Welcome to the unequivocally slowest part of the year for hockey. Besides some pro summer leagues like Da Beauty League in Minnesota or the Foxbourough Pro League in Massachusetts, there is not much happening in the NHL. Free agency, buyouts and trades are mostly over with. Players are likely done their vacations and are either at home or with their respective clubs working out. You’ll see clips of guys doing on ice drills or at the gym, but to a fan base that craves hockey 24/7, the time begins to drag on.
While the original plan was a “Way Too Early Prospects Challenge Lineup” post, most prospects will be back in college or overseas beginning their seasons. Look for this to become a trend with Sabres prospects as GM Jason Botterill is leaning away from juniors with his picks due to length of rights.
Letting prospects play in foreign pro leagues against men while retaining their rights longer than prospects in juniors equates to more development while still in the club. Management will have a better judge of a player’s future with the organization before having to sign a player for three years on an entry level contract.
Travis Yost brought up an interesting point about the NBA Summer League in relation to the NHL in which I’d like to run with. Personally I’d love to see an official summer league for drafted prospects under a certain age, and some invites as well.
Detroit’s Traverse City Prospects Tournament and Buffalo’s Prospects Challenge are the two prospect-only tournaments for NHL clubs to attend. Traverse City does have eight teams for their 2018 tournament and Buffalo traditionally has four, but they are relatively low exposure tournaments.
So, what if there was an NHL summer league before players went back to their respective clubs in juniors, college or overseas? The league could start a week or so after development camp, it would give every team that participates to build camaraderie within their organization. Even if half the league participates, that’s 15-16 teams, not bad for hockey in July.
So if there was a summer league in the NHL, what would the lines for the Sabres look like?
We’ll be taking the 2018 Sabres Development Camp roster to create this list because as I said, there are a lot of prospects that wouldn’t be participating. Lines will be followed by analysis.
Line 1: Alex Nylander – Casey Mittelstadt – Cliff Pu
Both Nylander and Pu sat out of prospects camp due to health reasons, but Casey Mittelstadt stood out as he returned to Buffalo thicker his quick-handed self, but thicker. A prospects tournament would be the start of a crucial fall for Nylander. While he’s still very young, production lacked and patience from the fan base is starting to run low.
Nylander has made numerous statements about his desire to play in Buffalo and believes he has what it takes, but his AHL production has been lackluster. He needs to show up and dominate with maturity in his game and strength on the puck against players his own age.
Also, lets not forget about Cliff Pu, he was one of the last prospects to be sent back this past preseason. Don’t be surprised if he takes a trajectory somewhat like Sean Malone with the coaches in Rochester giving him more opportunities to climb in the organization and play at key moments of a game. Pu is more of a speed and skill guy, but at 6’2” 191 lbs, if he can continue to get stronger and develop his defensive game, he might be ready to crack the Sabres lineup in a few seasons.
Line 2: Victor Olofsson – Rasmus Asplund – Andrew Oglevie
Two players that can bury the puck in Olofsson and Oglevie along with a 200 foot center with a playmaking upside? Yes please. This is a mature line with two SHL alumni and a four year college player.
Olofsson can easily slot in on the first line replacing Cliff Pu to hammer home one timers from Mittelstadt and Nylander, but I could see a line in Buffalo down the road where Olofsson and Asplund are together.
Oglevie will likely start in Rochester, but expect him to get a long look in training camp. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s on the shortlist for call ups. Does he jump over Bailey and Baptiste? Only time will tell.
Asplund will be a good NHL player in the future, but I wouldn’t expect him to get much past a 3rd line center role. That being said, having an above average 3rd line center can give the Sabres an advantage on matchups both in the regular season and playoffs.
Line 3: Linus Weissbach – Marcus Davidson – Matej Pekar
Linus Weissbach put up an impressive and underrated freshman season at Wisconsin, ending with 10-18-26 in 34 games. He’s lightning fast and owns a nice set of hands. He’s my #1 prospect to watch this season.
Davisson is still developing as a bottom 6 forward, mostly a third line center in Sweden. He has a decent jump to his step and makes great passes from the middle of the ice to teammates streaking on the outside. Having a somewhat defensive center with playmaking ability can help a speedy winger looking for breaks.
Pekar can bring snarl to the team, the classic love to have him but hate to play against. He was just under a point-per-game pace in the USHL so he can give you some production as well.
