Sam Reinhart's first-pitch Friday night in Coca-Cola Field (Sabres.com video)
By Mike Harrington
The Sabres open their annual summer development camp today in First Niagara Center with a practice at 10:30 a.m., so be sure to look for full coverage in print and here on the blog. Everything is open to the public, including Tuesday's scrimmage at 7 p.m. and Friday morning's 3-on-3 games at 10:30 a.m. There are no on-ice public activities on Wednesday.
Click here for our photo gallery of top D-camp attractions
With the franchise's rebuild in full-speed-ahead mode, this figures to be a pretty interesting week to watch a little hockey. Or a lot, if you so choose. Here's a few things I'll be watching for:
1. Zemgus Girgensons -- Each year, there's always a player or two with NHL experience under his belt back at D-camp. (For instance, I remember Tyler Myers back at Niagara University in the summer of 2010 after he had won the Calder Trophy). It's always interesting to watch how that player carries himself now and how much others gravitate to him. It will be particularly noteworthy in the case of Girgensons, who is only 20 but played 70 NHL games and the Olympics for Latvia last season after playing 61 games in Rochester and the World Championships for his homeland in 2012-13. He is future captain material.
2. Sam Reinhart -- Every move by the new face of the franchise will be scrutinized, particularly in Tuesday night's scrimmage when we finally get to see him live in game action. The video at the top of this post recaps his night throwing the first pitch at the Bisons game on Friday, where he got a huge ovation from the crowd as he was introduced. He also unveiled his No. 23 (Farewell, Ville).
The team better have those available at The Sabres Store, and Tim Murray can knock off the he-has-to-earn-it stuff with this kid at least. He's better right now than many of the forwards who were on this team last year. He's not sniffing junior hockey again.
3. First-round picks -- The Sabres' last seven first-rounders will be at this camp. That's an astonishing achievement. The list includes Girgensons and Reinhart as well as Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Joel Armia and Mark Pysyk. Nine of the last 10 Buffalo first-rounders are still on the team, counting Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis. The lone exception is Zack Kassian -- and he was traded for Cody Hodgson in a swap of first-rounders. You could say the Sabres have 10 No. 1 picks in their system. Pretty darn impressive. That's how you improve. The word is Grigorenko has pushed his training envelope hard, as he needed to, and is closing in on 220 pounds. Interesting.
4. Ristolainen and Zadorov -- Last year's No. 1s both had strong first seasons in the organization, with Ristolainen really blossoming in Rochester after scoring the Golden Goal for Finland at the World Juniors and Zadorov competing in the Memorial Cup for London. Both got a taste of the NHL too. Ristolainen is a good bet to make the Sabres this year. Let's see how much more advanced they are.
5. The local products -- Justin Bailey and Sean Malone were both drafted last year and participated in this camp. Bailey had 43 points in 54 games for Kitchener in the OHL last season while Malone had 20 points in 31 games in his first season at Harvard.
6. 2014 draft picks -- They're all expected to be here, so it will be our first look at Brendan Lemieux, Eric Cornel and others.
7. Goaltenders -- Nathan Lieuwen, who was felled by a concussion late in the Sabres' season, is scheduled to take part. So are burgeoning prospects like Andrey Makarov, Linus Ullmark and Cal Peterson. And 2014 draftee Jonas Johansson. This is a make-or-break year for Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth. Lots of prospects in the pipeline.
8. Newcomers -- I'll have my eye on three in particular: University of Minnesota winger Hudson Fasching, acquired from Los Angeles at the trade deadline; winger William Carrier, a point-a-game player in the Quebec League acquired from St. Louis in the Ryan Miller/Steve Ott trade; and winger Jordan Samuels-Thomas, the intriguing college prospect acquired from Winnipeg last week who the Sabres signed to a one-year deal when he would have become a free agent in August.
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Click here for LIVE updates from Monday's first practice of development camp.