When Don Granato leads the Buffalo Sabres' first training camp practice Thursday, it's a forgone conclusion that he won't have his captain, Jack Eichel, on the ice.
Eichel, the Sabres' 24-year-old star center, is awaiting a trade and still needs surgery. Rasmus Dahlin, drafted first overall by the club in 2018, also may be unavailable as he's an unsigned restricted free agent. While general manager Kevyn Adams waits for what he deems to be a fair offer for Eichel, the rest of the organization must prepare for the preseason opener in Columbus on Sept. 28.
First, the Sabres will hold an intrasquad scrimmage Sunday at 6 p.m. The club will have open-to-the-public practice days in LECOM Harborcenter on Sept. 24 and Oct. 2, with sessions from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 2:30 p.m. The rest of the practices are closed to the public and will take place in KeyBank Center.
Adams is scheduled to meet with the media Thursday at 8:30 a.m., followed by Granato at 9:15 a.m. The Sabres' first on-ice session begins at 10 a.m.
Here's a closer look at the 58 players invited to attend Granato's first training camp as coach:
Lance Lysowski and Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News provide their opinions on five notable topics at the start of camp.
Jack Eichel: The five-time 20-goal scorer is awaiting a trade and is expected to fail his physical Wednesday because he still requires surgery on a herniated disk in his neck.
Jeff Skinner: A $9 million-per-year winger two seasons removed from scoring a career-high 40 goals, Skinner must rediscover his ability to convert scoring chances. He finished 2020-21 with only seven goals in 53 games.
Kyle Okposo: Back for a sixth season in Buffalo, Okposo had his 2020-21 season cut short when he broke a bone in his cheek on an errant dump-in attempt. While the 33-year-old has totaled single-digit goals in each of the past two seasons, he excelled under Granato, totaling two goals and nine points in 12 games.
Victor Olofsson: The 26-year-old winger’s 20 power-play goals since his NHL debut on March 28, 2019, are tied for eighth in the NHL during that span, but he needs to make more of an impact at even strength.
Casey Mittelstadt: Now a prominent figure in the Sabres’ youth movement, Mittelstadt received a three-year, $7.5 million contract from Buffalo this summer after ranking second on the team in goals (9), assists (tied, 8) and points (17) in Granato’s 28 games as coach.
Cody Eakin: A 30-year-old center, Eakin failed to provide secondary scoring for the Sabres after inking a two-year contract in October 2020, delivering only four goals and seven points in 46 games while finishing the season as a healthy scratch.
Zemgus Girgensons: The 27-year-old winger is the longest tenured Sabre and will be asked to take on more of a leadership role in Jack Eichel’s absence after missing last season with a hamstring injury.
Anders Bjork: Acquired from Boston in the Taylor Hall trade, Bjork likely will start the season in a top-six role and his familiarity with Granato, combined with a skill set that complements the coach’s system, could lead to a breakout season.
Tage Thompson: Granato’s message and willingness to trust young players coaxed more out of Thompson, who has the speed, size and shot to excel in the top six, but the Sabres need more consistency from the 23-year old.
A methodical approach to improving his weaknesses, and another fine season at Minnesota, could earn Ryan Johnson an entry-level contract with the Sabres after this season.
Vinnie Hinostroza: Adams’ top addition for the forward group this summer, Hinostroza has the speed, versatility and scoring touch to be an offensive weapon for a club in need of more production from the wing.
Dylan Cozens: Expectations will be high for Cozens, despite the lack of offense during his rookie season, and the 20-year-old center will be given every opportunity to grow into his role as a dangerous forward in the top six.
Rasmus Asplund: Perhaps no Sabre showed more improvement in 2020-21 than Asplund, a 23-year-old forward whose six goals in his final 23 games earned him a two-year, $1.65 million contract from Buffalo this summer.
Ryan MacInnis: Another forward with ties to Granato, MacInnis is a 26-year-old center/wing with 26 games of NHL experience – he had zero goals and one assist during his time with Columbus – but the 2014 second-round draft choice has been productive in the American Hockey League.
