Through the first two days of Sabres Development Camp, much of the talk has been of top pick Sam Reinhart, last year’s impressive rookies Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Ristolainen, and the new-look Mikhail Grigorenko.
Because of the sheer volume of top prospects in attendance, not nearly as much has been made of another impressive young player: defenseman Nikita Zadorov.
Last year’s 16th overall pick stood out Tuesday night. The Moscow native carried the puck with confidence and showed off his heavy shot with a slap shot from the blue line that would end up as an assist on Jerome LeDuc’s opening goal.
The 6-foot-5 Zadorov prides himself on playing a physical game. That was evident as he threw a couple of ferocious body checks and used his size to work forwards off the puck.
“(Hitting is) part of my game,” Zadorov said. “It’s my style. I’m going to keep going and keep playing my style.”
Zadorov spent some time in Buffalo last year, scoring one goal in seven games, but the then-18-year-old appeared overmatched and was sent back to his junior team.
He spent the rest of the year dominating the Ontario Hockey League, scoring 11 goals with 19 assists in 36 games for London.
Zadorov is confident he’s ready to contribute at the NHL level. However, with the signings of Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros, the emergence of Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen and Mark Pysyk, and the presence of Tyler Myers and Mike Weber, that might not be possible.
Because of eligibility rules, Zadorov can’t play in the AHL if he doesn’t make the Sabres out of training camp. He’ll have to go back to London. Zadorov feels he’s ready for the NHL.
“Last year, they changed everything up here so maybe that’s why they sent me back to London to play with the young guys,” Zadorov said. “I think everybody saw that I’m ready to go in the NHL. I’m ready to play here.”
Reinhart was welcomed to the NHL by major body checks by Ristolainen, Girgensons and Jordan Samuels-Thomas. The physical play doesn’t bother Reinhart.
“I embrace (being a target),” he said. “It’s easier to play when guys are running around out of position. Not that they were tonight by any means. But, in the past, when guys do that, I’m able to embrace the physical play and capitalize on it.”
While the crowd of 8,725 likely expected plenty of scoring from some of the 13 first- and second-round picks in uniform Tuesday, the goals came from less-hyped players as the White team defeated the Blue Team, 5-1.
Undrafted players Patrick Russell and Drake Caggiula (twice) scored for the White as did 2010 third-round picks Jerome LeDuc and Nicholas Baptiste. Undrafted Jonathon Martin scored the lone goal for the Blue team.
Despite it being a development camp scrimmage among future teammates, the game was plenty physical. Some of the bigger hits included Anthony Florentino laying Justin Kea out in open ice and Girgensons crushing Reinhart along the boards.
Additionally, Kea and Florentino dropped the gloves and sparred halfway through the second period.
Rochester Coach Chadd Cassidy told reporters that goalie Matt Hackett, who tore his ACL near the end of last season, will be out of the lineup until at least December or January. … The players will have an off-day today for team-building exercises. Open practices will resume Thursday from 10:30 to noon and 1:30 to 3:30. The camp will conclude Friday with a three-on-three tournament from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.