Some observations from Day One of this year’s Buffalo Sabres Rookie Development Camp:
Casey Mittelstadt – Throughout the first day of camp, Mittelstadt showed why the Sabres drafted him eighth overall in June with a strong display of speed and hands. But the concerns over his poor performance in the strength tests at the combine were legitimate, as he took a beating in the corners during cycle drills.
Luckily for him, the University of Minnesota beckons for Mittelstadt and will put him on a strength and conditioning program that will see him get bigger.
Alex Nylander – Nylander, also a former eighth-overall draft pick, had an issue similar to Mittelstadt, in that he was extremely skilled but lacked size. Former Sabres general manager Tim Murray was quoted many times saying that Nylander needed to increase muscle mass, and it seemed as if he took Murray’s words to heart.
Nylander showed up to on-ice workouts looking noticeably bigger, and with a bigger frame, should be able to withstand punishment better.
Justin Bailey – Bailey was drafted in 2013 by the Sabres and has been with the franchise through multiple regimes. That constant turnover has hindered his development somewhat, as Bailey has shown the ability to put up points in the AHL but once called up to the NHL, he has usually been placed on the fourth line.
Bailey seemed to know that this could be a make-or-break season for him, as he took to the ice and played with a purpose. He performed well in most of the drills and showed a strong work ethic. Perhaps this could be a turning point in his career.
Vaclav Karabacek – Karabacek, an enigmatic winger who was drafted in the second round three years ago, has shown the ability to be a productive player but has never quite put it together. In this camp, however, he proved to be the biggest surprise of the day.
Karabacek displayed decent hands, a solid shot and good hockey IQ – the latter characteristic shown throughout cycle drills as he made tape-to-tape passes and drew defenders towards him to make plays. If he can consistently show these traits in game action, this could be a breakout season for Karabacek.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen – Luukkonen, the top-rated European goaltender in this year’s draft, showed up to camp wearing orange-colored padding, including his glove, blocker, legs and helmet. To the best of one’s knowledge, no one has worn orange gear in the NHL, but the flashy gear didn’t completely help dominate the competition on Saturday.
To Luukkonen’s credit, he did make a few dazzling saves and cut an imposing figure in net with his 6’4” frame. However, one noticed that he had some trouble making saves on his glove side. Luckily for him, goaltenders typically take longer to develop than any other position and Luukkonen should have plenty of time to work out the chinks in his armor.
Brendan Guhle – Before this offseason began, Guhle was believed to be a prime candidate to start the 2017-18 season in Buffalo. After the acquisitions of Victor Antipin, Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella, however, it’s apparent that the Sabres’ brass would like Guhle to develop at a slower pace in Rochester.
That’s no knock on his ability though. Guhle looked like the best defenseman at the practice, mirroring opposing players’ moves and staying with them stride for stride. He also made a habit of stripping other players of the puck.
Clearly Guhle is the Sabres’ top-rated defensive prospect and it showed.
Cliff Pu – Pu dominated the competition with the London Knights in the OHL this past season, recording 86 points in just 63 games. He also showcased his offensive prowess on Saturday, demonstrating good speed and an ability to deke – perhaps a future asset to use in shootouts.
Drafted in the third round last year, Pu looks as if he may become a diamond in the rough for the Sabres.