TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN – The beginning of the 2014 NHL Prospect Tournament marks another stop in Sam Reinhart’s goal to make the Buffalo Sabres roster in October. Reinhart, 18, was the second-overall selection in this year’s draft and the cerebral center knows he has a lot of work to do if he wants to be in the opening night lineup.
Rochester Americans coach Chadd Cassidy is giving him a great opportunity to shine right away and hopes Reinhart’s line can find some chemistry quickly in the early goings of the tournament.
In the Sabres' morning skate on Friday prior to their first game of the tournament, Reinhart was flanked by left wing Jordan Samuels-Thomas and right wing Joel Armia. Samuels-Thomas, at 6-foot-3, 216 pounds, should be able to create space for his linemates to generate offensive opportunities. A big, talented goal scorer like Armia – Buffalo’s first-round pick in 2011 (16th overall) – who is also 6-foot-3, could certainly benefit from playing with a creative center.
Cassidy was quick to point out after the skate that Buffalo’s game against the Hurricanes on Friday at 4 p.m. is only one game of many that Reinhart will have a chance to prove himself in.
“We obviously expect a lot of him from both ends of the rink, but it’s not going to make or break his career tonight,” Cassidy said.
RELATED: BAPTISTE TO MISS TOURNAMENT
There will also be some learning on both sides as the coaching staff tries to get a gauge on how to best handle each player on the roster. In that instance, Reinhart’s situation isn’t much different from any of the other prospects entering their first Traverse City tournament with the Sabres.
“We have to get a feel for how Sam ticks a little bit, what gets him going from a coaching, teaching perpective for our staff – the way we need to communicate with him and finding the right players to put around him,” he said.
The afternoon contest can be heard on ESPN 1520 in Buffalo with Paul Hamilton and Brian Duff on the call. For postgame reaction and analysis, be sure to keep your browser window open to Sabres.com
71 Jordan Samuels-Thomas – 23 Sam Reinhart – 33 Joel Armia
48 William Carrier – 43 Daniel Catenacci – 15 Justin Bailey
53 Brendan Lemieux – 46 Eric Cornel – 74 Vaclav Karabacek
70 Michael Joly – 42 Justin Kea – 52 Jack Rodewald
35 Andrey Makarov
60 Francois Brassard
Summer vacation is almost over for many prospects around the hockey world. For a few, the new season will begin on Sept. 12 in Traverse City, Michigan for the 2014 NHL Prospect Tournament.
For on-site coverage and analysis, stick with Sabres.com throughout the tournament. I'll be in Traverse City along with Sabres studio host Brian Duff and Kris Baker of SabresProspects.com.
The rosters for all eight teams participating have been announced and Buffalo’s lineup boasts an impressive number of highly drafted players. Buffalo won the tournament in 2011 and finished second to Detroit last year. Ten players from last year's Sabres squad will return to Traverse City.
Who is each team sending? We'll take a look at the top players from Carolina, Dallas, the Rangers, Columbus, Detroit, Minnesota and St. Louis here. But let's start with the Sabres.
TED LINDSAY DIVISION
|(Photo Credit: Bill WIppert)|
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Sam Reinhart’s hockey IQ and on-ice vision have been praised as some of his strongest assets. The second-overall pick in this year’s draft posted 105 points (36+69) with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League last season and will look to start the 2014-15 season off on the right foot. If he wants to Sabres roster out of training camp, having a strong showing in Traverse City will help him make his case.
The Buffalo Sabres will once again be participating in the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan next month. The full tournament schedule and ticket information can be found here.
Here's when the future Sabres will be playing:
Friday, Sept. 12
Buffalo v. Carolina, 4 p.m. (West Rink)
Saturday, Sept. 13
Buffalo v. NY Rangers, 7 p.m. (David’s Rink)
Monday, Sept. 15
Dallas v. Buffalo, 3 p.m. (David’s Rink)
Tuesday, Sept. 16
Seventh-Place Game: 4th Lindsay v. 4th Howe, 3 p.m. (David’s Rink)
Fifth-Place Game: 3rd Howe v. 3rd Lindsay, 3:30 p.m. (West Rink)
Third-Place Game: 2nd Lindsay v. 2nd Howe, 6:30 p.m. (David’s Rink)
Championship Game: 1st Howe v. 1st Lindsay, 7 p.m. (West Rink)
Buffalo's roster will be announced at a later date.
|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)|
It takes a lot of big-name players and valuable assets to make a blockbuster trade.
When the Buffalo Sabres traded Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues last season, a lot of focus was put on the first-round pick the Sabres acquired in 2015, the conditional pick that became a third-rounder in 2016, wing Chris Stewart and goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
One piece of the trade that might have easily fallen under the radar was the prospect Buffalo also received in the deal, forward William Carrier.
