The Buffalo Sabres started their first day of development camp on Wednesday, July 13, and a good number of fans came out to watch. Top prospects like Jack Quinn, JJ Peterka, and Mattias Samuelsson were all in attendance along with most of the Sabres’ recent draft class in 2022. The three-hour event featured drills for passing, team play, odd-man rushes, and close quarter chances, which ended up showing off some players more than others.
The event had some distinct standout players for each position, and it was refreshing to see all of the talent on display. On the opposite side of that same coin, there were other high-end prospects that struggled or otherwise looked sluggish. It is understandable how some of them might not be in game shape anymore, but development camp is the time to really show how much they have progressed in their path to becoming an NHL player.
Speed and Skating Ability Highlight Sabres Forward Group
With the exception of a handful of players in the prospect pool, many of the new additions have an affinity for skating. General manager Kevyn Adams clearly wants to build a team that has a combination of compete, versatility, and overall skating ability. The forward group today did not hold back in that regard.
One of the standouts was 2019 4th-round pick Aaron Huglen. Every drill had him moving at top speed, and he added some scoring flare to go along with it. He was amongst the second group of players out on the ice, and was picking apart new goaltending prospect Topias Leinonen with almost every shot. He was a spitfire out there, and easily one of the most notable players in camp on Wednesday.
Peterka was a part of almost every play, and he was dishing out assists left and right. He was also noticeably vocal with his teammates, directing and encouraging the newcomers every step of the way. After his big year in Rochester this past season, he is a favorite to make the Sabres’ opening night roster, and if he continues on his current trend, he will be among the top-six forward group when training camp comes to an end.
2022 first-round selection Jiri Kulich was the other big forward standout at development camp. His shot was advertised as lethal when he was drafted by Buffalo at 28th overall, and he made sure to use it on Wednesday. He missed very few shots, and his shooting ability was effortless every time. His entire motion looked natural and fine-tuned, so it would not be shocking to see him make a case to play with Rochester this coming season, as he impressed in every way possible.
Sabres’ Defensive Group Weak Outside Top End Prospects
The only three defensive players that stood out enough to be noticed were Mattias Samuelsson, Owen Power, and Ryan Johnson. The rest of the defensive group looked nervous or out of place in too many situations. While that may be a credit to the forward group, the defensive depth needs to be better since Power and Samuelsson will be in the NHL next year while Johnson goes back to college for another year.
Samuelsson looked calm, cool, and collected throughout the entire event. He had a massive smile on his face with the excitement to just be back on the ice playing hockey again. It was clear to see that he had not lost a step, as he was one of the few breaking up rushes and starting plays up the ice with finesse. Having him on the blue line in Buffalo full-time next season is going to be a real treat, especially if he can find chemistry with newly signed defender Ilya Lyubushkin.
Power picked up where he left off last season and looked solid at both ends of the ice. He broke up rushes consistently and calmly, and used his vision to create plays in different ways than many of the other defenders. He does not have a position locked up in the Sabres top-four just yet, but he will have every opportunity to make it happen. It’s on his shoulders to use this time and soak up everything he can before he goes into his offseason workouts. Making the team is the easy part for him now. Where he needs to focus is on keeping his roster spot locked up.
Ryan Johnson has not yet signed his entry-level contract with the Sabres, but his attendance at development camp shows his commitment to joining this team after he completes his college commitment. On the ice, he was the most fluid skating defender by far. His shooting could still use some work, but his playmaking is NHL caliber, so the day he chooses to sign with the team will be a positive one.
Levi Stands Above the Other Sabres Goaltending Prospects
Topias Leinonen and Erik Portillo both stand at a towering 6-foot-5, so they fit the bill of what the modern NHL goaltender should look like. Portillo relies on his positioning to make saves and uses as little energy as possible in order to make a bigger save if needed. Leinonen showed some patience in the crease yesterday, but his speed and reflexes were not up to par with most of the other goaltenders just yet. He is a few years out, but his development has just begun.
The star of the show was Devon Levi. The former seventh-round pick was acquired from the Florida Panthers at last season’s draft as part of the deal that sent away Sam Reinhart. He has put up some stellar numbers in college so far, and with the way he played at development camp, he should be in for another big year. From the moment the pucks touched the ice, he was locked in.
His movements were fast and fluid and his positioning was nearly flawless. His tracking of the puck was better than anyone else on the ice, as he made one big save after another. He was relentless and always right on top of the puck as soon as it came anywhere near him. As a result, Levi was easily the most noticeable player at camp, and if his performance at development camp so far is any indication of where his development is, he is the clear frontrunner to challenge Ukko Pekka Luukkonen for the starting position in the future.
Scoring & Goaltending Will Not Be a Problem for the Sabres in the Future
The weakest link for the Sabres’ prospect pool is still their defense, as all of their top defensive prospects have developed into NHL-ready players. While that is not a bad thing, it leaves the need for an improved defense core open. As such, adding more defenders in the 2023 Draft should be a priority.
The forward group did not feature ninth overall pick Matthew Savoie, but there were plenty of other players to watch in his absence. Noah Ostlund looked great, Kulich looked determined, and Jack Quinn looked good as well, which is a comforting sight to see for the fans that came out to watch. The more prominent named players all stood out slightly in their own way except Isak Rosen. He had some opportunities to make some good plays, but fumbled the puck too much for someone of his draft caliber. His skating was good, but as a player who is expected to be a future key contributor, his performance needs to improve in the next week of development camp.
The Sabres have a great goaltending prospect group, and Levi is the centerpiece. Should the crease be available to him within the next 2-3 seasons, he has every ability to take it for himself. Combine his determination with his clear skill level and he will be a high-end starting goaltender in the NHL very soon. The future looks good in Buffalo, and things will only continue to get better as all of these prospects build their games to the next level.