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Signs of the Sabres culture change evident at development camp

Last year at this time, as Rochester Americans coach Chris Taylor was working with the young prospects and just-drafted players in the Buffalo Sabres organization, he had to stop practice. Quite a few times.

"Guys were passing behind each other and they're so nervous, they're trying to go 100 miles an hour," Taylor said of the start of last year's development camp.

But this year, this group, there are no nerves. Credit both the focus of the players on the ice along with constant communication from the Sabres staff about the goals and purpose of these four days in HarborCenter.

"We talked to them about slowing it down, letting their skill take over and to enjoy the moment," Taylor said. "It's not really an evaluation period at this point. We want to evaluate them when they come to training camp. But we want to put some stuff in their toolbox that can help them over the summer to make sure they're ready for camp and that's what this is.

"It's about a player asking a scout, asking different guys in our organization, 'Well how do I do this?' It's learning to become a pro. That was our message to them this week – to just relax, take it all in and then use that for the rest of the summer to get ready for camp."

Mattias Samuelsson is all about that concept, ready to learn not just from the staff but from other players who have been through this particular rodeo before.

"I'm a sponge this week," said the 18-year-old Samuelsson. "I'm one of the younger ones here so whatever these guys can teach me or give me little tips here and there, I'm all ears."

Samuelsson was the Sabres second-round draft pick, playing last year with the U.S. National Team Development Program and currently bound for Division I Western Michigan.

He comes from a hockey family. His father is NHL veteran Kjell Samuelsson while his brother, Lukas, also plays at Western Michigan, giving him an opportunity to develop leadership skills along with his hockey skills.

"Growing up in a hockey family I was always held accountable by my dad," Samuelsson said. "Growing up I always wanted to be a go-to guy on my teams. I think I just developed it there. I just try to lead by example. My style of play is just anything for the team."

But there's a big difference between playing junior and professional hockey. And Samuelsson is loving his summer education, which includes work in the weight room and working on mental mindset.

"Just seeing what they do day in, day out," Samuelsson said. "It shows you what it takes to be a pro. Obviously you can see where you're progressing as a player but they teach you and help you out with the process and show you how pros do it."

While Samuelsson and his new teammates are learning the ropes of professional hockey, the Sabres organization loves the enthusiasm. The talent level is undoubtedly high with first-round picks Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Dahlin and the smooth Brendan Guhle.

What impresses Taylor more, however, is the energy the group is bringing, the attention to detail they are ready to embrace. As the head coach of the Rochester Americans, Taylor is on the front lines of the culture change the Sabres want to make.

"Culturally, these are the guys that are going to change the organization around," Taylor said. "You're not going to bring an older guy in and all of a sudden the room changes. It starts within and I think it all starts with the draft. You see it even in the culture change from last year when I was here. I think it's changed a lot coming into this year and guys seem a lot more eager and more happy."

Remember when Taylor had to stop practice multiple times in development camp last year to slow guys down?

Not this year. And that's impressed Taylor.

"There's a lot of good leadership in these two groups and you can tell," Taylor said. "I had to stop the practice last year two times the first group and three times the second group. I didn't have to stop it this time around. That shows you the leadership because we always pre-practice what we're going to do drill-wise.

"The attention to detail that they watched and how much they wanted to learn, that they're ready in the corners, ready to go, just right there that maturity level means a lot to me. They weren't just putting their head down and going through another meeting. Right here, that shows me a lot."

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