Players to watch at the Prospects Challenge
Seth Appert put the Buffalo Sabers’ prospects to work on the first whistle of practice Wednesday, kicking things off with a one-on-one combat drill.
It was much the same in the two subsequent practices for the Prospects Challenge, a round robin tournament that pits the Sabers against young players from the Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils on Friday and Saturday. (Boston and New Jersey will meet on Sunday.) Tickets for all three games are available here.
For a generation of players hoping to be a part of the future at Buffalo, it was an introduction to the standard expected by Sabers coach Don Granato and Appert in Rochester.
“As an organization we have to keep working to become difficult to face, demanding to play against,” said Appert.
There will also be some proverbial battles to be settled – for ice time in Rochester, for first impressions, and maybe even for places in the NHL.
Here are three groups to watch out for at the Prospects Challenge.
1. The Class of 2020
Buffalo’s top two draft picks in 2020 enter the camp with varying levels of familiarity. Jack Quinn, the eighth overall pick, was eligible to move on 2020-21 with Rochester due to the OHL’s season cancellation. JJ Peterka, the team’s second-round pick, played professionally in Austria and Germany and delivered an outstanding performance at the World Junior Championships.
The two have trained as teammates so far, with Quinn in the center and Peterka on the right wing (the line is completed by Brett Murray). Peterka was all smiles after their first go-around on Wednesday.
“I think we had a lot of fun today,” he said.
Quinn’s move to the center – a process that began at the end of his campaign in Rochester – will be a story to watch. Sabers general manager Kevyn Adams referred to Quinn’s center skills on the night of the 2020 draft, traits that Appert saw firsthand in Quinn’s 15-game rookie year with the Amerks. .
“He’s a play pilot, and there aren’t a ton of winger who are play pilots,” Appert said. “… He’s incredibly smart, and he’s got the cerebral intelligence to know how he attacks the game, both on the ice and how he watches the game off the ice and how much he wants to improve.
Peterka, meanwhile, is making the jump to North American hockey after an impressive performance against professional competition last season. He collected 20 points (9 + 11) in 30 games with EHC München in DEL, Germany’s top professional league.
“JJ is one of those rare guys who has the speed, skill and explosiveness of elite, dynamic offensive players, but also has the hidden goal scoring ability that most intelligent offensive players have. “said Appert. “He showed in the younger age groups that he has this really good combination of speed mixed with the cerebral capacity to score goals that all special scorers have.”
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2. The best pair
The Sabers will form a veteran pair at the top of the defense in Mattias Samuelsson and Oskari Laaksonen, two players coming from rookie seasons at Rochester.
Samuelsson, a 2018 second-round pick, had 13 points (3 + 10) in 23 games with the Amerks and had a 12-game stint with the Sabers to end the season. He plans to fight for a spot on the NHL roster at training camp, although veterans competition has been added in Robert hagg (acquired from Philadelphia) and Will Boucher (acquired from New Jersey).
Laaksonen, a third-round pick in 2017, scored 17 points (2 + 15) as he led Rochester’s power play and was selected for the AHL All-Star.
“Me and Sammy want to be the two best players at the back,” Laaksonen said of their goals for the tournament. “Defensively and offensively be the two best guys out there.”
3. Returning NHL Players
Buffalo’s roster includes four players who played in the NHL last season: Samuelsson, forwards Murray and Arttu Ruotsalainen, and goalkeeper Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
Ruotsalainen has shown a scoring ability during his stint with Buffalo, scoring five goals in 17 games while finding a home on the wing alongside Dylan cozens. He will play in the center during the Prospects Challenge.
Luukkonen enters camp with a chance to compete for one of two goalie positions in Buffalo. He will have to prove that he is ready, the team having brought in veterans Craig anderson and Aaron Dell during the off-season.
Murray played his way to a late season recall, appearing in Buffalo’s last two games. The 6-foot-4 winger will look to use the Prospects Challenge as a springboard to main camp.