Jake McCabe knows that at the very least he'll compete for a roster spot in Buffalo. The best-case scenario has the 21-year-old defenseman starting on the Sabres' blue line next season.
"I can't say exactly where I'll fit in, but I'm hoping to play my best hockey I've played and show the coaching staff that I am ready to play at that next level," McCabe said in First Niagara Center. "I've obviously played a few games at that level, and I think I fit in and can play at that NHL level and play against the top players in the world. I'm hoping to prove that in camp."
The Sabres' blue line will be crowded in the fall, but there's certainly opportunity. Based on organizational standing and contract situations, the inside track belongs to Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Rasmus Ristolainen, Mike Weber, Chad Ruhwedel, Mark Pysyk and Carlo Colaiacovo. Matt Donovan and McCabe will need stellar training camps to break into the top seven or force the team to carry eight.
"There's a lot of opportunity to make it to the next level for the Buffalo Sabres," McCabe said. "It's an exciting time to be in the Buffalo Sabres' organization, and I couldn't be happier with the spot I'm in."
McCabe is one three prospects in development camp with NHL experience, joining center Sam Reinhart and goaltender Andrey Makarov. The defenseman played seven games in 2013-14 after leaving the University of Wisconsin and two more in February. He played 57 games in Rochester, finishing second among defensemen to Ruhwedel with five goals, 24 assists and 29 points.
"At the start of the year, I had some inconsistences, just like any other rookie would have, especially defensemen transitioning to the pro game," McCabe said. "I just couldn't really put three games together probably until Christmas. Then I finally kind of caught my stride and played with confidence.
"I definitely improved as a hockey player last year, and that's all you can really ask for in your rookie year."
McCabe's lowlight was a concussion that forced him to miss nearly all of March.
"You want to rush back as soon as you can and help out your teammates and play the game you love, but really it's a scary, scary injury," he said. "It was gruesome. With the studies they have out now and how seriously it can affect you later in life, you really have to take your time with those injuries. Knock on wood, hopefully it never happens again because it wasn't fun."
McCabe, drafted in the second round in 2012, is in his fourth development camp. Nothing against the guys he's with, but he hopes it's his last. He wants to be a full-fledged NHL player.
"This being my fourth year at the development camp, I'm looking at the roster and don't know many names," he said. "It's kind of weird being the old guy here. Not too long ago, I remember being here my first year and going up against guys that have played NHL games and are fighting for spots to make the Sabres.
"There's a lot of new faces, and it's going to be a lot of competition at camp."