Saturday, August 16, 2014

Penguins’ Bennett aiming for camp

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Beau Bennett expects to be ready for training camp after undergoing a second wrist surgery on May 22.

Bennett, 22, tells Michelle Crechiolo of the Penguins that the wrist is getting progressively better.

“Playing it by ear right now,” he said. “Everyday it’s feeling a little bit better and we’re increasing a little bit in the weight training and on-ice stuff. It’s still early and I’m glad that I’m here (in Pittsburgh) early enough where I can really see where I’m at.”

Following his spring surgery, his second in six months, a four-month window was expected for recovery, which would take the Gardena, Calif. native into September.

Bennett underwent surgery on the wrist for the first time in November 2013. At that time, a recovery period of 8-10 weeks was expected.

Following the surgery, Bennett returned in March to play nine regular season games scoring two goals and two assists.

This time around, Bennett feels the process is moving a long better.

“So far, it’s been a lot better,” Bennett said. “I was only in the cast for two weeks as opposed to six weeks the last time. It’s a work in progress.”

Bennett added one goal and four assists in 12 playoff games as the Penguins were eliminated by the New York Rangers in the second round.

The 6-foot-2, 196-pounder had three goals and four assists in 21 NHL games last season, Bennett also appeared in three games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL on a conditioning assignment where he had an assist.

Entering his third NHL season, Bennett could be prime for a bigger role this year following the departures of James Neal, who was dealt to the Nashville Predators and unrestricted free agent Jussi Jokinen signing with the Florida Panthers.

“It’s tough because I didn’t have a real full season last year,” said Bennett. “It’s hard to gauge where I’ll be at coming into this year. But I’m excited for the opportunity to play top-six.

“Even if you play top-nine, we have (Brandon) Sutter as the third-line center and he’s an unbelievable guy to play with. Then you have (Marcel) Goc, who I played with a lot in the playoffs and we were familiar with each other. It’s kind of an embarrassment of riches down the middle and we’re pretty lucky as wingers to play with any of the guys.”

Related: Crosby expects to be ready for training camp, says wrist is healing nicely

Kane highlights NHL players in Buffalo summer league

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane has won the Stanley Cup twice and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2013. But the NHL star added to his trophy case this summer when he raised the Father Charles Cup in his hometown of Buffalo.

He even paid $265 for the honor.

This is the Fattey Hockey League, the finest summer league in Western New York, where high school players skate against some from the NHL.

"There's never been a great skate in Buffalo in the summer. The concept was, 'How do we make it?" said Nik Fattey, the founder and namesake of the FHL. "There are so many good hockey players in Western New York. So how do we get everybody together to play in a league?"

Patrick Kane

Right Wing - CHI

GOALS: 29 | ASST: 40 | PTS: 69

SOG: 227 | +/-: 7

Since launching in 2005, the league has expanded from four to 12 teams and become a popular weekly game for current and former NHL players, including Kane, Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres, Cory Conacher of the New York islanders, Tim Kennedy of the Washington Capitals, Chris Mueller of the New York Rangers, and former Sabres defenseman Jay McKee. Consisting of several current or former players from the NHL, American Hockey League, ECHL, United States Hockey League and the NCAA, each team is required to ice four "rookies," local high school players.

That's typically where things get interesting.

Before each season, Fattey hosts a combine featuring as many as 90 high school players competing for a roster spot; 48 make the cut.

"It's always packed. It's like a tryout for a real hockey team," said Scott Diebold, a goaltender at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who won league MVP this summer. "It's insane. It's by far the best league in Buffalo. You've got Patrick Kane out there; you've got high schoolers trying to compete against him. It's a really fun league."

That element is ultimately what has kept players coming back, including Kane. The level of competition is impressive, but this wouldn't be a proper summer league if it didn't have a few player-friendly wrinkles.

There are no penalties in the non-checking league; players are awarded a penalty shot after drawing a penalty. Any pucks that hit the roof or netting remain in play, and games are running time with a horn that blows every 75 seconds to remind players to change. Failure to do so results in a penalty shot.

"We do that because who's going to tell Pat Kane to get off the ice?" Fattey said. "It also keeps the pace up."

A Buffalo native, Kane was invited to the league by former youth hockey teammate Vinny Scarsella, one of the league's original players and a forward for the Utah Grizzlies in the ECHL. As captain of Milli Vanilli (each team was named after a 1980s band this summer), Scarsella led a vaunted roster that included Kane, Girgensons, Conacher, Kane's 17-year-old cousin Cullen, and Cole Schneider, an Ottawa Senators prospect who was named FHL MVP in 2013.

"We had a pretty stacked team," Schneider admitted. "I think those guys intimidate some of the younger kids a little bit. I think I would be a little intimidated too, seeing guys like Kane out there. It's fun though. They get to tell their buddies they played with one of the best players in the NHL."

Coaching at nearby St. Francis High School, Fattey launched the league primarily as an outlet for his players, which at that time included Scarsella. The Father Charles Cup is named after Father Charles Jagodzinski, a longtime priest and administrator at St. Francis who is a campus minister at Wake Forest University.

Almost a decade since its inception, the league has expanded in scope and reputation. The entry fee for every player, including the NHL players, is $265.