“He was a first-round touted kid that missed half the season with an ankle injury. He’s got size. He’s got skill,” Sabres general manager Tim Murray said at the time of the trade. “He’s got stuff that we have to help him with and that’s another part of it. We’re going to try to really buckle down here with our development program and help young guys get better. He’s just that – he’s a prospect.”
Sabres fans got their first live look at the 19-year-old wing last week during the team’s development camp at First Niagara Center.
Carrier, who now checks in at 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds, finished that injury-shortened draft season with 16 goals and 42 points in 34 games with Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was selected in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Blues (57th overall) and then went on to sign a three-year entry level contract later that summer.
Last season, Carrier recorded 22 goals and 65 points in 66 games with Cape Breton and then Drummondville. Then he moved again when St. Louis and Buffalo came to an agreement on the evening of Feb. 28.
“I wasn’t really surprised with the trade,” he said. “I just didn’t think the trade would be that big. ”
Carrier said that the Sabres had scouted him a few times during the season and he talked with them a few times before the 2013 Draft, so he was already pretty familiar with some members of the organization.
However, he missed the end of last season with an ankle injury and was unable to join the Rochester Americans for their playoff run. He'll likely be with the Amerks in the fall.
“I was close to getting there,” he said. “I was going to show up for the second series.”
With his size and skill level, Carrier likes to see that teams around the League are attempting to model their lineups after that of the Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings.
“It seems like all the teams in the NHL are looking for big power forwards now. I’m happy with that,” he said.
He also thinks he's capable of filiing any role asked of him.
"If I get some checks, score some goals, I can play anywhere," Carrier said.
During the Blue & White Scrimmage last week, he did some things on the ice that impressed Rochester Americans coach Chadd Cassidy.
“I thought early in the game, he was feeling himself out. He made a great power move to the net, put another one off the crossbar. He fended a defender off with his body,” Cassidy said. “That’s what we expected to get as a player.
“We need to see a lot of more of that obviously, but initially, there’s a good frame there and he’s a big kid. He’s already a pretty heavy kid. He can play heavy and I think he’s going to continue to grow that frame and be a physical presence for us and a guy that can contribute offensively.”
The biggest things Carrier said he would like to work on are using his size more and adjusting to the speed of the professional ranks.
“The game is pretty physical,” he said. “It’s a lot more than where I played last year.”
|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)|
In a rink in Edmonton, where he played hockey growing up, Tyler Ennis was about to take the ice last week when he took a call that will impact the rest of his life.
While on the phone with his agent, the 24-year-old center agreed to a new five-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres. Then he hit the ice.
“I was thinking, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how far I’ve come’ and really how excited I am to be a Buffalo Sabre,” he told Andrew Peters and Rob Ray on Sabres Hockey Hotline on Tuesday.
Later that day, he went to his parents’ house to make the contract official. He joked that he didn’t get too emotional.
“When we signed it, they were a little teary-eyed. Being the tough guy that I am, I didn’t cry but I was holding it back a little bit,” he said. “It was pretty cool. I’m proud and I’m really excited to improve my game and take Buffalo to the next level. It’s a pretty cool feeling.”
Last week after development camp wrapped up at First Niagara Center, Sabres general manager Tim Murray said while he’s not sure what position Ennis might play five years from now – whether he’s at center or on the wing – he does see a role for Ennis on the team.
“He had 21 goals this year on a not-very good team, playing as a No. 1 center, getting the bad matchups. I thought considering his slow start – I wasn’t here for that but I keep being told about it – he had a pretty successful year individually,” Murray said. “Hopefully that translates into having a better year with better players around him.”
Murray has already started to add talented veterans to the roster. On July 1, he signed wings Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson and traded for defenseman Josh Gorges. They’re players that can not only contribute offensively, but also provide a leadership presence in the locker room.
Moulson played 44 games for the Sabres last season and spent a lot of time on a line with Ennis and Drew Stafford. Ennis was happy to see the three-time 30-goal scorer return to Buffalo.
Ennis will look to learn from Moulson, Gionta, Gorges and the other older players like he did when he entered the NHL back in 2009-10.
“I think when I first came in to the League, our whole room was full of leaders,” he said. “I remember guys like Mike Grier. They were awesome for everyone.”
Ennis said that he and defenseman Tyler Myers are among the players already on the team that will be looked upon to step up as leaders.
“It’s time for us to take over now,” Ennis said. “It’s a good balance of older guys, middle guys ready to take over and lot of great young kids coming up.”
