It might not feel much like hockey season in Upstate New York this week, with highs of 80 degrees Fahrenheit forecasted until at least Sept. 20. Still, the NHL is gearing up for another season, and that means it’s time for a dive into the latest Buffalo Sabres News & Rumors. Prospects are reporting to camp this Wednesday, with the rest of the team joining them the following week. Even if summer is still in the air, hockey season is only a month away.
Sabres Prospects Challenge Roster Announced
Earlier this month, the Sabres announced they would host the Prospects Challenge from Sept. 17 – 19 at LECOM Harborcenter. The Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils will join the competition in a round-robin-style challenge featuring the prospects from each team. Each will play two games during the event. We now have the Sabres’ roster, which they officially announced on Monday.
Fans will no doubt key in on watching the high profile prospects like Jack Quinn, J-J Peterka, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (AKA: UPL), Arttu Ruotsalainen and Mattias Samuelsson. But followers of the team should also give some lesser-known names attention. Thomas Casey is one I will be watching at this tournament. The Charlottetown Prince, Edward Island native, scored 74 points last year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. As a 21-year-old, he has aged out of junior hockey and will compete for a roster spot on the AHL’s Rochester Americans with an eye towards grabbing the attention of the Sabres’ brass as a candidate for call-ups later in the year.
Another name that stuck out for me was defenseman Charlie Desroches, also from PEI (a town called Days Corner). Last year with Saint John Sea Dogs in the QMJHL, he registered 26 points, including 22 assists. He is no longer the under-the-radar prospect he once was, grabbing attention as a risk-taking defenseman who, paradoxically, makes few mistakes with the puck. During his time with the team, the Sea Dogs tend to play a “run-and-gun” game. It will be interesting to see how Desroches can adapt to changing styles of play as he advances in his career. As a 19-year-old, he will likely return to his junior club, and we could see him in action at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships.
I invite all readers to check out the full Sabres Prospects Challenge roster and circle some names to watch now and in the future. If you are in the Buffalo area, tickets for the challenge are now on sale via the LECOM Harborcenter’s website.
Sabres Still Pursue Trade of Jack Eichel
Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported last week that the Sabres had re-engaged teams still interested in Jack Eichel. Eichel changed agents in late August, dropping “the Peters” — Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli from the firm Global Hockey Consultants — and hiring Pat Brisson of the Creative Artists Agency. Brisson represents many other big contract NHLers, including Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks.
As part of what appears to be a refocused Sabres approach to trying to move Eichel in advance of the start of the 2021-22 season, Friedman noted that he believes general manager Kevyn Adams has reignited discussions with teams that hold an interest in trading for Eichel to see where everyone stands. The organization also met with the player’s new representative. “Both sides are trying to keep things very quiet,” Friedman reports, “but, as of yet, word is there’s no resolution.”
Sabres’ Goaltending a Weak Point
Heading into a season where the team is expected to give many young players plenty of ice time, the goaltending tandem that will back them up leaves much to be desired. I say this with the utmost respect for Craig Anderson, who has had an illustrious career playing for five other NHL teams and winning the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 2016-17 after missing time that season due to his wife’s battle with throat cancer, before returning to backstop the Ottawa Senators to the Eastern Conference Final.
Anderson signed a one-year $750,000 contract in July with the expectation that he would take over the starting role from the departed tandem of Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton. He will be a great mentor and pseudo on-ice coach for a young team, but how much the 40-year-old has left in the tank is something other hockey writers are also questioning. Dustin Tokarski, Aaron Dell and UPL are the other options behind him.
In his latest piece for The Athletic, Sabres writer John Vogl chimed in on this:
For the third straight season, goaltending is a legitimate concern in Buffalo. There are problems from nearly every angle. Anderson, 40, was about to retire. Luukkonen, 22, may not be ready to start his NHL life. Dustin Tokarski and Aaron Dell are a combined 3-13-2 in their last 18 decisions.
Even on nights, the young skaters shine, they could be done in by poor goaltending. Hard lessons will be learned, which will again test the players’ mental strength and the coaches’ ability to build something.‘Sabres mailbag: What happens if Jack Eichel isn’t traded? Can LTIR be used? Who can replace him?’ John Vogl, The Athletic Sept. 10, 2021
There will already be several challenges when casting a young lineup into the chaos of a full 82-game NHL season. Having a less-than-ideal goaltending setup can compound this situation. But the fact is, the Sabres didn’t have many alternatives as the offseason unfolded. Anderson has proven before he can still play and that he is a positive voice in the locker room. But the natural grind of the season might prove tough to handle. Should he battle some injuries over the course of the season, the understudies may have to bite off more than they can chew.
There is no doubt that the Sabres will face a ton of challenges this season, but fans are under no other impression going into it. Most of what happens in 2021-22 will be about developing and improving during yet another rebuild. Blue and Gold loyalists can only hope that this time the organization will finally get it right.