It's continued to be led by Fattey, a Sabres scout who is the director of hockey at Harborcenter. When the sprawling harbor-front development opens in October, it will house two ice sheets, including one with seating for 1,800 spectators. Harborcenter could be the FHL's new home next summer.

In just a few years, the league has become a testament to the quality of players in the area. FHL players include the son of former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff and the two sons of Sabres president Ted Black.

The league is dotted with NHL draft picks, including Dylan Blujus (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Alex Lepkowski (Sabres), who this summer were teammates on Flock of Seagulls. Kennedy played on Toto with brothers Pete and Mike Ratchuk, who were drafted in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche and the second round by the Philadelphia Flyers, respectively.

"This is not a beer league. This is a skill skate," Fattey said. "If you were to put a beer league team in our league they would lose 20-0."

To be fair, Kane and Scarsella did show up for one game at an area beer league in July. Scarsella scored seven goals and the longtime friends combined for 19 points.

Kane and Scarsella didn't run quite as wild in the FHL, although they did get to drink Gatorade out of the Father Charles Cup after winning the best-of-three final against Pet Shop Boys, a team primarily of teenage USHL players, including University of New Hampshire commit Andrew Poturalski and Sabres draft picks Justin Bailey and Sean Malone.

"That team we played in the championship this year beat us three out of four games before we played them in the championship," Scarsella said. "So even though we've got all these guys, we still lose games. It just goes to show how good of a league this is."

Days after the league closed for the summer, players were still marveling at how much the FHL has grown. Anyone who managed to beat Kane's team at any point wasn't quite ready to stop talking about it.

"My team beat Kane's team twice," Fattey said. "He wasn't there but everyone else was."

Hayes Sweeps Underway… Big Time

August 16, 2014, 11:33 AM ET [5 Comments]



To the surprise of no one, Kevin Hayes is going to have his choice of at least a dozen offers from NHL teams eager to snap up the 2010 first-round pick without giving up any compensation to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks would receive an additional second-round pick in 2015 as compensation from the NHL but it will NOT come from whatever team signs the player. It will simply be another pick added into the 2nd round by the league.

Already I am hearing that Arizona, Boston, Calgary, Colorado, Detroit, Florida (despite insistence to the contrary), New Jersey, both New York teams, Ottawa, Philadelphia and Montreal are among the teams putting in bids on the former Boston College star.

More to come...

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Sabres hope veterans help prospects adjust to lineup

The Buffalo Sabres finished 2013-14 with the fewest points in a full 82-game NHL season since the New York Islanders had the same amount, 52, in 2000-01.


Undervalued: Cody Hodgson -- After breaking out with 34 points during the lockout-shortened season, Hodgson disappointed last year with 20 goals, 44 points and a minus-26 in 72 games. However, Hodgson, 24, is one of the Sabres' top centers and should continue to receive ample power play time (3:08 per game last season). He's in line for a solid bounce-back season, and you can expect 25-plus goals, 60-plus points with at least 25 power-play points. Just know his plus/minus could hurt you.

Overvalued: Matt Moulson -- For years Moulson was an undervalued fantasy player, but most of that value came from playing wing alongside John Tavares on the New York Islanders. When Moulson landed in Buffalo he struggled with 11 goals, 28 points and a minus-8 in 44 games. He was traded to the Minnesota Wild, where he had six goals and 13 points in 20 games. Now back with the Sabres, Moulson likely will return to something close to the production he had in those 44 games last season. He might finish with about 20 goals and 50 points, but his substandard rating will make him nothing more than a bench forward in most leagues.

Sleeper: Sam Reinhart -- Like last year's Calder Trophy winner, Nathan MacKinnon, Reinhart possesses all the tools needed to become be an NHL star. The question is, when will that happen? For MacKinnon, things evolved quickly, and if Reinhart can make the opening-night lineup, there's a chance the forward could take home some hardware in June. Reinhart had 36 goals and 105 points in the WHL last season and is worth a pick late in your draft based on his tremendous upside.

-- Follow Matt Cubeta on Twitter: @NHLQubes

Buffalo needed to rebuild, but it went beyond just bottoming out in the standings for the first part of the season. Coach Ted Nolan arrived in November and at least helped make the club's losses more competitive.

For Nolan, success next season might not be defined by wins or points, but by how some of the franchise's top young players develop at the NHL level. In an effort to help those young players, the Sabres added several veterans while expunging some bad contracts.

Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta will be leaned on as much for their work ethic and the examples they set as their ability to help revive an anemic offense. The Sabres missed out on the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft but still grabbed a potential franchise center in Sam Reinhart at No. 2.

Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros will be counted on eat minutes and help the young players on defense. Gorges and Gionta in particular were considered two of the key leaders in the Montreal Canadiens dressing room.

The current Sabres aren't going to like it, but unless they drastically exceed expectations the names of top 2015 draft prospects Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are going to come up a lot this season in Buffalo. The mission in 2014-15 is simple: develop young players, identify players who can be part of the next great Sabres team and be more competitive than they were at the start of last season.

There are lots of players in the system who could help revive Buffalo, and there are more early-round picks coming. Optimism will return, and the wins might as well, but more patience might be needed.