Drake Caggiula: Back with Buffalo following his arrival via waivers in April, the 27-year-old winger is another fast, versatile forward who will help with the bottom six, but can play up or down the lineup.
John Hayden: A 6-foot-3, physical, checking-line winger, Hayden has played 185 NHL games across five seasons and will compete for a roster spot.
Arttu Ruotsalainen: The 23-year-old showed last season that he has the speed and skill to stick in the NHL, as he scored five goals in 17 games with the Sabres and should help a second power-play unit that needs an effective shooter on the right side.
Jack Quinn: Drafted eighth overall by Buffalo in 2020, Quinn was moved to center at the Prospects Challenge. While it’s likely he’ll start the season in Rochester, the 20-year-old will be given every opportunity to show he’s ready to join the Sabres after only 15 games with the Amerks last season.
J-J Peterka: The most highly anticipated arrival at the Prospects Challenge, Peterka has the elite skating stride and shot to be an effective scorer at right wing. The 19-year-old needs to show that he’s ready to make the immediate jump from Germany’s DEL to the NHL.
Linus Weissbach: Listed at 5-9, the 23-year-old Weissbach played four seasons at the University of Wisconsin under Tony Granato and is expected to join the Amerks.
The Sabres want the Czech native to refine his game and become a mature pro while still agitating.
Brett Murray: No forward in Sabres camp has the combination of size (6-5) and skill as Murray, who earned two NHL games with Buffalo late last season after adjusting to his role as a power forward.
Matej Pekar: A fan favorite for his pest-like approach in previous development camps and prospect challenges, Pekar still needs to gain more strength and should receive more opportunity with the Amerks this season.
Sean Malone: The 26-year-old West Seneca native is back after a year with Nashville – he appeared in one NHL game for the Predators and excelled with AHL Chicago – and likely will be able to show he’s ready for a full-time role in Buffalo.
Andrew Oglevie: Injuries have prevented Oglevie from realizing his potential, but the 26-year-old totaled 36 goals during his final two years at Notre Dame 2016-19 and he scored 15 with the Amerks in 2019-20.
Brandon Biro: An undisclosed injury prevented the 23-year-old winger from participating in the Prospects Challenge. Biro, who played four years at Penn State, had two goals and five points in 15 games with the Amerks last season.
Josh Bloom: A third-round draft choice in July, the 18-year-old had a strong finish to the Prospects Challenge after not having played in a game since the Ontario Hockey League suspended its season in March 2020.
Dominic Franco: Signed to an AHL contract by Rochester, Franco is a 25-year-old center who had four goals with nine points as a rookie with the Amerks in 2020-21.
Mason Jobst: The 27-year-old is another depth add for the Amerks and his résumé includes four impressive seasons at Ohio State, followed by 63 AHL games.
Tyson Kozak: Drafted in the seventh round by Buffalo in July, Kozak is an 18-year-old center who spent the past two seasons with Portland of the Western Hockey League.
Viljami Marjala: A fifth-round selection in 2021, Marjala is a skilled winger and totaled five goals with 27 points in 30 games with Quebec (QMJHL) last season.
With fans and media gawking at J-J Peterka’s elite skating stride and Jack Quinn’s switch to center, it was Murray who was the standout of the Buffalo Sabres’ two Prospects Challenge games.
Michael Mersch: Set to return to Rochester for a second consecutive season, Mersch is a journeyman AHL player who has played for four of the league's teams since 2013-14.
Olivier Nadeau: Another 2021 draft choice, Nadeau had 45 points in 34 games with Shawinigan (QMJHL) in 2020-21.
Lukas Rousek: A 22-year-old drafted in the seventh round by Buffalo in 2019, Rousek recently underwent surgery to repair the ACL in his right knee.
Ryan Scarfo: Another journeyman, a depth forward who will help fill out the Amerks' lineup.
Brendan Warren: 24-year-old winger split time between Rochester and Jacksonville (ECHL) last season.
