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Development camp primer: What to Watch this week

Sam Reinhart's first-pitch Friday night in Coca-Cola Field ( 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. 

* * *

Click here for LIVE updates from Monday's first practice of development camp.

Central Scouting's Futures List is out and biggest names are (get used to them) McDavid, Eichel

By Mike Harrington 

NHL Central Scouting has released its Future List for prospects from North America and Europe and there are plenty of names on it that will become familiar as potential first-round choices in what's billed as a stocked 2015 draft. 

But for the next year, every draft list you see will be like this one: The names of Erie center Connor McDavid and Boston University center Jack Eichel will cause the most chatter and have fans of teams in the NHL's low-rent district like the Sabres dreaming big.

As draft expert Mike Morreale writes, the league web site did an impromptu poll of nine talent evaluators and four of them said they would actually take Eichel with the No. 1 pick over McDavid. So it will be a fascinating year to watch the two of them play, starting with Eichel's likely appearance in the All-American Prospects Game Sept. 25 in First Niagara Center.

Here's a USA Today story on Eichel from April. 

And here's a reminder I'll probably give 200 times before the NHL Draft Lottery next April: If the Sabres do in fact finish last overall next year, they will likely have a 75-80 percent chance of NOT getting the No. 1 pick. Just like this year. So if it turns out McDavid becomes a consensus No. 1 choice during the season based on his play in the OHL and World Juniors, Eichel is the guy more likely to come to Buffalo.

Here's the complete North American futures list. After McDavid and Eichel, US National Development Team defenseman Noah Hanifan has gotten a lot of recent play as a high pick as well. The list also includes 2015-16 Niagara University commitment Dennis Gilbert of the Buffalo Junior Sabres, a draftee of the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League. He's the nephew of Sabres Vice President of PR Mike Gilbert. 

The International futures list is topped by Czech center Pavel Zacha, who has said he wants to go the Tomas Hertl route right from Czech play into the NHL.

With three picks in second round, who are the top names left?

By Mike Harrington

PHILADELPHIA -- The Sabres will get back at it Saturday morning at 10, making the first pick of the second round. Buffalo also has picks No. 39 and 49. GM Tim Murray said late Friday night that during his days with Ottawa and Anaheim, he often saw the team's staff spending late Friday musing about a way to get No. 31. Murray admitted he's open to a team overpaying to get the pick from Buffalo.

If the Sabres keep all three seconds, who are the best candidates left that didn't go in round one? In no particular order, here are four interesting names on the board. The first three include links to John Vogl's "Road to the Draft" series.

Continue reading "With three picks in second round, who are the top names left?" »

Sabres select Sam Reinhart with their first pick in the NHL Draft

By John Vogl

PHILADELPHIA – The Sabres need a dramatic influx of forward talent in their organization. They took a big step tonight by selecting Sam Reinhart with the second overall pick in the NHL Draft.

 Reinhart, the third-ranked prospect according to NHL Central Scouting, is a levelheaded center who has uncanny hockey sense. He’s a playmaker who can score, something that is lacking in Buffalo.

“My hockey sense is up there,” Reinhart said. “At this age, I think that’s the most important thing to have. Everything else in my game I’ve been working on, and I’m going to continue to work on that. I think that’s going to improve my game that much more.”

Reinhart totaled 28, 35 and 36 goals during his last three seasons with Kootenay of the Western Hockey League, and he’s racked up 254 points in 203 junior games. He set career highs with 69 assists and 105 points in 60 games this year. He followed that with six goals and 23 points in 13 playoff games.

Reinhart fully believes he’s ready to step right into the NHL. A recent taste of the professional life gave him additional confidence.

Hockey Canada invited the 18-year-old to participate in its world championship camp last month in Switzerland. He skated alongside NHL players such as Buffalo’s Cody Hodgson, Toronto’s Nazem Kadri and Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau, and Reinhart felt he belonged.

“I would say going up to Switzerland for a few days and playing and practicing with professional guys has set me apart in my confidence level going in,” said Reinhart, who dressed in an exhibition game against the Swiss. “I feel prepared now, and it only motivated me to get more prepared. It was pretty amazing to see how I handled Practice One compared to Practice Three and really picked up the pace and felt comfortable pretty quick.”