As far as the center ice position goes, Ennis knows he still has lots to improve on. While he did score a career-high 21 goals last season, he’d like to work on winning more faceoffs and being better in his own end, particularly down low.
“I’m not satisfied with what I’ve done,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do still”
|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)|
Few prospects have seen their offensive production escalate in the past two seasons as much as Nicholas Baptiste has.
After recording only eight goals and 27 points in his first season with the Sudbury Wolves in 2011-12, Baptiste broke out with 21 goals and 48 points in 2012-13, thanks in large part to a strong second-half surge. That outburst helped him to get drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft (69th overall).
But in 2013-14, he reached new heights.
Baptiste racked up 45 goals and 89 points and was a plus-20 through 65 games. In five playoff games, he picked up a goal and four assists.
“My season last season was definitely my best season thus far,” he said. “I think I’ve really upped my level of intensity and the way I play. I’ve started to believe in myself a little more and in my abilities. I think I’m going to put up big numbers this season so I’m really happy with how I played.”
That confidence helped him to what he feels was his best season yet. In the year-end Ontario Hockey League’s Coaches Poll, he was named the Eastern Conference’s Best Shootout Skater and finished second to Barrie’s Andreas Athanasiou as the best skater in the conference.
He just missed the cut for Team Canada’s World Junior roster in December but he said he gained a lot of confidence from being there.
He’s been invited back to Team Canada’s World Junior camp and will attend next month with Buffalo’s 2014 first-round pick Sam Reinhart. He’s seen what it’s going to take to make the team and feels he has a great chance to do so this year.
“I needed to be more consistent in my own end and I think that this season in Sudbury, I elevated myself in terms of shooting the puck and getting pucks to the net and going to the net hard,” he said. “I think that was part of the reason for why I was so successful with my numbers.”
The 18-year-old right ring has developed a knack for scoring goals, but he’s shown some versatility as well. He’s also capable of throwing the body around and playing a more physical style.
“I feel like I’ve developed my game and I’ve really shown that when Buffalo drafted me that I was a player that maybe went a little later than I thought I might’ve,” he said. “But I wanted to show that I could be a guy that could point produce and play a third-fourth line role as well.”
Right out of the gate, Baptiste showed he has a nose for the net.
At the NHL Prospects Tournament hosted by the Detroit Red Wings in Traverse City, Mich. in September, Baptiste finished second overall in scoring with seven points (4+3) in four games. He carried that momentum into the season and hasn’t stopped yet.
He signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Buffalo in May and hopes to make himself a part of Buffalo’s future plans. During the Blue & White Scrimmage during development camp last week, Baptiste scored in a winning effort for his squad. Then in the 3-on-3 tournament on Friday, his team overcame a last-place finish in the round-robin to win a playoff game.
The camp featured 13 first- and second-round picks from the past five drafts including Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Ristolainen, Mark Pysyk, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher and Brendan Lemieux.
“When you see a team of prospects like this who are all so good, you think to yourself, ‘I could be on that team.’” he said. “And you really expend yourself to make that team next year.”
Buffalo Sabres prospects will take the ice at First Niagara Center at 10:30 a.m. for the inaugural 3-on-3 tournament. The camp will wrap up as soon as a champion is named.
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|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)|
When Mikhail Grigorenko weighed in at the start of last season, he was listed at 209 pounds. After a few weeks hitting the gym this summer, the 20-year-old center checked into this year’s development camp 10 pounds heavier.
After his season with the Rochester Americans ended, he went back to train in Quebec City. He said he’s been training hard the past two months and so far, that work has paid off. The added muscle is already helping to improve his game.
He said he’s able to better protect the puck and he’s able to comfortably throw the body around a bit more as well. He'd like to maintain his weight at about 219 pounds.
“That’s probably what I need the most, be more explosive and faster on the ice,” he said. “I felt pretty good those first few practices and felt pretty confident in the battles. I felt pretty strong too.”
Since Buffalo drafted him 12th overall in 2012, he’s moved around a lot from league to league. In 2012, he started the season in with Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and joined the Sabres roster once the lockout ended. However, he only played 25 NHL games that year before Buffalo sent him back to junior.
He started 2013-14 in Buffalo as well, but once again, was sent back to Quebec after playing 18 in games.
After each season in Quebec, he's played a handful of games for Rochester.
Grigorenko takes responsibility for bouncing around and understands that no opportunity is going to be handed to him.
“From past experiences, I’ve kind of realized that it was probably no one’s fault but mine that I didn’t stay in the NHL,” he said. “If I want to play in the best league in the world, it’s just on me. No one is going to make me play just because I was drafted in the first round. I just need to go out there and just be the best.”