Here is the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Sabres:


Matt Moulson - Cody Hodgson - Drew Stafford

Tyler Ennis - Sam Reinhart - Chris Stewart

Marcus Foligno - Zemgus Girgensons - Brian Gionta

Matt Ellis - Brian Flynn - Torrey Mitchell

Cody McCormick - Patrick Kaleta

The Sabres could be patient with Reinhart, especially if Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko look ready for regular roles in the middle during training camp. He could spend another season in the Western Hockey League and join the Sabres next season along with someone like McDavid or Eichel, much like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane arrived at the same time with the Chicago Blackhawks.

How effective Reinhart, Girgensons and maybe Grigorenko can be will go a long way to determining if Buffalo is going to score more goals, because there aren't a lot of other options behind Cody Hodgson at center. The Sabres have a slew of prospects, and Joel Armia is another touted young forward who could push for a place on the roster.

Players like Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford probably can't drive the proverbial bus but still could be key role players as the younger prospects hopefully evolve into stars. Hodgson and especially Tyler Ennis could earn more recognition if they have more help around them.


Josh Gorges - Tyler Myers

Mike Weber - Rasmus Ristolainen

Andrej Meszaros - Mark Pysyk

Andre Benoit

While the Sabres' offense was historically impotent, only five other teams allowed more goals last season. And that was despite Ryan Miller's excellent work in goal in the first half of the season. Not only will the defense corps not have Miller to bail them out, there also will be some new faces, as well as some older ones earning larger roles.

Christian Ehrhoff was bought out, and both Henrik Tallinder and Jamie McBain were not resigned. That's three of the four defensemen who played in at least 64 games last season.

Tyler Myers will have another chance to unearth the form that made him one of the top young defensemen in the League earlier in his career. If he can't, he could be somewhere else when previews for the 2015-16 season are being written.

There are some very intriguing players here, including 2013 first-round picks Rasmus Ristolainen (No. 8) and Nikita Zadorov (No. 16), and less-touted prospects like Jake McCabe and Chad Ruhwedel.

Andre Benoit and Meszaros could help strengthen the depth of this group, but they could also be pushed aside by the younger players.


Michal Neuvirth

Jhonas Enroth

Jhonas Enroth has been waiting years for his chance to succeed Miller, but now he'll have to compete with Michal Neuvirth for playing time. The Sabres traded Miller to the St. Louis Blues for Jaroslav Halak and then Halak to the Washington Capitals for Neuvirth, and it could be an interesting competition.

Neuvirth played well more often than not for the Washington Capitals, but couldn't overcome first Semyon Varlamov and then Braden Holtby to claim the job for more than a temporary amount of time.

This could end up being one of the most even two-goalie splits of any NHL team.

ALSO IN THE MIX: F Mikhail Grigorenko, F Joel Armia, D Jake McCabe, D Nikita Zadorov, G Matt Hackett

Sabres expect rapid improvement after summer moves continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray set the bar at his season-ending news conference in April while evaluating the NHL's worst team in 2013-14. On the job for three months, Murray made it clear that change was coming — and lots of it.

"A lot of nights, this team was hard to watch," Murray said.

It wasn't pretty. Coach Ron Rolston and GM Darcy Regier were fired following a franchise-worst 4-15-1 start. The Sabres finished last in wins (21) and points (52) and their 150 non-shootout goals was the lowest total in the expansion era. Following what he called a "completely unacceptable" season, Murray refused to buy into a five-year rebuild and accelerated the Sabres' reconstruction with the signing of five free agents on July 1.

"Probably the best couple of words I heard out of Tim's mouth was when he said 'five years,'" said Ted Nolan, who went 17-36-9 after taking over as interim coach and signed a three-year contract extension in March. "Who knows what's going to happen five years from now? I always, as a coach, just worry about now. My now is preparing this team to be the best we can. If we get the players like we did this summer, it could be a very short rebuild and we get to the point to where we're battling for what everybody wants, and that's the Stanley Cup."

It may not be easy, but a Stanley Cup Playoff spot isn't impossible. Look no further than the Colorado Avalanche, who last season improved from the League's second-worst record to the third-best and a Central Division title. Murray's aggressive approach made a believer of forward Chris Stewart, one of the first rebuilding chips acquired in the Ryan Miller trade, who feels the playoffs are "a very, very realistic goal for us."

"I think on paper right now there's no doubt in my mind that we're a playoff-bound team," Stewart said. "We have some good players who are ready to take a step in the right direction and start leading. I think July 1st we took a big leap in the right direction and I think we'll be a team that definitely surprises some teams next year."

An overhaul that began last season with trades of Thomas Vanek, Miller, Matt Moulson, Cody McCormick and Steve Ott continued with compliance buyouts for forward Ville Leino and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and the selection of potential franchise center Sam Reinhart with the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.