At least for '15, last-place team won't draft below No. 2, but Murray is unhappy lottery rules appear to be changing

By Mike Harrington

PHILADELPHIA -- Tim Murray expects the NHL Players Association to rubber-stamp proposed changes to the draft lottery when it meets in a couple weeks, so he's moving forward as if the rules have shifted in the middle of the game. And he's not happy.

According to Murray, the proposed compression of odds means the team with the worst record will have a 19 or 20 percent chance of getting the top pick, rather than 25 percent. At least for 2015, that team will only fall one spot if it doesn't win the No. 1 pick. But starting in 2016, the team with the worst record could conceivably pick as low as fourth.

(Translation: If Sabres finish last next season and lose the lottery, just as they did this year, they would still get the consolation prize of American standout Jack Eichel if they don't land Connor McDavid)

"Greedily I’m upset because I think we have more of a chance of next season being one of the lower teams, which I don’t like, but it’s just reality and I look at it that way," Murray said today during his draft-day meeting with reporters at Le Meridien, the Sabres' headquarters hotel here.

Continue reading "At least for '15, last-place team won't draft below No. 2, but Murray is unhappy lottery rules appear to be changing" »

AUDIO: Sabres GM Tim Murray gives update on NHL Draft, free agency, lottery process

By John Vogl

PHILADELPHIA -- Sabres GM Tim Murray met with the media late this morning to give an update on the draft, free agency and the proposed changes to the lottery. The full audio is below.

Tim Murray

Here are the highlights via twitter:

Continue reading "AUDIO: Sabres GM Tim Murray gives update on NHL Draft, free agency, lottery process" »

Source: NHL plans to make two changes to draft lottery, including increasing number of picks determined by lottery process

By John Vogl

PHILADELPHIA -- The NHL is ready to implement a pair of changes to its Draft Lottery, which obviously has a big impact on the future of the Sabres.

The league, according to a Buffalo News source with knowledge of the situation, would like to:

Continue reading "Source: NHL plans to make two changes to draft lottery, including increasing number of picks determined by lottery process" »

Road to the NHL Draft Recap: 30-plus prospects in 30 days

By John Vogl

PHILADELPHIA -- The Road to the NHL Draft has reached its end.

Our monthlong series of profiles on hockey's hottest prospects comes to a conclusion today, just as we arrive in Philly for the draft Friday and Saturday.

To learn more about the players who will be selected, including statistics, scouting reports and video highlights, click on the names below.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft Recap: 30-plus prospects in 30 days" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Michael Dal Colle

By John Vogl

Michael Dal Colle

Position: Left wing

Junior team: Oshawa (OHL)

Born: Richmond Hill, Ont.

Measurables: 6-foot-2, 182 pounds

2013-14 stats: 67 games, 39 goals, 56 assists, 95 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 5 (North America)

Lowdown: Consistency is one of the hardest things for young players to achieve. Two good games will often be followed by a subpar outing, simply because prospects start to feel their talent alone will carry them. Dal Colle, however, is consistent as they come. His effort and results rarely waver.

Part of it is because Dal Colle has learned to never take things for granted. His older brother, Jonluca, is autistic, while their mother, Wendy, overcame breast cancer. The player couldn’t possibly sit back after seeing his family fight so hard. His sister, Daniela, played three seasons at Niagara University.

Dal Colle has the makings of a complete power forward. His scoring touch and passing are impressive. He knows how to protect the puck. He can perform when it matters, evidenced by his eight goals and 20 points in 12 playoff games. He still has to add weight to his frame.

He said it: "My first year in Oshawa, I played with a lot of good players, good leaders. I think as a 16-year-old I learned a lot from them and carried it on to this year. I know my defensive side of the game on the ice has to get better if I want to play in the NHL and have a long career, which I want to do. I’ve got to get physically stronger." – Dal Colle.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Michael Dal Colle" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Ivan Barbashev

By John Vogl

Ivan Barbashev

Position: Left wing

Junior team: Moncton (QMJHL)

Born: Moscow

Measurables: 6-foot, 181 pounds

2013-14 stats: 48 games, 25 goals, 43 assists, 68 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 18 (North America)

Lowdown: Barbashev came over from Russia because he likes to battle on the ice. His biggest one came quickly. The coaches shifted him from freewheeling winger to center, where he needed to develop a two-way game. He embraced the challenge and has become solid at both ends of the ice.

