Brian Duff recaps the first practice of the Buffalo Sabres' 2014 Development Camp.
With a fresh sheet of ice laid out at First Niagara Center, 39 Buffalo Sabres prospects took the ice to get the week-long development camp underway.
Rochester Americans coach Chadd Cassidy led the players through a number of situational drills to give players a chance to show off their varied skill sets. After an hour and a half, the ice was resurfaced, and fans were treated to a preview of the teams that will be competing during Friday’s 3-on-3 tournament.
Throughout the whole practice, Cassidy was not afraid to pull players aside or stop a drill to get the players to focus or pick up the intensity. The players certainly responded positively, and the first day of practice set the tone for what is sure to be a productive week.
“It was good,” Cassidy said. “We did get the guys on the ice a little [Sunday] for some skill stuff, but this was the first official day of camp. A lot of energy, a lot of excitement out there.
“I think you had a lot of nervous guys out there the first time that they’re making an impression to the organization and some of the fans here in Buffalo. It was a little bit nerve-wracking for the guys, but a lot of energy and I thought we had a great pace today.”
While there were a handful of familiar faces to the many Sabres fans in attendance, a large number of the prospects skating today were skating for the first time in Buffalo. Today was the first chance for Buffalo to see forwards William Carrier and Hudson Fasching, acquired in trades during last season, as well as seven of the nine players selected by Buffalo in the 2014 NHL Draft.
One of the Sabres’ most recent acquisitions, forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas, is the oldest player in attendance at camp and set a strong example with his work ethic and attitude.
“It’s your job. I’ve tried to treat it like my job as much as I could in my four years in college,” Samuels-Thomas said. “[Now] I don’t have school anymore, I don’t have classes, this is my full-time job. It’s not just when I show up at the rink, it’s taking care of my body off the ice, how I carry myself in the community.
“All that stuff is important because obviously people are going to be looking at me, and I’ve got to do my best to represent this organization and myself.”
The talent level on display this year is as good as it gets. The Sabres have drafted nine players in the first and second rounds of the draft in the last two years, and with all but two of them on the ice today, the skill level presented a challenge for every prospect to improve each day of camp.
“This is an up-and-coming organization for sure,” Hudson Fasching said. “I come out here, and there’s so much skill. Another thing I feel like is there’s so many hard-working kids out there too; that’s really encouraging to see.
“A lot of times you see guys who get drafted in the first round [who may think] ‘Oh, I got drafted in the first round, I don’t have to work,’ but there’s first- and second-rounders that are working hard, and that’s really important.”
Practices continue tomorrow with team skates open to the public Tuesday morning from 10:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. The day will conclude with the Blue and Gold intra-squad scrimmage, which starts at 7 p.m.
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.”
Buffalo Sabres prospect Justin Bailey talks about the first day of development camp and his own progression as a player.
I know last year I came in here and it was an eye-opener for sure, playing against guys that you watched get drafted, especially for me being a Sabres fan. Growing up, I look at Mark Pysyk getting drafted, and now you’re playing with those guys. For me, last year was just more of a learning experience. This year, I’m 100 percent more confident than last year. I think last year was more of opening up and seeing, you know, it was fun. This year, I’m here as a job, and that’s just what I’m trying to do moving forward.
You definitely play differently after the first year. I think last year I was playing more to not make a mistake, and this year I’m playing more to show everything that I have. Mistakes obviously happen when you play at a high level with guys that are good competition. There’s not as much nerves, you just have to play your game and play within the team system.
Just during lunch now, I was sitting with a few guys, Zemgus Girgensons and Jake McCabe and we were just talking. One of things that came up was this camp is a lot more physical. You can tell that the intensity is a lot higher than last year. I think that’s good, it’s healthy competition. Everybody is going hard; everyone is going after the same jobs. So you’re friends off-ice, but on-ice it’s competition for sure.
There are a lot of new faces, even for me. Last year a lot of guys knew each other, and with all the moves throughout the season there’s a ton of new faces. For me, I’m trying to help the new guys for sure, but I’m also trying to learn from some of the older guys too.
After the first on-ice practice of development camp, new Buffalo Sabres forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas chats with SabresTV's Dan Dunleavy.
On-ice coach’s practice: 10:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
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
72 Brycen Martin - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe - 4 Anthony Florentino
5 Andrew Prochno
78 Brendan Lemieux - 23 Sam Reinhart - 33 Joel Armia
45 Eric Cornel - 17 JT Compher - 20 Nicholas Baptiste
22 Drake Caggiula - 27 Tim Schaller - 13 Kevin Sundher
46 Maxwell Willman - 32 Justin Kea - 12 Patrick Russell
On a busy July 1, Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray talks to the Buffalo media about the moves he made.
By drafting Samson Reinhart with the second-overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft on Friday, the Buffalo Sabres added a big new building block to their hockey team.
Sabres general manager Tim Murray sat next to Reinhart on Monday as the two addressed the media at First Niagara Center. Murray was hired in January to take over as general manager. He knew reshaping the organization was going to be complicated and it’s a task he was prepared for.