Rasmus Dahlin: The real Rasmus Dahlin finally stood up during the second half of last season, regaining his form under Granato and showing why he was drafted first overall in 2018. However, Dahlin is an unsigned restricted free agent and won't be on the ice Thursday unless he has a contract.
Colin Miller: A pending unrestricted free agent, Miller was a candidate to be traded this summer, but the 28-year-old will be in a top-four role with Buffalo and will compete to run the team’s second power-play unit.
Will Butcher: A forgotten man in New Jersey under Lindy Ruff, Butcher made the NHL all-rookie team for 2017-18 and is still only 26 years old. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent who should play in the Sabres’ top four.
Henri Jokiharju: Another restricted free agent who received a three-year contract this summer, Jokiharju will shoulder more minutes and responsibility during his third full NHL season.
The Sabres' big prospect names lived up to their billing Friday in LECOM Harborcenter.
Robert Hagg: A 26-year-old left-shot defenseman whose role diminished in Philadelphia under Alain Vigneault and led to his inclusion in the Rasmus Ristolainen trade this summer.
Mark Pysyk: Drafted in the first round by Buffalo in 2010, Pysyk is back where his NHL career began and will be able to show that he can be a full-time defenseman after playing some forward the past two years.
Jacob Bryson: Speed and skill earned Bryson a full-time NHL audition last season, but he’ll need to improve defensively if he’s to be a long-term fixture on the blue line.
Mattias Samuelsson: Listed at 6-4, Samuelsson combines a physical game with an ability to effectively break the puck out of the defensive zone, and he’ll need to have a strong camp to crack the lineup over a veteran like Hagg.
Oskari Laaksonen: An unknown when he was drafted by Buffalo in 2017, Laaksonen was an AHL North Division all-star after totaling 17 points in 28 games as a rookie with Rochester last season.
Casey Fitzgerald: The Sabres’ lack of depth on the right side may be enough for the 24-year-old to earn playing time in Buffalo this season.
Ethan Prow: Signed to a two-way contract to provide depth in Rochester, Prow was Peterka's teammate in Germany last season and totaled 50 points in 74 games for Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate in 2018-19.
Jimmy Schuldt: An effective offensive defenseman in college at St. Cloud State, Schuldt was with Las Vegas’ AHL affiliate the past two seasons.
Nick Boka: Has played four years in the ECHL since completing a college career in Michigan.
Matthew Cairns: An invitee to the Prospects Challenge, Cairns was a third-round draft choice of Edmonton in 2016 and completed his college eligibility with Minnesota-Duluth last spring.
Brandon Davidson: Returning to the Amerks after splitting last season between Rochester and Buffalo, recording zero points in eight games.
Mitch Eliot: Recorded 55 points in 66 games with the Sarnia Sting (OHL) in 2018-19 and spent last season with Utica of the AHL.
Josh Teves: Appeared in one NHL game with Vancouver in 2018-19 following a four-year career at Princeton. Played for Utica in 2020-21.
Peter Tischke: Played four years at the University of Wisconsin, including one under Granato, and impressed at the Prospects Challenge.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen: A gold medalist with Finland at world juniors in January 2019, the 22-year-old will compete for the Sabres’ starting job after appearing in four games with the team last season.
Craig Anderson: Now 40 years old and entering his 18th NHL season, Anderson will compete for the job in camp and can serve as a mentor to Luukkonen.
Aaron Dell: Signed to a two-way contract, the 32-year-old played 107 NHL games for San Jose from 2016-20, recording a career-best .914 save percentage in 29 appearances in 2017-18.
Dustin Tokarski: Among the few feel-good stories during a dismal 2020-21 season for Buffalo, Tokarski will push for playing time in camp but likely will be with the Amerks.
Michael Houser: Back with the Sabres on an AHL contract, Houser played four NHL games last season, but he may start 2021-22 with Cincinnati.
Mat Robson: College teammate of Mittelstadt at Minnesota appeared in 26 games with Minnesota's AHL affiliate last season, logging a .901 save percentage and 2.97 goals-against average.