Line 4: Vasily Glotov – Eric Cornel – Christopher Brown
I’d like to focus on Cornel for this as I haven’t been his biggest supporter. He possess decent speed with some playmaking abilities showed off in juniors, but his pro career has been a bit underwhelming so far. With 32 points in 128 games, he’ll have to focus on what it will take to get himself into the bottom 6 of an NHL franchise. Cornel does offer a professional in between two developing players as a poised anchor in the middle. While still only 22 and making some strides with bottom six minutes in Rochester, Cornel needs to have an improved year in Rochester to jump back on my radar.
Extra forwards: Max Willman and Sean Malone
Max Willman is a hardworking, two-way center. He won’t blow you away with points or dazzle fans with moves, but he fills a specific role and plays it pretty well. He’s going to Boston University for his graduate year, hopefully he puts up numbers and performances worthy of a contract at the end of the year.
Sean Malone could easily be part of this team, probably as a 2nd line center, but he wasn’t at development camp so that explains why he was left off.
Pairing One: Brendan Guhle – Rasmus Dahlin
In a prospects tournament, these guys would dominate. It would almost be unfair. Both are terrific skaters who like to jump up in the rush and play solid defense. They are going to play in the NHL this coming season. Put these two with Mittelstadt, Nylander, Pu/Olofsson 5v5 or on the powerplay and you’ll have some entertaining hockey in July.
Pairing Two: Lawrence Pilut – Will Borgen
Even though Pilut played multiple years in the SHL, widely regarded as the third best league behind the NHL and KHL in Russia, it’s still his first year in North America. He’ll make mistakes, but management and coaches want to see his aggressive skating pushing the play. So when mistake happen, why not have a defensive defenseman like Will Borgen covering for Pilut.
Borgen can still move the puck decent enough to quickly breakout or work the play east-west with Pilut while forwards swing to generate speed.
Pairing Three: Jacob Bryson – Casey Fitzgerald
These two being on the third pairing shows the talent at development camp this year. Bryson had a down year points wise as a sophomore at Providence, but he’s still a slick skating, puck moving defenseman that can thrive in system looking for defenseman to push the pace.
Casey Fitzgeald is going on his second season as the Boston College hockey team’s captain. The senior won gold at the 2017 World Juniors Championship and has produced 68 points in 112 NCAA games.
Extra Defensemen: Mattias Samulsson, Brandon Hickey, Oskari Laaksonen, Miska Kukkenon, Devante Stephens, Philip Nyberg and Ivan Chukarov
Samulsson can easily fit in this lineup as well. Take out Guhle and insert Samulsson as a backstop for Dahlin to be aggressive and everything will be fine. They might not have Guhle’s ridiculous speed, but Samulsson is a adequate skater and puck mover while being that anchor in the defensive zone.
Getting guys like Hickey, Laasksonen (not on Dev. Camp roster) and Kukkenon time would be wise as you don’t need to play Guhle, Dahlin and Pilut the entire tournament/league. Undoubtedly that would happen, but for this scenario we are going with the best prospects for the lineup.
The Sabres have a plethora of defensive prospects so I won’t analyze each one. Don’t expect guys like Chukarov and Nyberg to be signed to an entry level contract due to this log jam.
Starter: Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen
Drafted 54th overall, it’s abundantly clear UPL is the best goaltending prospect the Sabres have. He’ll stay in Finland so he can marinate as playing against men overseas is quickly becoming a favorite of Sabres brass. He’d fair well in a prospects league, even though his 2018 World Juniors was less than stellar.
Backup: Jonas Johansson
Likely the starter in Cincinatti this season, Johansson will have to climb the depth chart from there. Again, goalies longer to develop, getting starting minutes in the ECHL will at least help in his development from a time on ice standpoint. The jury is still out on the big bodied Swede, but there is no rush to judge.
Coach: Chris Taylor
I added a coach section to touch on the job Chris Taylor did in Rochester this past season. The culture his staff created had players excited at the end of the season to return to Rochester for their Calder Cup run. That run was over quickly, 3 games to be exact, but nevertheless, Tayor did a fantastic job in his first season, especially when the Amerks were spread thin due to injuries in Buffalo.
Most of these players in this lineup will end up in Rochester under his watch at some point, why not have them get acquainted beforehand? Yes, he’s there at development camp coaching and he’s the behind the benc for the Sabres during their Prospect Challenge, nothing would change for a Prospects Summer League.
Lastly, I’d like to say thank you to The Charging Buffalo for allowing me the platform to express my thoughts on the Buffalo Sabres and the followers/readers for taking the time to read our content. All opinions are my own and if you disagree, I’m more than happy to have an open discussion. Follow me on Twitter: @BillTCB and The Charging Buffalo: @TheChargingBUF