2013-14 record: 21-51-10, 52 points, 8th in Atlantic Division, 16th in Eastern Conference

2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Did not qualify

F Matt Moulson, F Brian Gionta, D Andrej Meszaros, D Josh Gorges, F Cody McCormick, F Zac Dalpe, D Tyson Strachan, F Jordan Samuels-Thomas, D Andre Benoit

D Christian Ehrhoff, F Ville Leino, F Cory Conacher, F John Scott

Pending free agents:
F Zenon Konopka (UFA), D Henrik Tallinder (UFA), D Jamie McBain (UFA)

Promotion Candidates:
C Sam Reinhart, RW Joel Armia, C Mikhail Grigorenko, D Chad Ruhwedel, D Mark Pysyk, D Nikita Zadorov, D Rasmus Ristolainen

Top 2014 NHL Draft picks: C Sam Reinhart (1st round, No. 2), LW Brendan Lemieux (2nd round, No. 31)

Once the clock struck noon on July 1, Murray went to work by giving Rochester native Brian Gionta a three-year, $12.75 million contract. Moulson (five years, $25 million) and McCormick (three years, $4.5 million) returned after they were traded to the Minnesota Wild at the NHL Trade Deadline. Forward Marcus Foligno (two years, $3.75 million) re-signed, and Murray added depth to the blue line by signing Andrej Meszaros (one year, $4.125 million) and acquiring Josh Gorges from the Montreal Canadiens for a second-round pick in 2016.

Later in July, leading goal scorer and top center Tyler Ennis re-signed for five years and $23 million and defenseman Andre Benoit agreed to a one-year, $800,000 contract. The flurry of activity showed there was something appealing about Buffalo and Nolan's program.

"The one thing I always try to do is create an environment where people can flourish, can grow and feel wanted," Nolan said. "There's nothing in the world [better] than feeling wanted, to be a part of something special. There's a lot of good [reasons] why people want to play in Buffalo, and I'm just glad that we're in a creative environment."

The veteran acquisitions will provide leadership to a young core that has potential at the center position with Ennis, Reinhart, Cody Hodgson and Zemgus Girgensons, along with promising defensemen Nikita Zadorov, Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe.

"We added some guys that are older and have been proven leaders around the League, and we're excited about that," Ennis told WGR radio in Buffalo. "Me and [defenseman Tyler Myers] and a couple of other guys are growing up a bit. It's time for us to take over now. It's a good balance of older guys, middle guys ready to take over and a lot of great, young kids coming up."

Nolan will get to experience the fruits of Murray's labor for a full season and beyond. Stewart's declaration aside, the playoffs may be a longshot, but the Sabres aren't waiting five years to make a statement.

"It's going to take some time to adjust the culture, to adjust the way we've prepared and the way we play," Nolan said. "The one good thing now is we have a tremendous amount of young, talented players and we brought in some good character players with leadership skills. You add those two components together, it's usually a good mix.

"There's only one way to go: up. Finishing 30th twice in a row is probably not going to be expected."


Offense, battle in goal highlight Sabres' five questions

The Buffalo Sabres weren't going to sit back and wait for their young talent to fully mature over time. General manager Tim Murray revamped the roster with the intention of escaping the Eastern Conference basement and perhaps making a little noise in the race to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The road to contention may be long and winding, but days appear brighter in Buffalo if the Sabres can answer five questions heading into the 2014-15 season:

1. How much will the offense improve? -- Leadership and grit are great, but the Sabres are in dire need of people to put the puck in the net. Last season Buffalo was 30th in goals (157) and 29th in power-play percentage (14.1 percent).

A big part of boosting those numbers will be the success of an offseason that focused on conditioning and preparation.

"If we're going to compete with some of the best teams in the League, we have to be much stronger," coach Ted Nolan said. "We have to be much more committed and we have to play with a lot more energy than with what we have been playing. We implemented that this summer and we'll see what happens come the start of the season, but we have to prepare much better than we did in the past."

2. Which Tyler Myers will show up? -- Myers won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 2009-10 with 11 goals, 37 assists and a plus-13 rating. His game has since gone backward and bottomed out at 22 points with a minus-26 rating in 62 games last season.

Not exactly what the Sabres envisioned when Myers signed a seven-year, $38.5 million contract in 2011. Following a private end-of-season talk with Nolan, all eyes will be on Myers to see if he can duplicate or exceed his rookie numbers.

"He's a special player," Nolan said. "How you demonstrate that specialness is the work you do in the offseason, the mental approach and the belief factor. If the coaching staff believes how good he can be and the players believe the same thing, you're going to have a dynamite combination."

3. Will the veteran additions prop up the blue line? -- Competition on defense will be fierce, with young players Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and Jake McCabe all in the mix. But it will be up to veteran additions Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros and Andre Benoit to stabilize a team that was 25th in goals against (243), 28th in shots against per game (34.3 percent) and 20th in penalty killing (81.4 percent).

4. Who emerges as the No. 1 goalie? -- Jhonas Enroth's run as the Sabres' top goaltender in the post-Ryan Miller era ended after seven games with a sprained MCL. By the end of last season, the Sabres played six goaltenders and dressed an NHL-record nine, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Enroth was 4-17-5 with a 2.82 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 28 games (26 starts) and will have to fend off Michal Neuvirth, who was acquired from the Washington Capitals at the NHL Trade Deadline. Each enters the final season of his contract with a golden opportunity to earn the No. 1 job.

"The best thing I think we have in sports is the ability to earn a position and battle for a position," Nolan said. "You have that internal competition of who wants to be No. 1 and who's going to earn it. It's going to be a great training camp to watch who emerges. And they're both young, which is great. One can grab it for a month, month and a half and the other one can take over. Who knows?"

5. Will Sam Reinhart be ready? -- The No. 2 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft has a good chance of making the team out of training camp. But how quickly the Sabres' highest selection since Pierre Turgeon went first overall in 1987 can show he's equipped for the rigors of the NHL will determine how much they improve over time.

