The Buffalo Sabres are hosting their annual Prospects Challenge this weekend at LECOM Harborcenter, and there are three names in particular to watch. The team hits the ice on Sept. 15 for their first practice.
The tournament will feature prospects from the Sabres, New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins. The Prospects Challenge has also featured the Pittsburgh Penguins in the past, but the team opted not to attend this year. Instead, they will practice at the Penguins’ facility in Cranberry with several sessions that will be open to the public.
NCAA prospects Owen Power and Ryan Johnson will not be attending because they are preparing for their respective seasons with the Michigan Wolverines and the University of Minnesota Gophers. European prospects Isak Rosen, along with Russians Prokhor Polotov, Aleksandr Kisakov, Stiven Sardarian and Nikita Novikov, were also unable to make the tournament. Lukas Rousek, who signed an entry-level contract in April, will not be attending as he is still recovering from ACL surgery. However, there are still some prospects to highlight, including goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukonen.
Sabres Prospect Camp Roster
The Sabres named nine invitees to the roster Monday that are either playing for junior teams or signed to American Hockey League (AHL) contracts with the Rochester Americans. Here are all the players that will be on the ice this weekend. The tournament starts Friday, Sept. 17, with a game against the Devils.
|Brandon Biro||Nick Boka||Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen|
|Josh Bloom||Matthew Cairns||Mack Guzda|
|Thomas Casey||Charlie DesRoches||Oliver Satny|
|Riley Fiddler-Schultz||Clay Hanus|
|Tyson Kozak||Oskari Laaksonen|
|Viljami Marjala||Mattias Samuelsson|
|Brett Murray||Peter Tischke|
Three Sabres to Key in On
Out of all the names mentioned above, three key Sabres’ players will be watched heavily by both fans and the team’s general manager Kevyn Adams. Some of these guys were given NHL ice time last season but still need to prove they are ready for full-time gigs.
Clearly not considered a full-time NHL candidate yet since he was named to the prospect’s roster, Arttu Ruotsalainen showed last season that he is not far off. Starting with this weekend’s tournament and continuing into the training camp later this month, he could change some minds on the matter as he will be evaluated by the Sabres’ brass for a possible spot on the opening night roster.
In 59 total games last season with Ilves Tampere in Finland, the Americans, the Sabres and the Finnish National Team at the world championships, Ruotsalainen tallied 30 goals, including five in the NHL. Hopes are high for the forward who has most recently played on the wing for the Sabres, but he also has experience at centre. Watch where he gets placed this weekend to hint at how the Sabres plan on deploying him this year wherever he ends up.
With Luukkonen, it’s clear to see the Sabres have decent talent. He has a big frame at 6-foot-4 and will be given loads of opportunity to continue his development this season, most likely as the Sabres’ AHL club starter.
Luukonen was given four NHL starts last season, where he posted a 3.88 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage. The 22-year-old, drafted in the second round in 2017, was recovering from an ankle injury he suffered during his last NHL game at the beginning of this offseason. While the Sabres will heavily favour newly signed Craig Anderson, Dustin Tokarski and Aaron Dell to end up in the top three slots on the Sabres goaltending depth chart to start the season, it’s not impossible for Luukonen to steal a role from one of these three.
Although his development might best be served patrolling the net on a nightly basis in the AHL, the tournament will give him a leg up heading into training camp by getting some in-game action.
If the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) hadn’t suspended play last season, Jack Quinn would have returned to the Ottawa 67s to follow up on his 52-goal performance in 2019-20. Instead, he spent 15 games with the Americans and registered two goals and nine points.
The somewhat premature start to his professional career posed several challenges, as it does for any player when adjusting to the switch from playing against boys to playing against men. It was also hampered by a hernia injury that he suffered at the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Junior Hockey Championship last December and January.
The Sabres will be looking at how much strength and fitness Quinn has added in the offseason during play at this year’s Prospects Challenge as they look to bring him into the fold more and more. He might even get a few more NHL games in before the season is done.
Sabres’ Pipeline Key to Rebuild
Other names to watch include J-J Peterka, who will be high on the list of call-ups from the Amerks, along with 6-foot-4 defenseman Mattias Samuelsson who could get some interest from the Sabres who are looking to make up for some lost physicality on the back end with the departures of Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe.
With eight draft picks so far for each of 2022 and 2023, and likely more to come via trades this season, Adams will continue to feed the prospect pipeline as he tries to remake the Sabres into a contender in years to come. This weekend provides a good opportunity for the club to see what it has.
Mike Carter is a freelance writer and contributor for the Buffalo Sabres with The Hockey Writers and NHLTradeRumors.Me He is @mikecarterlives on Twitter. Mike has been writing professionally since 2012, with stints as a reporter in northern British Columbia and Edmonton, Alberta. He now calls Salmon Arm, B.C. home.