|(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.”
|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)|
Perhaps the most impressive player Tuesday night during the Blue & White Scrimmage was Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo’s top pick in 2013.
The eighth-overall selection played 34 games in Buffalo last season but was really able to further his development under Rochester Americans coach Chadd Cassidy during an extended stint in the American Hockey League.
After coaching Ristolainen in 34 games in Rochester last season, Cassidy has seen the 19-year-old Finnish defenseman make remarkable strides forward. Cassidy said that Ristolainen is extremely active in taking the advice of the coaches to heart and using that to further prepare for the NHL game.
“[He’s a] really aggressive learner,” Cassidy said. "He took every piece of advice we gave him throughout the year and executed on it.
“…The biggest thing he had to address this year in Rochester was finishing shifts. When he got extended in the D zone, he had a really hard time, and he usually ended up in some scoring chances against us.”
Last season was Ristolainen’s first in North America. Prior to being drafted, he played two professional seasons in Finland. He started last season in Buffalo but was sent down to the minors in January after Ted Nolan took over as head coach. He joined the Sabres again as an emergency recall later in the year and once the NHL season finished, he helped the Amerks make a run to the playoffs.
After cutting some “baby fat” to weigh in at around 205 pounds this camp, Ristolainen was able to be one of the most physical players in an impressive group of heavy prospects during the Blue & White Scrimmage.
“That’s nice, I like to play that style,” Ristolainen said. “I think it’s a real game, real type of play if you hit and compete hard. That belongs [in] the game.”
With the goaltender pulled late in the scrimmage, Ristolainen made some strong plays for Team Blue in his own end to keep the puck out of the net. He gave his squad a chance to close a three-goal deficit as well in the final five minutes.
Goaltender Jonas Johansson, a third-round pick in this year’s draft, made a desperate glove save to rob Ristolainen of a goal in the last five minutes of the game. In tight, Ristolainen tried to lift the puck over Johansson.
However, the shot bounced off Johansson’s glove and a second effort with that glove hand was enough for the goaltender to swat the puck away from the goal line.
Ristolainen and 2014 second-round pick Brendan Lemieux also got into a bit of a chirping match at the end of the second period. The scrimmage had some chippy moments and strong physical play throughout.
“It’s great that there’s a lot of intensity,” Ristolainen said. “Everybody likes to play hard and it was kind of a real game there. There were a lot of hits and compete.”
SabresTV's Brian Duff recaps the annual intra-squad scrimmage, which saw Team White defeat Team Blue 5-1 at First Niagara Center on Tuesday.
|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)|
Buffalo Sabres fans got possibly their best look yet at the prospects in the pipeline Tuesday night during the Blue & White Scrimmage. While the intensity and high pace of the contest may have been the biggest storyline, Team White emerged victorious by a score of 5-1 at First Niagara Center.
Rochester Americans coach Chadd Cassidy has been running this week’s development camp and his message to the young players has been to elevate their level of competition.
“We were really impressed with the pace out there tonight,” Cassidy said. “For having five defense on both sides, I thought the guys held up really well and it was a physical game. In my experience here, it was probably the fastest scrimmage we’ve had at development camp, especially with how we’ve worked them the last couple days. We’re real happy with that.”
Whether watching 2014 second-round pick Brendan Lemieux throw his body around and get under the skin of some players on the ice or seeing a fight between two players looking to prove their worth in the organization, the prospects went out to prove that they have a role in an organization looking to redefine its identity.
“The message has been ‘Everything is a competition,’ and the most important habit that we need to have is our compete level right now,” Cassidy said. “Whether you’re a skill player or you’re a player that’s going to be a fourth-line left wing, we expect you to compete every shift.”
While the players took a while to get their legs moving tonight, the announced crowd of 8,725 really simulated a home-game environment to help these players get a taste of the NHL.
“It’s great, the crowd was great,” defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said. “It was fun to play there, and hopefully the fans enjoyed. Let’s hope that we can bring something more that they can cheer when the season starts.”
PLEASANT SURPRISES: Forward Drake Caggiula, an invitee to the camp, has been among the most noteworthy players through the first two days of development camp, as his speed and pressure in the offensive zone have created many opportunities for himself and others.
Caggiula, who recorded 11 goals and 13 assists at North Dakota this season, posted two goals in this game, including an empty-net goal to seal the victory for Team White. His play throughout camp and tonight has really impressed Cassidy.
“He’s been really good. Real good skill level, nice release, and certainly knows what to do with the puck around the net,” Cassidy said. “This is the first viewing that I’ve ever gotten of him, but I’ve been really impressed with him.
“I think he makes plays at speed and he’s one of the few smaller players that we brought in, but he plays at a really good pace and he’s made players around him better all week. He’s made a good impression on us.”
Swedish goaltender Linus Ullmark came into game after a year with MODO in the Swedish Elite League in which he was named the league’s best goaltender. Ullmark was the only goaltender to not give up a goal in the scrimmage and he looked extremely poised in net.
Even after a shot from Daniel Catenacci rang off the inside of the post and did not go in to the net, Ullmark remained unfazed and played a solid all-around game.
“Well, a shutout is always a shutout. I had some luck there in the second period when it the post,” he said. “I had some lucky bounces and it was a day. As we say, some days you don’t have the bounces with you. I’m happy with the results.”
LIVIN' ON A TRYOUT: The second period of tonight’s scrimmage provided an opportunity to shine for some of the players invited to development camp for a tryout.
Team White’s second and third goals came courtesy of Patrick Russell and Caggiula, respectively. Russell, a Danish forward who spent last season with Waterloo of the USHL, put a wobbly shot past Cal Petersen off a feed from 2014 fifth-round pick Maxwell Willman. Caggiula buried a rebound against Andrey Makarov after the initial shot came from Tim Schaller.
Jonathon Martin, a teammate of Reinhart’s from the Kootenay Ice, scored the first Team Blue goal on a three-on-one. Camp invite Liam Pecararo, a teammate of Russell’s in Waterloo, registered an assist on the goal.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Sabres prospects will have a day off from the ice Wednesday before practicing again Thursday. On Friday, camp will conclude with a 3-on-3 tournament that should give players one last chance to impress fans, coaches, and management.
“Everything is about competition right now,” Cassidy said. “Where are you going to put yourself in the pecking order? We’ve pushed them really hard these first couple of days.”
“We give them a day tomorrow to recover a little bit and have a little bit of fun. And it’s back on the ice for some technical work and then we end with some really hard competition."
Highlights of Team White's 5-1 win over Team Blue at the annual intra-squad scrimmage at Buffalo Sabres Development Camp.
Brian Duff previews tonight's intra-squad scrimmage at Buffalo Sabres Development Camp. The scrimmage starts at 7 p.m. and will be streamed live at Sabres.com for those that cannot attend.
Sabres prospect Daniel Catenacci talks about the week at development camp so far.
It’s been a really good week. I think it’s a good amount of time to be here and obviously, it’s a little better than the Navy Seal Training we did a few years ago. This year, we’ve gotten to focus on on-ice stuff and getting to know all the new prospects. It’s been pretty great so far.
A lot of drills we’re doing out there were with my coaches last year and I did them last year, so I’m encouraged to be in front of the lines and demonstrate what’s going on, and obviously be one of the harder workers out there.
I started out on a bit of a learning curve in my first season with Rochester last year. By the second half of the season, I think I got a little bit better and learned my new position at left wing. I really started to learn the ins and outs of the pro game.
I think I’m been able to improve my overall game, attention to detail in the defensive zone and all the little things. Now, it’s about creating offense at the next level, which I think I’ll be confident enough to achieve next year.
Tomorrow we have a day off and we’re going to go to a ropes course. Other than that, I’ll just want to get back to the hotel, lie in bed and get ready to go back on the ice Thursday.
When J.T. Compher came to this year’s development camp, he did not expect his style of play to be particularly endearing to the other prospects.
Compher’s desire to win every battle and every puck helped guide the 19-year-old center to a successful freshman season at the University of Michigan.
“That’s my game, I like to play hard and compete at everything I do,” Compher said. “Sometimes it’s an agitating type of role and I just try to win whatever I’m playing.
“I don’t tend to make a lot of friends when I’m on the ice. Hopefully guys on my team consider me being one of their friends, but not usually on the other team.”
Buffalo selected Compher in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft (35th overall) and since then, he’s excelled.
His battling spirit led to Compher leading Michigan in scoring as a freshman. In addition to compiling 11 goals and 20 assists in 35 games, he was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
When the Sabres are ready to offer Compher a spot as a professional, he will be eager for the opportunity. But for right now, he’s prepared to return to Michigan as a sophomore and help the Wolverines advance further in the collegiate postseason.
“I think that’s all up to management and the coaching staff. I’m committed to Michigan right now and my goal for next year is to win a national championship,” Compher said. “I’m not looking farther than next year. I want to have a good season [at Michigan] or a chance to come here in Buffalo and play. There’s no rush, and whatever management wants me to do I’m ready to do it.”
Compher stands just 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, so he recognizes the need to develop other skills in order to excel at the next level. Skating was a big point of emphasis for Compher last year at Michigan, in addition to making smarter decisions and being more confident with the puck.
After attending Sabres development camp last season, Compher was in a similar situation to all the prospects this year, getting to know a number of new faces in the organization.
“With new management coming in, it was nice to meet the general manager [Tim Murray] and some of the new guys, new coach [Ted Nolan],” Compher said. “It is the first time some of the bigger guys have seen me, but I’m sure the scouts have been out to see me during the year at Michigan and I think I’m playing the same game that I played there.”
The talent level of the prospects that Buffalo has assembled stood out to Compher through two days of development camp. Practicing with other Sabres draft picks such as Sam Reinhart, Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia and Eric Cornel, Compher knows the level of talent in this organization is increasing each year.
As his second development camp with the Sabres rolls on, Compher expects to be right at the forefront as the team builds for a successful future.
“I think it’s just excitement about the talent,” he said. “Obviously with the team struggling last year, we had some high picks – some good players coming in, some guys that I’ve played against, played with.
The camp has been really competitive and I think everyone thinks the team is going to go up and have a bright future.”
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