Considering what Calder Trophy winner Nathan MacKinnon did last season (24 goals, 63 points, plus-20) for the Colorado Avalanche at age 18, the Sabres are hoping Reinhart can become the franchise's cornerstone player.

"It all depends on factors on the team and the position, and the player's development," Nolan said. "To say right now [he's ready], I think we'd put too much pressure on the young kid. We just want him to be the best player he could be and if he's ready for September, great. If not we'll deal with that."


Sabres' Stewart seeks consistency in contract year

Chris Stewart doesn't care about the prophecies that the Buffalo Sabres will be vying for gifted prospects Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel at the top of the 2015 NHL Draft. Defiant enough to proclaim the Stanley Cup Playoffs a "realistic goal" for the NHL's worst team in 2013-14, he's moved past what was a disappointing season for both the franchise and the 26-year-old forward.

After scoring 15 goals and 26 points in 58 games, the lowest totals since his rookie year in 2008-09, Stewart is entering this season brimming with confidence. The sweeping changes made in Buffalo have Stewart, acquired in the trade that sent goalie Ryan Miller to the St. Louis Blues in February, primed for a bounceback season.

"I definitely have a chip on my shoulder," said Stewart, who last season sustained a right ankle injury that limited him to five games in a Sabres sweater. "I wasn't happy with my year last year, either. I feel like I have a lot to prove and it's just going out and doing it. I'm going to come in and I'm going to be consistent. I think that's been a knock on me. I've been able to put together good stretches and then go cold, but I think we have a coach like Ted Nolan who believes in you. I think it's going to be hard not to have the best season of my career so far.

"I've never ended the season on an injury before, so it's been a long offseason for me. I'm definitely ready to play some hockey."

Set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season, Stewart is a two-time 28-goal scorer and Nolan is counting on him to find his touch. The Sabres coach believes reaching or even exceeding 30 goals for an offensively-starved team isn't out of the question.

"I think he's going to make a huge difference," Nolan said. "I'm a Chris Stewart-type of hockey coach that likes that type of player. He's big, he's aggressive, he plays with some spirit, he's got great hockey sense, got good size and he's tough. And he's going into his contract year. I'm quite sure he'll get back that form. If he's better, we're all better."

Things can only get better in Buffalo after a season in which they posted a League-worst 21 wins and 52 points as well as a franchise-low 157 goals. For that to happen, a healthy Stewart will need to be a major component on a team that added forward Brian Gionta and defensemen Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros and Andre Benoit and brought back forwards Matt Moulson, Cody McCormick, Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis.

During his brief time with the Sabres, Stewart forged chemistry on a line with Foligno and Cody Hodgson. A productive Stewart could help his linemates raise their level of play, thus lengthening the lineup.

"I think with me and [Foligno] on the wings there, we're up-and-down guys who are bringing the physicality every night," Stewart said. "And Hodgson, when he gets that puck he's pretty gifted. His hockey sense is definitely up there with a few of the better players in the game. If that's the line where we end up playing together, I'm very excited to play with those guys."


Sabres hope top 10 prospects lead successful rebuild

Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray was a busy man the first week of August, with top prospects taking part in national junior evaluation camps in Montreal and Lake Placid, N.Y.

Those camps had teams from six nations and featured nine potential future Sabres with opportunities to play for their respective countries at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"It's the future," Murray told "It shows you the depth we have in the organization. If they all do the right things going forward, they have the chance to be National Hockey League players. It's exciting. It shows that we do have some high-end young talent in the organization."

Here's a look at the Sabres' top 10 prospects, according to

1. Sam Reinhart , C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 2), 2014 draft

Last season: 60 GP, 36-69-105, Kootenay, WHL

The Sabres certainly like the skill shown by the 6-foot-1, 185-pound forward who finished fourth in the Western Hockey League in points last season, averaged nearly two points per game in 13 games during the WHL playoffs, played for Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship and also was invited to training camp for Canada for the 2014 IIHF World Championship. But what they really like is the off-the-chart hockey sense shown by the 18-year-old.

"He's a high-end talent and also extremely intelligent," Murray said. "That's what you see shift to shift, the intelligence. Some shifts it doesn't work with the puck, other shifts it does. But you see he's always on the right side of the puck. He's always around the puck. That's why he has the puck so much; not because of his high-end skill, but he knows where to go to get the puck, he knows where to go when he has the puck. He's an extremely intelligent hockey player."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

2. Nikita Zadorov , D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 16), 2013 draft

Last season: 36 GP, 11-19-30, plus-30, London, OHL

Zadorov started last season with the Sabres, but after scoring one goal in seven games while averaging 17:10 of ice time he was returned to his junior team for another season of development. An imposing 6-5 and 220 pounds, the 19-year-old still needs to improve his defensive-zone play if he wants to stick in Buffalo this season.

