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7 players to watch during Sabres' Prospects Challenge

The Buffalo Sabres' Prospects Challenge likely will not include a match up between the team's recent top draft choices, Dylan Cozens, and New Jersey's Jack Hughes, who was selected first overall in the draft.

Cozens, an 18-year-old center, is not on the Sabres' roster for the event, which runs Friday through Monday and includes the Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. Buffalo's top goaltender prospect, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, won't participate because he is recovering from hip surgery.

However, a number of notable prospects will be skating in Harborcenter. With that in mind, here are seven Sabres prospects to keep an eye on during the event, which will include three games for the team:

Henri Jokiharju, defenseman

This will be the first opportunity for Sabres fans to watch Jokiharju since he was acquired from Chicago in exchange for winger Alexander Nylander in July. Jokiharju, 20, is only two years removed from being drafted 29th overall, and he recorded 12 assists in 38 games for the Blackhawks last season.

Jokiharju's chances of making the Sabres' roster out of camp will depend on whether Rasmus Ristolainen remains with the team. However, Jokiharju already is one of the organization's top prospects, an offensive defenseman with a skill set similar to that of Rasmus Dahlin.

Jokiharju was a favorite of Joel Quenneville's during the former Blackhawks coach's final months in Chicago. Though Jokiharju was eventually sent to Rockford last season, he played well during Finland's gold-medal run to the IIHF World Championships this spring.

Matej Pekar, winger

An injury prevented the 19-year-old from competing in this summer's development camp, and he suffered a season-ending broken collarbone in January. Pekar, though, was outstanding during his time with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League, finishing 2018-19 with 14 goals among 36 points in 33 games.

Pekar's mix of skill and physicality should make him stand out. He's likely best remembered by fans for irritating Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt on the ice at last year's development camp, so we will see if Pekar has a similar impact against other prospects.

Pekar likely will play another season with Barrie and represent Czech Republic at the IIHF World Junior Championship for a second consecutive year.

Arttu Ruotsalainen, winger

Ruotsalainen, a 21-year-old forward, signed a three-year entry level contract with the Sabres in May, but there's a catch: He'll likely need to make the NHL roster in order to remain in North America this season.

If Ruotsalainen doesn't make the cut, he'll return for one more season in Finland, unless his team in Liiga, Ilves, gives him permission to play in Rochester. Since it is unlikely that Ruotsalainen would join the Amerks, his performance over the next few weeks should give fans a glimpse at what he could provide in 2020 and beyond.

Ruotsalainen is ultra-skilled, particularly with his stick-handling, but lacks size at 5-foot-8, which likely will prevent him from playing center in the NHL. Still, it's no fluke that he scored 21 goals for Ilves last season.

Jacob Bryson, defenseman

Bryson had an outstanding career at Providence College, finishing with 11 goals among 73 points in three seasons. He emerged as one of the top defensemen in NCAA hockey last season, when he helped lead the Friars to the Frozen Four in Buffalo.

Bryson is expected to begin this season in Rochester, and many young defensemen struggle with the transition from the college game to the American Hockey League. Bryson is listed at 5-9, so how well will he handle the physical nature of professional hockey? Also, how will he handle what likely will be a lesser role with the Amerks, who should be very talented on the blue line? Bryson has the speed and skill to excel at that level. It's time to see if he's ready for the next step.

Lukas Rousek, winger

Rousek, 20, was the Sabres' final pick of the 2019 draft and was one of the final players at Rogers Arena to be selected. Don't overlook him, though.

He was somewhat overlooked in this year's draft because it was his second year of eligibility, but he made significant progress last season by scoring two goals among five points in four playoff games for HC Sparta Praha.

Rousek was regarded as one of the top amateur players in Czech Republic not long ago, scoring 37 goals for his Under-18 team in 2016-17. He's under contract with HC Sparta Praha for one more season.

Will Borgen, defenseman

Among right-shot defenseman prospects, Borgen appeared to be the odds-on favorite to make the Sabres' roster out of camp this season after Zach Bogosian underwent hip surgery that should keep him out of the lineup in October.

However, the Sabres acquired two right-shot defensemen this summer: Jokiharju and Colin Miller. Now, barring injury, Borgen will return to the Amerks, where he will assume a shutdown role on the blue line. He's only 22 years old and, although he'll never be an offensive defenseman, he's still developing that part of his game.

While the Sabres are well-stocked with offensive defensemen, Borgen is the type of physical presence they need on the back end. He should be among the first prospects recalled to the NHL in the event of an injury.

Rasmus Asplund, center

Asplund's first season in North America went about as well as the Sabres could have hoped. The 21-year-old center was an outstanding penalty-killer in Rochester and showed he could become a reliable, two-way NHL player.

Asplund scored 10 goals among 41 points in 75 regular-season games, most of which were spent on a line with Victor Olofsson. Though Asplund is unlikely to have a realistic shot at making the Sabres' roster, he could be among the first forwards recalled from the Amerks in the event of an injury.

This is an important year of development for Asplund. He'll need to continue to improve his offensive game and the nuances of playing center, such as faceoffs and defensive responsibilities.

Prospects Challenge is first chance to showcase burgeoning youth

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