While the defense has improved, Barbashev hasn’t lost his offensive skills. He’s a dynamic skater with impressive acceleration. He has the shots to find the net and the creativity to get in position to fire them.

Consistency can be an issue. His effort level isn’t always at its peak.

They said it: “Ivan is a strong skater. He reaches top speed quickly and is a very good playmaker with quick hands. He's not afraid to mix it up, competes one-on-one and battles for pucks. He can be a gamebreaker." – Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Ivan Barbashev" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Adrian Kempe

By John Vogl

Adrian Kempe

Position: Right wing

European team: Modo (Sweden)

Born: Kramfors, Sweden

Measurables: 6-foot-1, 178 pounds

2013-14 stats: 45 games, five goals, six assists, 11 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 6 (Europe)

Lowdown: One of the most simplistic commands a coach can make is “get to the net.” That maneuver is also one of the more difficult to do judging by the coaches’ overuse of the phrase. It’s something Kempe doesn’t need to hear, though.

Kempe has a bull mentality on the ice, one that leads him toward the net on a consistent basis. He plays the north-south game that coaches desire noawadays, a no-frills attack that puts defensemen and goaltenders back on their skates. He already has an all-around game and can play well in his own zone.

While Kempe knows where the net is, he hasn’t proved he can find it with the puck. Still, his shot and playmaking skills show potential.

They said it: "He plays the body and is aggressive when forechecking. He has a good defensive game for a player with his offensive skills. He's a power forward, strong along the boards with smooth hands and is a very speedy skater. He's a solid two-way forward." – Goran Stubb, European director of NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Adrian Kempe" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Nikolaj Ehlers

By John Vogl

Nikolaj Ehlers

Position: Left wing

Junior team: Halifax (QMJHL)

Born: Aalborg, Denmark

Measurables: 5-foot-10, 176 pounds

2013-14 stats: 63 games, 49 goals, 55 assists, 104 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 13 (North America)

Lowdown: It must be noted that Ehlers put up his gaudy numbers playing alongside Jonathan Drouin, selected third overall by Tampa Bay last year. Even with that taken into consideration, comparisons to Patrick Kane abound for the Danish import.

Ehlers is one of the most exciting offensive players in the draft. His quickness is off the charts, and he’s able to make plays while moving at top speed. He can go around defenders in an instant, but they can’t focus on the outside because Ehlers never hesitates to dangle through the middle of the ice. Once he gets open, his rapid-fire wrist shot is lethal.

Ehlers is a proven winner, leading Denmark to gold medals in Division 1A at the under-18s and world juniors. He added 11 goals and 28 points in 16 playoff games this year. While he could use some weight, his eagerness to go into tight areas offsets his small frame.

They said it: “He's proven to be a skilled forward who can work some magic with Jonathan Drouin. He's got that quickness where he can separate from a check and get to the net. He's got soft hands and passes with authority, is a clever playmaker and very unselfish.” – Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Nikolaj Ehlers" »

Road to the NHL Draft: William Nylander

By John Vogl

William Nylander

Position: Right wing

European team: Modo (Sweden)

Born: Calgary, Alberta

Measurables: 5-foot-9, 169 pounds

2013-14 stats: 57 games, 16 goals, 18 assists, 34 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 2 (European)

Lowdown: Nylander has bounced around North America and Europe, following his father, Michael, who played for seven NHL teams from 1992 to 2009 and still skates professionally in Sweden. Father and son played together this season, allowing Michael to provide hands-on training.

William Nylander stepped out of his dad’s shadow at the under-18 world championship. He was named best forward of the tournament, putting up six goals and 16 points in seven games for Sweden. Since the start of the season, he has risen from the junior ranks through Sweden’s second division and finally to his homeland’s top league.

His skill level and imagination are NHL caliber, but his decision making could use work. While dynamic offensively, his defensive skills are lacking. He’s undersized for the league’s top level.

They said it: “He’s a good, mobile skater with outstanding skills, including smooth hands, vision, puck-handling and shot. He can also set up scoring chances for teammates and can score in many ways from outside or in traffic. He’s very competitive and effective on the power play.” – Goran Stubb, European director of NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: William Nylander" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Sonny Milano

By John Vogl

Sonny Milano

Position: Left wing

Junior team: USA U-18 (USHL)

Born: Massapequa

Measurables: 6-foot, 183 pounds

2013-14 stats: 50 games, 24 goals, 48 assists, 72 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 16 (North America)

Lowdown: A lot of kids show their admiration of Patrick Kane in an obvious manner, donning No. 88 for their teams. Milano is a little slicker. He honors Kane by wearing No. 27, which the South Buffalo native wore during his time with the U.S. National Team Development Program.