“I knew it was a big job and I know it’s a job that has to be done the proper way. And that’s hard. That’s the hard part,” Murray said. “We all want to speed things up. As soon as we got him, I said, ‘I wish it was 2016.’ But it’s not and you have to do it properly and you have to go through the good and the bad that goes with it.
“I firmly believe that we’re going to stay the course here and do what we think is the right way to be a good team for a long time.”
What’s helped, Murray said, is having a good stable of young players and prospects already in the organization. He mentioned NHL’ers like Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis and Tyler Myers and defensive prospects Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and Jake McCabe as examples of players the team can build around.
Possessing an abundance of young talent and other assets means Murray’s vision could come to fruition sooner rather than later.
“There are good young players that were here before me. If we turn this around, it’ll be me getting a lot of the credit, but there’s a foundation that was here before I got here,” Murray said. “And I have to recognize that and you guys have to recognize that. I think what that does is, it makes our plan to rebuild quickly a viable plan.”
Unrestricted free agency opens at noon on Tuesday. Sabres general manager Tim Murray and his staff have made their lists and hope their targets have a mutual interest.
“The first guy I call might not be the first guy on our list. It might be the guy who’s shown the most interest in coming here right off the bat. But there’s been a lot of interest,” he said on Monday. “Is it legit interest? I’m not sure. We’ll find out tomorrow, right? But I’m pleased with the amount of calls. I’m pleased with what they say is interest in coming to Buffalo.”
Murray said he’s looking for veterans who are willing to be mentors to the younger players in the organization. He cited former Sabres captain Steve Ott as an example of that type of player. Murray has been in contact with Ott’s agent as well as the agent of Matt Moulson among other unnamed players.
“Matt Moulson is a possibility. But one conversation doesn’t mean that they’re coming here for sure,” Murray said. “It’s just, ‘Hey it’s so-and-so. Steve liked his time there. Matt liked his time there, whatever the case may be.’
“But we might be 20th on their list. But there has been a conversation with those guys as there has been with many other guys.”
WATCH THE FULL PRESS CONFERENCE
Murray also talked about the team’s decision to use their second compliance buyout on defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. By using a compliance buyout, Ehrhoff’s cap hit will not count against the team.
Also since Ehrhoff signed a long-term contract prior to the last Collective Bargaining Agreement, there would be serious cap penalties assessed to Buffalo if Ehrhoff retired before the end of the contract even if he was traded.
Here’s what Murray had to say:
“We went through the scenarios. We didn’t feel that we could trade him. There was opportunity to trade him but with the penalties on the contract at the end if he were to retire, we felt that in six or seven years when he’s making a million dollars and he has a lot of incentive to retire, that the penalties were too high for where we want to be at that time.
"We want to be a contending team that spends to the cap and has ability to acquire a free agent at the trade deadline that puts us over the top that makes lot of money and that contract was a hindrance.
"I like Christian. He’s a good player. I guess he could’ve played it out here. He didn’t seem to be all in on that. And I respect that. I wasn’t here when he was signed so I don’t think going through a rebuild was attractive to him – not think, I know that.
"So this seemed to be the best course of action for us to move on, be out from under that contract, what could possibly come at the end of that contract, and now we don’t have to worry about it. Now we just have to focus on rebuilding, bringing in good young players and get going here.”
With Ehrhoff out of the picture, the Sabres will have more to spend to get to the salary cap floor. Murray doesn’t see it as an issue. He said he one way is to target teams near the cap ceiling who decided to spend money on big-ticket free agents and will look to shed salary in other ways.
Buffalo Sabres center Samson Reinhart arrived in Buffalo for the very first time Sunday night and started making the rounds around town on Monday. So far, he likes what he’s seen.
“It’s nice. I think it’s finally starting to sink in, coming here,” the Sabres' first-round pick told the media Monday morning at First Niagara Center. “I came in last night and seeing it this morning in the daylight is pretty cool.”
He’s ready to start playing hockey again. He’ll be back in Buffalo for Development Camp from July 14-18 and is looking forward to meeting and playing with the other players in the organization – both prospects and veterans.
“I think there are a lot of players that excite me to be honest, coming into a young team. I feel I’m pretty versatile in the sense that I can fit in comfortably and produce with any type of player,” Reinhart said.
“I’ve been with every type of player throughout my career and playing well with [them]. I’m looking forward to coming into a new team with a lot of talent up front and I’m excited about that opportunity.”
Sabres general manager Tim Murray praised Reinhart’s maturity and hockey sense, which he said can be very difficult to quantify.
“His focus is on, when they drop the puck, what is he going to do until the whistle’s blown? He’s very mature in that respect and all kids and teenagers mature at different time and different speeds,” Murray said. “That’s a big part of who he is on the ice. I hope he’s great on the ice and I hope he’s better than that off the ice and I know we’ll have a long-time franchise guy.”