Austin Osmanski almost left the KeyBank Center during the seventh round of the NHL Draft last year when his name hadn't been called, but his hometown Buffalo Sabres selected the East Aurora native with the 189th overall pick. One year and almost two development camps later, the local product sees himself as a vastly improved player on the ice.
The defenseman, who is one of three locals at camp this week along with West Seneca's Sean Malone and Williamsville's Justin Bailey, played in 55 games last season for the Mississauga Steeleheads in the Ontario Hockey League. He scored two goals and assisted on six others. He saw ice time in 20 playoff games as the Steelheads won the Eastern Conference Championship. Osmanski feels he's proven his defensive prowess. Now he wants to showcase another dimension to his game.
"I'm a much better player than when I finished my last season," Osmanski said Monday. "I'm working on my offensive ability and awareness and making plays. I like to say I'm pretty good defensively, so I'm trying to bring something to the table on both ends of the ice."
Tuesday's 3-on-3 tournament will give Osmanski the opportunity to do just that, largely because players will use the full ice in a NHL overtime-style tournament instead of using only the offensive zone like last year. While the format tends to favor playmakers and flashy offensive talents, Osmanski hopes the last day of camp will be a proving ground for him as well.
"I've been working on my skill and I'm excited to show it," Osmanski said. "I've been working on it again this week and showing off a little this week. Three-on-three is a time when skill players take over and flashy players do what they can do, so I'm just trying to get in that loop and join them."
While the 6-foot-3, 196-pound Osmanski wishes, along with other "simple" players like him on the defensive end, that there was a 5-on-5 tournament to lessen the chance of getting exposed in open ice, he'll settle for trying to surpass expectations as a defenseman in 3-on-3. And even though players only found out Monday morning that they'd be playing 3-on-3 on full ice Tuesday, Osmanski welcomes the unexpected challenge.
"When they said it was full ice ... it is what it is," Osmanski said. "It doesn't really affect me. I just go out and play, but bigger guys like me, we like to play in small areas. It's gonna be tough on the lungs, but I'm confident that I'll be able to show what I can do."
The 3-on-3 action that caps camp starts at 9 a.m. It will be streamed on Sabres.com.
How focused has Cliff Pu been heading into camp?
The 19-year-old had no idea until he arrived here and reporters starting asking him about it that the World Junior Championships will be in Buffalo, starting Dec. 26 in KeyBank Center.
Pu, a 35-goal scorer last season for London of the OHL, figures to be one of the top forward candidates for Team Canada. He's heading to the Canadians' summer camp July 29-Aug. 5 in Plymouth, Mich., against prospects from Teams USA, Finland and Sweden.
"I didn't know it was in Buffalo but that's just a huge bonus for me," Pu said. "Look at the fans coming out for practices here. It's a couple-hour practices and they're filling out the HarborCenter. It's a big hockey town and playing in front of them would be really special."
Reporters were taken aback Saturday when Pu acted confused about World Juniors questions. He confirmed Monday that was the first time it hit him that his potential future NHL home could be the site of one of the big early moments of his career.
"It kind of just clicked," he said. "I remembered there was an outdoor game, saw a tweet about something and saw a tweet about the USA jerseys. They looked like Bills jerseys so it clicked to me. I don't pay too much attention to those things. I stay on working as hard as I can but it would be really special to play in front of these fans."
Pu is one of four Buffalo prospects who seem to be in line to play at the World Juniors here. Top pick Casey Mittelstadt (USA), 2016 first-rounder Alexander Nylander (Sweden) and 2017 second-round goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Finland) would all appear to be on the radar for their countries.
Former Sabres Marcus Foligno and Zack Kassian played for Team Canada when the tourney was last here in 2010-11. Canada blew a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes of the gold medal game against Russia and had to settle for a silver medal after a 5-3 defeat.
The Sabres sustained their first camp casualty in Monday's morning session as defense prospect Devante Stephens left the ice with an apparent left shoulder injury.
Stephens, a fifth-round pick in 2015 who signed his entry-level contract in April, fell awkwardly into the end boards after a hit by Hudson Fasching while players were engaged in a cross-rink, 3-on-3 drill.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) July 10, 2017
Stephens got up, hunched over and immediately went to the dressing room. Rochester coach Chris Taylor said following the afternoon session that Stephens was "OK" but did not indicate if he would be able to play in Tuesday's 3-on-3 tournament.
"You never want to see that," Fasching said. "Just went into the corner hard and the feet got tangled up a little bit. I was talking to him a little after. He kind of twisted and fell into the boards weird. You never want to see that, especially one of your own teammates."
The full American Hockey League schedule will be announced Tuesday. The league announced opponents for home openers Monday and the Rochester Amerks' Oct. 6 game in Blue Cross Arena will be against the defending Eastern Conference champion Syracuse Crunch. The teams will then meet again Oct. 7 in the Crunch's home opener.
New Amerks coach Chris Taylor is still finalizing his staff. Taylor said he and Amerks General Manager Randy Sexton are interviewing candidates for one addition to join newly hired Gord Dineen.