Milano has the offensive tools to resemble Kane. He once skated behind the net during a game and flipped the puck over the cage and the goaltender, onto the waiting stick of a teammate. He can make plays at top speed, a skill that often eludes young prospects. He can play all three forward spots.

Milano isn’t the most physical player. His defensive responsibilities can use work. He’s set to play for Boston College this fall.

They said it: "He's so dynamic, very good with the puck in traffic and in open ice and can make defensemen look silly. He likes to get under your skin. He certainly has the potential of becoming a complete player." – David Gregory, NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Sonny Milano" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Anthony DeAngelo

By John Vogl

Anthony DeAngelo

Position: Defenseman

Junior team: Sarnia (OHL)

Born: Sewell, N.J.

Measurables: 5-foot-10, 170 pounds

2013-14 stats: 51 games, 15 goals, 56 assists, 71 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 14 (North America)

Lowdown: All the top prospects bring a few family members to the draft, and a large cheer erupts when the player’s name is called. One of the loudest ovations in Philadelphia will come when a team selects DeAngelo, who grew up across the river from the City of Brotherly Love. He’ll have his own cheering section.

DeAngelo is used to hearing his named called. He’s led Ontario Hockey League defensemen in assists for each of the past two seasons, boasting totals of 49 and 56. He gets his offensive tips from Sarnia assistant coach Andy Delmore, a former blue-liner in Buffalo.

DeAngelo has the passion of a lifelong Flyers fan, which is not always a good thing. He served an eight-game suspension for violating the OHL’s harassment, abuse and diversity policy. He routinely berates teammates on the bench.

They said it: “His puck skills and playmaking ability are excellent. He sees the ice very well and creates offensive scoring chances with great passes. He has a very good shot and gets it on net. DeAngelo likes to jump up into the rush and makes good decisions with the puck.” – Chris Edwards, NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Anthony DeAngelo" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Julius Honka

By John Vogl

Julius Honka

Position: Defenseman

Junior team: Swift Current (WHL)

Born: Jyvaskyla, Finland

Measurables: 5-foot-7, 180 pounds

2013-14 stats: 62 games, 16 goals, 40 assists, 56 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 11 (North America)

Lowdown: All it took was one game for Honka to know he belonged in North America. The on-ice decision making is done a lot quicker here than on the larger rinks in Europe, and the fast-thinking Honka knew his skills would translate well during his draft year. He was right.

The free-wheeling, slick-passing defenseman showed he could be a magician in traffic or with open ice. He’s calm with the puck, which makes him a dependable quarterback on the power play. He sees plays develop before his teammates do, allowing them to get great scoring chances. Not surprisingly, he patterns his game after Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson.

It’s clear where Honka’s weakness is – his size. Shorter blue-liners can struggle for position while defending in front. Typical of smaller prospects, his height listings fluctuate from Central Scouting’s 5-foot-7 to Swift Current’s 5-11.

They said it: “Let’s just say that when you go to a game and you see his name in the lineup, you’re excited to watch the game because he’s got about four or five different gears. You think he’s just skating normally and he puts it in another gear, then another gear. Excellent vision and on-ice awareness. He reads the play so well sometimes he’s two or three steps ahead of his own teammates.” – Peter Sullivan, NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Julius Honka" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Nick Schmaltz

By John Vogl

Nick Schmaltz

Position: Center

Junior team: Green Bay (USHL)

Born: Madison, Wis.

Measurables: 6-foot, 172 pounds

2013-14 stats: 55 games, 18 goals, 45 assists, 63 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 19 (North America)

Lowdown: Schmaltz hopes to follow in the footsteps of his brother, Jordan, who was selected in the first round by St. Louis in 2012. Either way, they should make an impressive forward-defense combo at the University of North Dakota next season.

Schmaltz is ready to head to college after an assist-filled year in the United States Hockey League. The center has attracted attention with his pinpoint passing. His vision and hockey sense allow him to repeatedly set up his linemates. He’s quick enough to find openings of his own.

