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Funk, Sekera seeing spots Young defensemen ready if Kalinin, Spacek falter

Sometimes, it's all about taking advantage of someone else's misfortune. Michael Funk and Andrej Sekera are working hard to do just that.

The Buffalo Sabres prospects are focused on themselves this summer, striving to improve every area as their second pro season approaches. If the defensemen don't get better, their chances of advancing to the NHL are slim no matter what anyone else does.

But their eyes sparkled when they thought about the chance they may have been given within the organization. The Sabres' defensive corps, thought to be one of the team's strengths, began to crumble during the playoffs. Erstwhile stalwarts Jaroslav Spacek and Dmitri Kalinin were pinned to the bench for all but a few minutes as the Sabres' season ticked to an end.

Also, two defensemen picked up at the trade deadline have not been re-signed. Timo Helbling has signed to play in Europe and Mikko Lehtonen is an unrestricted free agent.

Suddenly, the climb up the depth chart seemed shorter. Funk and Sekera are still long shots to make the opening-night roster this fall, but they now have hope they can supplant two players they previously had little shot to catch.

"It'll be a competitive time there [at training camp], so I'm looking forward to it," Sekera said at the Sabres' rookie development camp last week.

The two left Buffalo after camp broke, eager to go home and work out. They have different agendas. Sekera went back to Slovakia looking to improve his strength while maintaining his 200-pound frame.

"Hopefully I'll stay the same weight as I am right now because it's really good for me," the 21-year-old said.

Funk, meanwhile, wants to pack on the pounds in British Columbia. The 6-foot-4 defenseman was listed at 210 last season, but he appeared thinner. He's noticeably bigger now at 214, a weight that should allow him to push forwards away from the front of the net.

"I like being bigger," Funk said, "but at the same time I need to get stronger and quicker, maybe shed a few pounds of fat and throw in a little more muscle."

They have the talent to shove any slumping defensemen aside. It's just a matter of showing they can learn quickly. The Sabres' talent evaluators have maintained it takes blue-liners more time to grasp the pro game.

"That's what they say, but I don't know if it's true," said Funk, who had two assists in five games with the Sabres during an injury call-up. "I hope it doesn't take that long because I'd like to be ready earlier than that. I'd like to be ready this year, or if not, in the next couple of years.

"I think it's going to depend on what happens here in the offseason, how much weight I can put on, how quick I can get. We'll see how the season starts off. I would love to be up there this season, but it's going to be on how much I can improve, and injuries or signings. I've just got to work as hard as I can to make it."

Sekera, who played two games with the Sabres last season and probably would have played more if he hadn't been ailing when injuries struck the big club, just wants a chance.

"They've got some defensemen. I'm just looking forward to proving that I can be in the lineup and hopefully good things will happen for me," Sekera said. "Time will show. At training camp, if I play in exhibition games, we'll see where I'm at. Hopefully, I'm ready for it."

They aren't going to take this opening for granted. They're aware their futures are directly linked to how Kalinin and Spacek respond to their benchings.

"It's depending on what they're doing this summer, too, if they're working hard," Funk said. "I'm sure they are."


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