Amerks coach Chadd Cassidy is running development camp and has been impressed by Grigorenko’s work ethic and attitude.
“I think he’s got to keep doing what he’s doing. I thought he’s been good all week. Obviously we all know Mikhail and his strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “I think he’s addressed them.”
Just because Grigorenko finished the season in Rochester doesn’t mean he’s content with starting there this upcoming season there. He said he’s dedicated to earning a spot on the Sabres roster in the fall.
“I really hope to start the season in Buffalo. I think it’s just going to be up to me,” he said.
During his stint in Rochester this spring, the points came early for Grigorenko, but as his production declined, he saw his ice time begin to dwindle.
“I’m a player that has to produce and I didn’t do it, so my ice time was a little less and I had less opportunity,” he said. “I just didn’t get points anymore, which I understand why the coaches didn’t play me more.”
However, while with the Amerks, Cassidy saw Grigorenko become more committed to playing a defensive role and that has carried over into development camp.
“I think he was really good with the puck tonight. I thought he was way better without it than what we’ve seen in the past,” Cassidy said Tuesday night after an intra-squad scrimmage. “He was that way at the end of the year in Rochester. I thought he was excellent for us. He continues to make strides and we’ve got to keep in perspective that he’s still a young kid. He’s been through a lot.”
Whether he’s in Buffalo or Rochester, Grigorenko will be able to play a full season against men for the first time in his career. He thinks that facing tougher competition will help further his development.
“He’s got the right perspective coming into camp,” Cassidy said. “He knows that there’s a lot in front of him and he’s got a lot he’s got to earn.”
The annual intra-squad featuring Buffalo Sabres prospects will be held Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at First Niagara Center. The scrimmage is open to the public and both parking and admission are free.
For those who cannot attend, Sabres.com will provide a live stream of the event. The scrimmage will include three 20-minute, stopped-time periods. Sabres broadcast team Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray will call the game, with Brian Duff conducting interviews during the intermissions.
Here are the projected lineups:
65 Jordan Samuels-Thomas - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 10 William Carrier
47 Daniel Catenacci - 25 Mikhail Grigorenko - 24 Hudson Fasching
21 Jonathon Martin - 38 Sean Malone - 15 Justin Bailey
41 Liam Pecararo - 37 Colin Jacobs - 44 Victor Olofsson
78 Brendan Lemieux - 23 Sam Reinhart - 33 Joel Armia
45 Eric Cornel - 17 J.T. Compher - 20 Nicholas Baptiste
22 Drake Caggiula - 27 Tim Schaller - 13 Kevin Sundher
46 Maxwell Willman - 32 Justin Kea - 12 Patrick Russell
Nathan Lieuwen has dealt with multiple concussions over the course of his career, so he was very careful in dealing with his latest injury.
The 22-year-old goaltender was hurt late in Buffalo’s game in Philadelphia on April 8 when Flyers forward Jay Rosehill collided with Lieuwen’s head in the crease. Lieuwen was diagnosed with a concussion and just like that, his season was over.
It took Lieuwen five to six weeks to get back on the ice and he said he took some extra time after that to make sure he was all right. Monday morning, he was back skating at First Niagara Center as the Sabres held the first practice of their week-long development camp.
“I am fantastic, doing really well,” he said. “It sticks in your mind, but I think that’s part of the reason I’m so thrilled that I got healthy so fast. I’m very pleased with how quickly I made progress and I’m feeling really good right now.”
Lieuwen played seven games for the Sabres last season, logging a 2.98 goals against average and a .906 save percentage in this first stint in the NHL. He hopes to have another chance soon. Having that experience also gave him a major confidence boost.
“It was incredible. Just to get a taste of it,” Lieuwen said. “Now I know how badly I really do want it and I’m excited to have had that opportunity.”
He’s one of five goaltenders in camp. The other goaltenders are Andrey Makarov, who carried the load for the Amerks while Lieuwen and Matt Hackett were in Buffalo, 2013 draft pick Calvin Petersen and Swedish netminders Linus Ullmark and Jonas Johansson. Ullmark was the goaltender of the year in Sweden and Johansson was selected by the Sabres in the third round of this year’s draft.
Is there extra pressure knowing how many other young, talented goaltenders are in the system?
“It’s the same as it always has been. I worry about myself and I earn everything I get,” he said. “You talk about a depth chart or how many guys are out there or just how many in general, goalies – there are two on a team. But you play well and good things will happen.
“…At the end of the day, it’s whoever’s playing well now. Maybe there is a little bit of ‘What you have done and where you have been.’ But for me, it’s all about playing well whenever I get on the ice.”