"He just keeps getting bigger and stronger, that's the obvious thing," Murray said. "His offensive game is tremendous. He can really shoot the puck, he can lug the puck up the ice. He can do a lot of things offensively. We just have to get him maybe a little more responsible defensively. When you make mistakes at the NHL level defensively you see the bench. When you do that in junior hockey and you're a dominant player in junior, you're going to be reminded of the mistake but you'll be out there the next shift. Offensively he's got all the tools. I have no doubt that defensively he's going to be a real good player down the road. As with most young defensemen, the defensive side of the game is hard. That's coaching, that's taking some pride defensively than offensively, and then it all comes together at some point."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

3. Hudson Fasching , RW

How acquired: Trade (Los Angeles Kings), March 5, 2014

Last season: 40 GP, 14-16-30, Minnesota, BIG TEN

The 6-2, 213-pound power forward had a strong start to his college career, which also included an impressive stint for the United States at the 2014 WJC with two goals and four points in five games. He'll return for another season with the Gophers and again likely play for the U.S. at the 2015 WJC.

Murray, who traded defenseman Brayden McNabb to the Los Angeles Kings for Fasching and forward Nicolas Deslauriers, said what impresses him most about the 19-year-old is his work ethic.

"It's hard to work hard for some people," Murray said. "It's not hard for him to work hard. … He's a huge net presence at all times in the offensive zone. He can be more than that, but that's what he is. He knows where to go. Where are you going to score goals in the National Hockey League? You're going to score them around the net. He's a big net presence. He gets there; he doesn't get denied going there. He's big and strong and only going to get bigger and stronger. I love his work ethic and I love how when his team gets possession of the puck he's going right to the net and he's causing problems for the [defense] and the goaltending. That's really important in our League at this time.

"We can talk about the talent level, we all know he has that, but he's got a high drive and that's what we're looking for."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

4. Joel Armia , RW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 16), 2011 draft

Last season: 54 GP, 7-20-27, Rochester, AHL

Armia, 21, made his debut in North America last season. He missed time in November with a broken wrist and never found consistency, but he finished strong and was among Rochester's best players in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He led the Sabres' American Hockey League affiliate with six points in five games and tied for the team lead with three goals.

Now the 6-3, 192-pound forward needs to produce in similar fashion for an entire season. Armia most likely will start the season in the AHL, but a strong start could earn him a spot in Buffalo at some point this season.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

5. Jake McCabe , D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 44), 2012 draft

Last season: 36 GP, 8-17-25, Wisconsin, BIG TEN

The Sabres signed the 6-0, 175-pound defenseman after he finished his third college season and the 20-year-old got into seven games with the Sabres late in the season. He had one assist while averaging 15:12 of ice time per game, and finished his season by playing eight games for the U.S. at the 2014 World Championship.

McCabe will have a chance to play an entire season in Buffalo in 2014-15.

"He shows a lot of poise," Murray said. "He's got a lot of ability with the puck. The defensive game, as every young kid … it's refining that part of the game. It's not taking offensive chances until you know that everything behind you is ready if you do turn the puck over; that's a defenseman maturing. But I like his poise, I like his skill set. He's going to play on the power play someday at the big-league level. He's a talented kid."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

6. J.T. Compher , LW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 35), 2013 draft

Last season: 35 GP, 11-20-31, Michigan, BIG TEN

The 19-year-old left wing has gone from a child model to a model pest and top prospect. The 6-0, 182-pound forward had an outstanding freshman collegiate season and likely would have played for the United States at the 2014 WJC had he not been injured blocking a shot during the team's final training camp.

Barring injury he'll be on the U.S. team for the 2015 tournament, and could be captain; he took a leadership role during the evaluation camp in early August. He also displayed a pesky attitude on the ice that has the Sabres intrigued by his potential.

"He's got a high-end work ethic," Murray said. "He's a pest to play against. He likes to get under the other team's skin. He feels that's his niche, and that's nothing but positive. I like the fact that he's involved in every scrum. I like the fact that guys get [angry] at him, guys are chasing him around the ice a little bit because of the way he treats them on the ice and the way he plays. He's a very driven guy also."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

7. Nicholas Baptiste , RW

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 69), 2013 draft

Last season: 65 GP, 45-44-89, Sudbury, OHL

The 6-0, 196-pound forward has raised his offensive numbers each of the past two seasons, and in 2013-14 he led Sudbury in goals and points and had a team-best five points in five Ontario Hockey League playoff games. Baptiste also earned an invitation to a Hockey Canada summer junior evaluation camp in Montreal, putting him in the running for a spot with Canada at the 2015 WJC.

"Talented kid, he can skate," Murray said. "He's got a high-end skill set. He can really shoot the puck. He's an opportunist on the ice; when he sees an opening or a loose puck, he pounces on it. He can pounce on a puck and take it to the net and produce points. There are parts of his game he needs to get better at, defensively … [but] you can't teach talent, you can't teach offensive ability to some degree. He's an opportunist, he loves to score, he's athletic, and that's what we're looking for in our organization."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

8. Linus Ullmark , G

How acquired: 6th round (No. 163), 2012 draft

Last season: 35 GP, 2.08 GAA, .931 save percentage, Modo, SWE

The 6-3, 200-pound goaltender had a tremendous season in Sweden, his first as a full-time player in the Swedish Hockey League. The 21-year-old led the league with a .931 save percentage and was named its best goaltender. He was on the roster for Sweden's run to a bronze medal at the 2014 World Championship, but did not play in a game.

Murray said the plan for Ullmark is to play one more season in Sweden and then come to North America.

