Rochester American’s development camp coach Seth Appert confirmed in a press conference on Wednesday that two Buffalo Sabres prospects will move from the wing to center at this weekend’s Prospect Challenge. Considered names to watch, Jack Quinn and Arttu Ruotsalainen will look to prove that they have what it takes to stick in the pivot role as the tournament gets rolling.
Both have experience at center. Last season, Quinn played at the position for a few games in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Amerks, while Ruotsalainen played primarily in that role at home in Finland. As with many of the top prospects, their versatility will be an asset as they build towards – what they hope will be – a lengthy NHL career.
Quinn is a “Play Driver”
What separates Quinn is that, unlike most wingers, he is a “play driver,” Appert said. “A lot of times wingers are guys that get out early on offense and can score, or they have some defensive deficiencies to their game, and that’s why maybe they play wing. Jack is a play-driving winger when he is used on the wing.”
He also has a high hockey IQ. “He is incredibly intelligent,” Appert noted. “He has a cerebral intelligence to how he attacks the game both on the ice, how he looks at the game off the ice and how he wants to get better.”
Quinn parallels himself to players like Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and hopes to live up to that standard. The Sabres believe he has the mental, physical and competitive strength to become an effective centerman down the road, an indication of how coveted the 19-year-old is, who signed to an entry-level contract worth $894,167 against the cap until 2023-24.
This offseason, he put in a lot of work in the weight room and on the ice, trying to improve the deceptiveness of his shot and quick release. So far, he’s getting good marks on his summer homework. “He’s had a phenomenal summer…The beauty of Jack is that he’s really coachable,” Appert said. “When you tell [him] to go attack an area of his game in practice, he does. When you watch video with him, he’s listening; he’s absorbing. He wants to get better.”
If he hadn’t missed significant time at the end of last season, he would have played center for the Americans down the stretch; however, urning him into an integral part of the Sabres’ depth down the middle begins now. Appert will match Quinn with J-J Peterka (playing his off-wing) and Brett Murray on the left wing to start the tournament on Friday.
Ruotsalainen Returns to the Center of Attention
The 23-year-old was an elite centerman for Ilves Tampere in the Finish SM-Liiga last season before coming to North America to join the Sabres for training camp. He made his NHL debut on April 6 and had a decent campaign, scoring a combined ten goals in 30 games with the Amerks and the Sabres.
With the Americans, Appert talked to Ruotsalainen about how he needed to be adaptable to playing both center and on the wing if he wanted to succeed in the big show. He listened.
“I moved him to the wing, and it probably hurt us in Rochester,” Appert said. “But it helped him in his readiness to come to Buffalo because we thought he’d probably at least start at wing. That doesn’t mean he’s going to be a wing for his career in the NHL. We feel confident that Arttu can play any one of the three positions, and we’re going to keep helping him in that process.”
Sabres Prospects Buzzing with Excitement
The excitement of getting a full rookie camp and prospect tournament under their belts — after the pandemic deprived them of it last season — fueled a passionate environment on the ice for the first practice on Wednesday. That’s a good sign for a Sabres team that will rely on these young players to carry the club’s future. The Prospects Challenge will be a chance to introduce some players to the organization’s developing culture and identity and reiterate it to those who are returning.
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.