The Buffalo Sabres have a number of young forwards in the organization that will be vying for ice time, and comparatively to other years, it will not be as easy to get it. With so many potential young stars in the pipeline, and others having developed into NHL talent, there are some depth players that could be on the outside looking in by the time training camp comes to a close. These are the players that have yet to make a regular NHL impact, or have failed to make it to the NHL at all; the players that are a little bit “older” as far as development age goes and will soon be passed over by younger talents if they don’t prove they are ready to make the jump to the big leagues.
Training camp is the time to impress, whether it’s the coaching staff or upper management, this is the time when developing players can jump-start their careers. The Sabres have had some big surprises make the team right out of camp before, so it is not impossible to make a big enough mark that a spot is earned. Even a career fourth-liner like Derek Grant made the Sabres’ roster right out of training camp in 2016-17 when he tore up the preseason, so if any of these young players can put on a big enough show, they can definitely make the team – or at least become higher on the call-up list when injuries occur.
Oskari Laaksonen – Defense
Oskari Laaksonen has been in the Sabres’ organization for the past five years as he was drafted in the third round of the 2017 Draft. He has shown promise over the years and despite some stumbles along the way, has managed to find his way to the top of the Rochester Americans’ depth chart on the blue line. While this does not equate to him being a shoo-in for the NHL, it certainly makes him a top option and he seems poised to run with that opportunity.
As a right handed defender, he is a rarity for the Sabres’ current blue line. He has good tendencies both with and without the puck and has good enough size and speed to become an option in the NHL. His biggest competition will be Casey Fitzgerald, who showed he can be competent in a bottom pairing role. Training camp this year will be about establishing himself as the best option on the right side to fill in when someone goes down with an injury and showing he can be a solid overall two-way defender. He has the tools to do it, but at the age of 23, he is nearing the end of his development years, and he has to make a big showing this season, or risk being passed over.
Brett Murray – Center
Brett Murray was a player that should have made the team last season, but was beat out by the likes of Rasmus Asplund for a full-time spot. While Asplund played well in Buffalo and became an exceptional two-way player in their bottom six, Murray was sent down to the American Hockey League (AHL) for further seasoning. He did get some time in the NHL, though he played only 19 games and scored six points during that span.
While the stats were nothing to write home about, Murray’s gameplay was noticeably streaky. Some nights he was a powerhouse and trying to do everything, and other nights he was invisible. This year will be a make-or-break season for him to become consistent, or be doomed to be relegated to the AHL for his career.
Murray has all the right pieces to be a bottom-six power forward. He stands at a massive 6-foot-5 and weighs in at around 230 pounds, so grinding in corners and being a big net-front presence for gritty goals should be his forte. He needs to make more of an impact on the scoresheet during the preseason and in training camp as he too is aging out of the prospect pool at the age of 24. There isn’t much time left before he is either moved to another team for spare parts or let go to pursue a new opportunity to revamp his career.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen – Goaltender
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (UPL) has been on the short end of the development stick as injuries have stifled his growth time and time again. The former second-round pick of the Sabres in 2017 has played some NHL games and shown he can be capable, but his AHL numbers have been concerning. The inconsistency between the two has prevented him from claiming the starting job before the season began, as the Sabres went out and signed Eric Comrie to a two-year deal during the summer. This could mean that Don Granato and Kevyn Adams hope for a tandem between the two, but for a goalie of UPL’s potential, he should have been making his big NHL jump this year.
Training camp and the preseason will give him every opportunity to seize the starting job. Dustin Tokarski took over the backup position from Aaron Dell last year when it seemed to obviously be his, so UPL can definitely outperform the likes of Malcolm Subban and Craig Anderson. Adams said recently in his press conference following the first day of training camp that “it’s about starts” for UPL; that he wants him to get the starts and the minutes this year and really see what he can do and develop. This is the year he needs to prove that he is the guy for the job. Devon Levi, Erik Portillo, and Topias Leinonen are all knocking on the goaltending door, and he needs to claim his crease before someone else does.
Sabres’ Quality Roster Makes It Tough To Make the Team
The Sabres’ roster has improved to a point where there is no questioning which players will be the top performers. Now the question is which young players will rise to the occasion and add something extra to the team? The Sabres have top young prospects to fill in any gaps in the depth scoring, so making an impression over them will be difficult. Players like Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka have priority due to their previous years in Rochester, and a top prospect like Owen Power has such a high pedigree, that it will be tough to take his spot away.
Related – Top 10 Sabres Prospects for 2022-23
No team is immune from injuries, and the Sabres have had a number of injury problems in recent years, so for Laaksonen, Murray, and UPL to make the most of their season, they have to perform when called up from Rochester. Borderline players like Fitzgerald, Bryson, Hinostroza, and Bjork all have the possibility of falling off this year, so the door will be open to take a roster spot from them. Should these young players fade and falter during those moments, their careers will take a massive dive away from the NHL, and Buffalo will move on.