"He was tremendous in our development camp," Murray said. "Big goalie, very sound technically. Good athleticism, good skill set. He was very impressive."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

9. Jonas Johansson , G

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 61), 2014 draft

Last season: 23 GP, 2.32 GAA, .911 save percentage, Brynas Jr., SWE-JR

The 6-foot-4, 198-pound goaltender had a strong season in Sweden's junior league and earned a promotion to Brynas' team in the SHL; in four games he had a 2.96 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. Johansson won a silver medal with Sweden at the 2014 WJC, but was the third goalie and did not get into a game. He could be the starter for the team for the 2015 WJC.

Like Ullmark, the Sabres will be patient with Johansson, including having him stay for at least one more season in Sweden.

"I can't guarantee that either one of them [Ullmark or Johansson] are going to be starters, but they are on the right path that a lot of goalies I've seen become starters," Murray said. "They're on that path; they just have to continue to work hard, and play at a high level, which they do."

Projected NHL arrival: 2018-19

10. Brendan Lemieux , LW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 31), 2014 draft

Last season: 65 GP, 27-26-53, 145 penalty minutes, Barrie, OHL

The Sabres picked the 6-0, 206-pound son of four-time Stanley Cup champion Claude Lemieux for his mix of skill and feistiness. He was second on his team in goals and third in points during the regular season, and then the 18-year-old had a team-best seven goals in 11 Ontario Hockey League playoff games.

"We like the style of game he plays," Murray said. "He plays a chippy, intimidating style, but in saying that he's not a one-dimensional player. He can score goals, he can shoot the puck. He goes to the net, he goes to the dirty areas. We like the whole package. He's probably a unique player in this draft and he's unique a player out of the guys we drafted. He's got a lot of jam, but he can play the game."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18


Friday, August 15, 2014

Report: Giguere to announce retirement next week

One of just five players to win the Conn Smythe despite losing the Stanley Cup final is officially hanging ‘em up.

J.S. Giguere will announce his retirement next week, according to TSN. The decision will mark the end of a solid 16-year career in which Giguere posted 262 wins in 597 NHL games, boasting a career .913 save percentage and 2.52 GAA.

Giguere, 37, enjoyed his greatest success with the Anaheim organization, backstopping the Ducks to the Cup Final in 2003 (when he won the Conn Smythe after being defeated by the Devils) and the club’s first and only championship in 2007.

Giguere also spent time with the Leafs, Flames and Avalanche.

Looking to make the leap: Jonathan Drouin

Jonathan Drouin was disappointed he didn’t crack Lightning roster last year, and it’s easy to understand why.

The third overall pick at the 2013 NHL Entry draft, Drouin was returned to QMJHL Halifax while his Mooseheads teammate — Nathan MacKinnon, taken first overall — stuck with Colorado and had a dazzling rookie campaign, scoring 24 goals and 63 points en route to winning the Calder Trophy.

What’s more, Drouin was the only one of the top six picks that didn’t make his NHL debut last season. Though he was lauded as an “incredible talent” by GM Steve Yzerman, the organization thought another year of seasoning in junior would serve Drouin well.

“As the year went on, Jonathan got better and better,” Yzerman said in July, per the Tampa Tribune. “When he went back, he was like the No. 1 penalty killer, ran the power play, played in all situations.

“He was dominating at both ends of the rink.”

Clearly, things went well for Drouin at the junior level. Now the Bolts will see if their strategy pays off in the bigs.

It’s expected that Drouin will have a job in Tampa Bay come October. Yzerman jettisoned a trio of veteran forwards prior to July 1’s free agent frenzy (Teddy Purcell, Nate Thompson and B.J. Crombeen), bought out the remainder of Ryan Malone’s contract and didn’t re-up with the likes of Tom Pyatt and Dana Tyrell. It’s also tough to think Drouin would gain much from going back to junior, and he isn’t eligible to play with AHL Syracuse.

So the opportunity in Tampa Bay is there, but Drouin will have competition. Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn are entrenched at Drouin’s preferred left wing spot, and it’s possible someone could shift over from the crowded RW situation (where Ryan Callahan, Richard Panik, Nikita Kucherov, J.T. Brown and Brett Connolly currently top the depth chart.)

Another thing to consider is Tampa Bay’s “no rush” mentality. The club has been very deliberate in bringing along its recent prospects and embraces the notion that maturation is a marathon, not a sprint. Drouin is still only 19 years old and relatively small (5-foot-11, 186 pounds) by NHL standards; if he’s not ready for the leap, it sure doesn’t sound like the Bolts will push it.

Just ask head coach Jon Cooper.

“Jonathan Drouin is not someone we’re investing in for one year,” Cooper explained. “We’re investing in him for a decade or more. Why would we want to rush the finished product?”

Happy Kevin Hayes Day, NHL (Trending Topics)

USA forward Kevin Hayes, right, attempts to score during the Group B preliminary round match between Belarus and USA at the Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk, Belarus, Friday, May 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Iginla in, Stastny out as Avalanche lineup changes

After three seasons without making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Colorado Avalanche welcomed a new era in 2013-14 helmed by a pair of franchise legends.

The results, with Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic in charge, were a smashing success. Colorado not only returned to the postseason, but finished with the second-most points in franchise history and won a division title for the first time since Roy and Sakic were on the roster.


