers holding things up for his arrival to the United States. He did make it out of Russia and to Canada, and was in Montreal watching the draft. GM Kevyn Adams said he has to spend a few days in Ottawa and then can hopefully come over.
- A few other players have also had similar immigration issues OR are otherwise not at development camp because of where they are with their respective teams overseas. See: Filip Cederqvist, Prokhor Poltapov.
- Erik Portillo is currently using borrowed gear, as all three of his bags of equipment were lost at the London airport en route to Buffalo. Portillo said as of Wednesday morning, his gear was reportedly in Philadelphia, but he had no idea when it would make it to the 716.
- Speaking of Portillo, he acknowledged that he’d face the same situation when it comes to goaltenders in every NHL organization. Right now, his focus is on the upcoming season with Michigan.
- In addition to the on-ice skills sessions the prospects are participating in, there’s plenty of off-ice training this week, too. Among those is a Friday session with Brock McGillis, the first openly gay professional men’s hockey player. I asked Appert about the importance of these cultural trainings, particularly given today’s society & climate:
“It’s huge. It’s of critical importance. Kevyn talks about it all the time. We don’t just want to draft great hockey players. We want to draft great people that want to be Sabres. How you treat people, how you treat others, how inclusive we are, is critically important to our organization. That starts right at the top and goes on through. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity... to learn, to gain valuable experience and be able to take that with them as they move forward.”
- Jack Quinn is only 20 and has just two NHL games under his belt, but his commitment to the organization shines through. Appert spoke about how Quinn called him on his way to Buffalo and said he wanted to learn more about each of the Sabres’ draft picks. Just my two cents, but that says a lot about the kind of person (and player) Quinn is and how much he cares about being part of this organization.
- Topias Leinonen’s size is hard to miss. I mean, I knew on paper he was up there, but seeing him on the ice and in net, especially compared to his goalie counterparts... wow. He’s 6’5” and only 18 years old.
- I’ll have more on Peyton Krebs, but his maturity at just 21 years old continues to impress me. He spoke about how he can be a mentor to some of the less experienced players at development camp, but that he’s also always looking to get better, too. He also spoke openly about being traded and how the expectations of a player after getting drafted are often different from the reality of their path to the NHL - or more often than not, not to the NHL.
- Ryan Johnson said he’s leaning toward returning for another year at Minnesota and to continue to work on his education. He also said that he hopes to sign, eventually, and that returning to school for another year doesn’t necessarily close the door on a future with Buffalo.
- An off-ice note, but I was honestly impressed by Wednesday’s crowd. There were easily over 200 people in attendance to watch from the stands on a sunny day in July. When Owen Power was the first to step on the ice, he was greeted by uproarious applause. When Devon Levi made a big save, the same. It’s always nice to feel that energy, and there’s no doubt that it leaves a good impression on the players, too.
I’m not at development camp on Thursday (I do have a full-time job!) but I’ll be back at the rink on Friday morning for another set of sessions and back here with more thoughts to follow.