As development camp comes and goes each year with the new draft class clashing with prior ones making their first impression on the organization and the fans, there’s always surprises and standouts. Although the 2016 Sabres development camp was a bit of a disappointment in terms of talent after being spoiled with watching the likes of Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart for a few years, a few players stood out and made the camp fun to watch.
As all eyes were on Alex Nylander as the undisputed hottest commodity at the 2016 development camp being that there were no other big names other than draftees of few years prior like Brendan Guhle and Justin Bailey, guys like Brandon Hagel, Vasily Glotov, and Vaclav Karabacek caught the eyes of many fans. This was not only with their skill in things like the shootout but with their all around game throughout all the different elements at the camp last July.
You may wonder why I don’t include players such as Brendan Guhle and Alex Nylander in here and it’s due to the fact that we already know what they can do in this type of environment. Both players have all the skill in the world and the areas of their games that needed work, which was for the most part adding muscle, won’t be noticeable in drills that focus on passing, hands, shooting, etc. It can be easily argued that Guhle is already primed for the NHL but that both him and Nylander will be at least starting the year with Rochester in the AHL. Even if that changes, the reasoning won’t be evident at development camp but more so at training camp and in the preseason.
Here’s five players I think Sabres fans should keep their eyes on at this year’s camp, some new and some old:
5. Linus Weissbach
Weissbach is the exact type of player that will always stick out at development camps due to the amount of drills in which speed and skill thrive. Whether it be regular flow drills or the 3v3 tournament the speed and skill players will always look the best in this type of atmosphere. Weissbach’s biggest faults in his game are in areas like board play and the defensive zone so a development camp is where a player like the 5’9 Swede will thrive. Weissbach was dynamic in the USHL last season with Tri-City and came in at just shy of a point-per-game with 47 points in 49 contests. I’m sure it wont take long for Weissbach’s skating and hands to draw everyone’s eye at the Harborcenter.
4. Oskari Laaksonen
I threw Finnish defenseman Oskari Laaksonen in here at number four due to the fact that no one really knows who this kid is. He went un-ranked and caught everyone by surprise when Jason Botterill and co. snagged him up with their 3rd round pick. Those who have seen Laaksonen play say he has great creativity in the offensive zone and is a very mobile blue liner, but it’s going to be a few years before he really makes any noise as he needs to fill out his body and get bigger. He’s listed at 6’1, 165 lbs on eliteprospects.com and will be playing for Sm Liiga in the Jr Finnish Elite league in 2017-18.
3. Hudson Fasching
Hudson Fasching makes it onto my list here as the first player that we’ve already seen with the Sabres and Amerks. Fasching’s role with either team is still yet to be known and was really hampered by a groin injury after making the Sabres’ roster right out of training camp last season. Fasching returned to the Americans lineup at the end of last season but it was evident he was still feeling the effects of the lingering groin injury that held him out for a concerning amount of time. Being such a big player but also being a good skater is key to Fasching’s game and it’ll be interesting to see if Fasching has returned to his prior form. If the big Wisconsin native is healthy he’ll be a player to watch at development camp and to see if he can crack a roster spot for the second year in a row, this time just under a new regime.
2. Cliff Pu
“Puuuuuu” chants echoed around the Harborcenter last year whenever Cliff Pu touched the puck but this year he comes into camp with a lot more baggage than just a fun name. Although many fans already knew Pu’s electrifying skill set coming out of the draft last year, Pu really cemented himself as a star in the OHL this past season with London. Although this season didn’t end in a Memorial Cup win like year’s past with the departure of players like Mitch Marner and Matt Tkachuk, Pu’s minutes and role increased and he was able to secure top center minutes. Pu was also dynamic in the faceoff circle but his point total of 86 in 63 games compared to the 31 he put up the year prior are what is making this 3rd Round pick look like a steal. Pu will capture the eye with blazing speed and lightning quick hands like those of #5 Linus Weissbach on this list and should be a fun player for fans to watch and cheer for at this year’s development camp now that a future in the NHL at some point is a reasonable bet.
1. Casey Mittelstadt
This one was pretty obvious, eh? I’ll be posting a much larger article diving deep into Mittelstadt’s game soon but if you’re a Sabres fan and you aren’t thrilled for this kid there’s something wrong. Casey Mittelstadt is just one of a few 2017 draftees with true first line NHL star potential. Everyone knows he didn’t have a great combine and couldn’t do a pull up but luckily the NHL doesn’t make fans watch that stuff at development camp. Mittelstadt has a Patrick Kane type of swagger in his step, stickhandling and his quick release. There’s a good chance he’s even more fun to watch than Alex Nylander was a year ago and is only going to get better through the years. The University of Minnesota is the perfect program for his development and luckily for the Sabres, strength is the easiest flaw to fix. Mittelstadt’s strength on his skates is overshadowed by his combine blooper and has good natural size at 6’1 200 lbs. Casey Mittelstadt is absolutely dynamic at age 18 before even really committing time into strength training, can you imagine how good he’s going to be when he does? Mittelstadt has been the best player on the ice everywhere he’s played in his draft year whether it be the USHL putting up 1.23 PPG, in high school with Eden Prairie putting up 2.10(!!) PPG, or with Team USA at the u18 tournament putting up nine points in seven games. The Sabres and their fans should be ecstatic this blonde baby faced superstar who can’t do a pull-up fell to them at pick number eight because he’s really really good and will be loads of fun to watch at camp in 2017.
You can catch development camp at the Harborcenter in Buffalo:
That wraps it up for my top 5 players to watch at Sabres 2017 development camp. If you enjoyed this article give myself and SabresFanatics a follow on twitter for more and feel free to leave a comment or tweet us who you’re looking forward to watching.