Undervalued: Gabriel Landeskog -- Landeskog was the only player League-wide with 25-plus goals, a plus-20 rating or better, 175-plus hits and 220-plus shots on goal in 2013-14, and the left wing is 21 years old. Factor in his penalty minutes (50-plus PIMs in two of his first three seasons) and you have one of the most underrated category-coverage assets in the game. Landeskog is likely to play with Calder Trophy winner and projected top-20 asset Nathan MacKinnon, so there's no reason to worry about Paul Stastny's departure.

Overvalued: Erik Johnson -- After a string of underachieving seasons, the defenseman broke out for 39 points (14 on power play), 61 PIMs and 157 shots in 80 games in 2013-14, his best season since 2009-10. But the emergence of Tyson Barrie (13 goals in 64 games) and Nick Holden (10 in 54), and the loss of Andre Benoit (20:12 per game) means Johnson will draw tough assignments and may not replicate his numbers. He's worth grabbing after the 14th round because of the minutes he'll log for a contender, but owners need to see consecutive strong seasons before considering him any earlier.

Sleeper: Alex Tanguay -- Tanguay, 34, was limited to 16 games last season because of hip and knee injuries but owns a strong points-per-game average (.78) over the past four seasons. If Tanguay is healthy for camp, he'll be in the power-play equation and could make a push for top-six time on the wing of either Nathan MacKinnon or Matt Duchene. Tanguay has a connection with Patrick Roy from their Stanley Cup title in 2000-01, and the Avalanche were 15-1-0 with the veteran in the lineup last season. He'll likely be a dual-eligible wing again in fantasy, so take a flyer on him with the final pick in your draft.

-- Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen

Led by a collection of young stars, the Avalanche were one of the most exciting teams in the NHL. They defied analytics during the regular season before the Minnesota Wild ended their season in the Western Conference First Round.

It was an interesting offseason in Colorado. Center Paul Stastny left for the division rival St. Louis Blues on a pretty reasonable contract, and was replaced by Jarome Iginla while wunderkind Nathan MacKinnon slides over to center. P.A. Parenteau was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Daniel Briere.

The Avalanche also acquired defenseman Brad Stuart, so it was clear they were looking for more veterans. Whether the team is improved could also be hindered by what the advanced stats-friendly crowd expects to be a precipitous regression in 2014-15.

Here is the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Avalanche:


Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Jarome Iginla

Alex Tanguay - Matt Duchene - Ryan O'Reilly

Jamie McGinn - John Mitchell - Daniel Briere

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Maxime Talbot

Jesse Winchester - Patrick Bordeleau

Matt Duchene was on the fringes of the MVP discussion early last season, and MacKinnon could end up there in 2014-15. He easily won the Calder Trophy and Colorado's ability to possess the puck better this season could hinge on him becoming a truly dominant player.

Duchene played a lot with Ryan O'Reilly last season, so Iginla could slide into MacKinnon's old spot while he moves over to replace Stastny. Alex Tanguay was hurt for much of 2013-14, but either he, Jamie McGinn or Briere could earn prime real estate next to Duchene and O'Reilly.

Colorado's problems with puck possession include a below-average defense and possibly flaws in the system/philosophy, but the bottom-six forwards were a big reason. If everyone is healthy, Briere's arrival could push McGinn or Maxime Talbot down to the fourth line, which was a sinkhole for possession last season. New addition Jesse Winchester could also claim a regular role and help.


Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson

Brad Stuart - Tyson Barrie*

Nick Holden - Nate Guenin

Ryan Wilson

Sakic called Stuart a "proven, quality defenseman" in a release after his signing, and later told reporters he could even see time next to Erik Johnson on the top pairing. Stuart's performance with the San Jose Sharks slipped in recent seasons, and the Los Angeles Kings targeted him with great success during the playoffs last season.

His arrival likely pushes Nate Guenin down to the third pairing with Nick Holden, who earned a three-year contract extension after being a late-bloomer. Johnson and Jan Hejda handle most of the tough assignments for Roy.

The key to the whole group is probably Tyson Barrie, who put up very nice offensive numbers last season. He's unlikely to shoot nearly 13 percent again. He was also extremely sheltered in his role, so can he offer similar production while taking on tougher conditions? If so, that could also help the team's ability to possess the puck.

Assuming Barrie signs a one-way contract, the Avalanche will have eight defensemen on one-way contracts plus Holden, so someone (or two someones) from a group of Ryan Wilson, Zach Redmond and Maxim Noreau are not likely to start the season with the club. There are also young players like Stefan Elliott, Duncan Siemens and Chris Bigras to consider, but the situation with the one-way contracts makes this a crowded blue line.


Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Semyon Varalmov flashed plenty of raw talent during his time with the Washington Capitals, but consistency was a problem. Working with Roy and Francois Allaire helped him produce his best season in the League and he became a Vezina Trophy finalist.

Varlamov might need to be every bit as good in 2014-15. He had some help, especially early in the season, from Jean-Sebastien Giguere. He retired and Reto Berra, who struggled in two starts after arriving from Calgary, will be Varlamov's backup.

ALSO IN THE MIX: F Joey Hishon, F Colin Smith, D Stefan Elliott, D Zach Redmond, G Sami Aittokallio

*Restricted free agent


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