Schmaltz has the skills to play a two-way game, but there have been questions about his willingness to do so. While he’s quick, he’s not strong on his skates.

They said it: “He's a dynamic offensive player. He's really good at making you think the puck will be taken away from him, but he has such quick hands and can skate with it at full speed and then pull it away from you at full speed.” – David Gregory, NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Nick Schmaltz" »

Road to the NHL Draft: David Pastrnak

By John Vogl

David Pastrnak

Position: Left wing

European team: Sodertalje (Sweden-2)

Born: Havirov, Czech Republic

Measurables: 5-foot-10, 165 pounds

2013-14 stats: 36 games, eight goals, 16 assists, 24 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 5 (Europe)

Lowdown: Pastrnak has had no problems competing against his peers, which bodes well for his future. He led the Czech Republic junior league with 41 goals back in 2011-12. He had five points in seven games at the under-18s while serving as an assistant captain. Pastrnak added another three points in five games at the world juniors.

While Pastrnak consistently represents the Czechs on the international stage, he took his game to Sweden in an attempt to improve it. He’s spent the last two seasons in Sweden’s second pro division, playing against men.

While he holds his own from a skating and points perspective, the competition has proved he has a ways to go to handle the physical rigors of the NHL.

They said it: “David is an offensive-minded player with smooth hands, great instincts and a very quick shot. He's an excellent skater with speed and acceleration. He's very smart on ice but will need more weight and strength to excel at the next level. He's creative and dangerous in one-on-one situations.” – Goran Stubb, European director of NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: David Pastrnak" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Nick Ritchie

By John Vogl

Nick Ritchie

Position: Left wing

Junior team: Peterborough (OHL)

Born: Orangeville, Ont.

Measurables: 6-foot-2, 226 pounds

2013-14 stats: 61 games, 39 goals, 35 assists, 74 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 7 (North America)

Lowdown: How dominant can Ritchie be? Well, a five-goal outing in February showed that no one can stop him when he’s at the top of his game. He bulls his way to tough areas, and players can be hesitant to get in his way.

Ritchie is also agile enough to look like an overgrown skill guy. His wrist shot is considered one of the best in junior hockey. It helped him put up five goals and 10 points in 11 playoff games as the Petes came back from a 3-0 deficit to win the opening round against Sam Bennett and Kingston.

Despite Ritchie’s oft-displayed mean streak (he had 136 penalty minutes), the big guy can occasionally go to sleep during shifts. Part of that is because his conditioning could use improvement. There’s still little doubt his skills combine to make him a top-10 pick.

They said it: “He's a big, physical, tough guy. When he's playing and using his size and strength he's tough to knock off the puck. He goes to the net hard and has that power-forward mentality that's tough for people to handle. He protects the puck and has an excellent shot off the rush.” – Chris Edwards, NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Nick Ritchie" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Sam Bennett

By John Vogl

Sam Bennett

Position: Center

Junior team: Kingston (OHL)

Born: Holland Landing, Ont.

Measurables: 6-foot, 178 pounds

2013-14 stats: 57 games, 36 goals, 55 assists, 91 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 1 (North America)

Lowdown: Bennett is too young to have seen Doug Gilmour play, so he has to take everyone’s word for it when they compare him to the Hall of Famer. The bonus is he gets to talk to Gilmour about it because the former Sabres forward is Bennett’s general manager in Kingston.

Bennett resembles “Killer” because they share a gritty game that goes from one end of the rink to the other. Bennett hounds opponents incessantly, and he’s not afraid to go over the line. He served a five-game suspension this season for high-sticking. The absence didn’t stop him from finishing ninth in scoring in the Ontario Hockey League. The OHL coaches voted him Smartest Player, Best Playmaker and Best Stickhandler.

Bennett’s speed and acceleration help him at both ends of the ice, as does his keen hockey sense. His slight frame is his biggest drawback, and it was magnified at the NHL Scouting Combine when he failed to complete even one overhand pullup.

They said it: “He plays the kind of game you think cannot be sustained for a whole season because it’s a high-energy game and compete game at all ends of the ice. He ends up playing that game for the whole year. He just never stops, and put that with the skill package he has and how well he thinks the game, he’s pretty much a top-notch player.” – David Gregory, NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Sam Bennett" »

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl |

About Sabres Edge

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington |

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz |