Hockey in July? You bet. This is yet another big week for Sabres fans, strange as that may sound.
The team’s annual summer development camp opens Monday in First Niagara Center, meaning the first in-the-flesh, on-the-ice look at Jack Eichel and a chance to see so many other names that could be tied to the club’s future as well.
The talk of the town will be Friday night’s scrimmage, when we get our first real look at Eichel under game conditions.
Even with the team charging $10 for admission to what has been a free event, understandable for fear the building might get overrun, are we looking at 12,000 to 15,000 in the house?
It’s not an absurd thought at all. There will be buildup all week for both the scrimmage and Sunday’s three-on-three tournament, which is a free event but was terrific fun last year.
Things get underway Monday with a practice from 1-3, continue Tuesday from 2:30-6 and Wednesday from 9:30-2:30. Thursday is a testing day, starting at 10:30 a.m. A lot of this may be a shade on the boring side for spectators, but it’s all open to the public.
Every move Eichel makes will be scrutinized, much like Connor McDavid’s trip through prospect camp in Edmonton was the last few days.
But there ares plenty of other storylines to follow that will have an impact on both the Sabres’ and Rochester Amerks’ seasons this year.
Here are some of the non-Eichel issues I’ll be watching for, with the caveat being that the Sabres have not actually announced a roster of attendees, other than to say all the 2015 draft picks are slated to be on hand.
• Sam Reinhart: Last year’s No. 2 overall pick – same slot as Eichel – wasn’t close to being ready to play in the NHL. But he had a sensational World Junior tournament for Team Canada, a strong junior season in Kootenay (65 points in 47 games) and word is he looked good in his three-game trial in Rochester to end the season.
We saw last summer, when he got trucked by Zemgus Girgensons during the Blue & Gold scrimmage, that skating and strength would be early issues. A year later, this will be the first chance to gauge how close he’ll be to NHL-ready come September.
Reinhart is being counted on to make the Buffalo roster but could certainly end up in Rochester, at least to start the season.
It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to happen to him but he should not be treated as a middle-of-the-round pick either by those who say players automatically must have time in the minors.
The No. 2 overall pick in a draft – and the first forward taken – should be able to play in the NHL. Especially for a team desperate for offense.
• Justin Bailey: The Williamsville product put together a 34-goal, 69-point season while playing just 57 games between Kitchener and Sault Ste. Marie.
Then he had 14 points in 14 playoff games as the Soo advanced to the OHL conference final before losing to McDavid-led Erie.
The second-round pick in 2013 turned 20 on Wednesday, the day Eichel signed his entry-level deal, and that officially makes him Rochester-bound this season.
He scored 76 goals in three OHL seasons and has the body (at 6-3, 200) to handle the pro game. Knowing he’s bound for the AHL now makes this camp and the regular training camp in September even more important for his progression.
• Nick Baptiste: An early-season trade from Sudbury, where he was a 45-goal man in 2013-14, landed him in Erie and the right winger scored 26 goals and collected 53 points as a teammate of McDavid and No. 3 overall pick Dylan Strome. The Sabres’ recent free agent signees should make the Amerks loads better but the addition of Bailey and Baptiste, who turns 20 on Aug. 4, give real hope to Rochester as well. Baptiste is a third-round pick in 2013 taken No. 69, and no mid-round selection in the organization has inspired more curiosity than this kid.
• Hudson Fasching: The burly winger is headed back to the University of Minnesota for a third year after a sophomore season that saw him play as a teammate of Eichel on Team USA at the World Juniors. At 6-2 and 213, he’s got an NHL body. It will be interesting to see what kind of offense he produces. He’s totaled 26 goals at Minnesota the last two years.
• Goaltending: In 6-4 Jonas Johansson, a 2014 draftee, and 6-3 Jason Kasdorf of RPI, acquired from Winnipeg in the Evander Kane trade, GM Tim Murray has a couple of prospects in the big mold that he likes. And don’t forget 6-2 Cal Petersen of Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish rookie of the year after a freshman season that included his NCAA-record 87-save performance in a five-overtime loss to Massachusetts. Linus Ullmark is out after double hip surgery and the pipeline could use one of these names taking a big step up starting this summer.
• The 2015 draftees: Other than Eichel, it seems like a relatively nondescript class. That said, if Eichel is the only one ever to play a game in the NHL, it will still likely be considered a winning group. It will be interesting to get a look at a pair of defensemen from the blueline-heavy draft, second-round pick Brendan Guhle of Prince Albert and fifth-rounder Devante Stephens, who helped Kelowna of the Western League to the Memorial Cup final.