An NHL record-tying 10-year playoff drought has prevented the Buffalo Sabres from playing meaningful games in May and June.
The franchise’s annual rite of spring is to send at least one player to the IIHF World Championship, a high-stakes international tournament. The event was canceled last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but seven players with Sabres ties were able to travel to Latvia when Buffalo concluded its season last month.
This provided a development opportunity to a few young Sabres, while General Manager Kevyn Adams and his staff were able to evaluate two candidates for the No. 1 draft pick. Though one Buffalo player had his tournament cut short because of injury, the franchise had a few impressive performances overseas.
Tage Thompson, winger, United States: Thompson, 23, missed two games because of an upper-body injury, but he finished his tournament strong with three assists in the United States’ bronze medal win over Germany on Sunday.
The Sabres likely would have preferred to see more production from Thompson. He finished with one goal and four assists for five points in eight games. Thompson, though, had 26 shots and his goal was a game-winner.
The trip to Latvia provided Thompson with valuable experience playing meaningful games against talented competition. Remember, the Sabres wanted this for Thompson in 2019 when he was sent to Rochester, but the Amerks were swept in their first-round series against Toronto.
Arttu Ruotsalainen, forward, Finland: Another tournament standout for the Sabres, Ruotsalainen had four goals with an assist and 27 shots on goal in 10 games to help Finland capture a silver medal. The tournament illustrated how much Ruotsalainen has developed over the past four years, and he has become a legitimate candidate to represent his home country in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Ruotsalainen totaled 30 goals in 69 games this season between the world championship, the NHL, the American Hockey League and Finland’s Liiga. He had five goals in 17 games for the Sabres.
Lawrence Pilut, defenseman, Sweden: Pilut, 25, is no longer a Sabre after he signed a two-year contract last June with Traktor Chelyabinsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, but Buffalo owns the restricted free agent’s NHL rights until he turns 27 years old.
Pilut was a reliable fixture on Sweden’s blue line at this tournament, finishing with two assists and a plus-4 rating in seven games. He also had a strong debut season in the KHL, totaling seven goals and 28 points in 57 games.
Victor Olofsson, winger, Sweden: Olofsson was unable to lead Sweden to the medal round, but he had three goals and four points in seven games. This represented a promising finish to what Olofsson would describe as an underwhelming season.
Olofsson totaled 13 goals and 32 points in 56 games with the Sabres. Although only Sam Reinhart had more points (40), Olofsson was disappointed with the impact he made in 5-on-5 situations. His focus this offseason will be creating more chances closer to the net.
JJ Peterka, winger, Germany: A second-round draft choice of the Sabres in October 2020, Peterka wasn’t in Germany’s lineup to start the tournament. The 19-year-old earned playing time, though, and had one goal in six games.
This was an eventful season for Peterka. He played in Austria and Germany, as well as stints at the IIHF World Junior Championship and IIHF World Championship. Peterka is expected to play next season with EHC Red Bull Munchen of Germany’s top professional league.
Tobias Rieder, winger, Germany: Rieder had one goal and four points in 10 games for Germany. The 28-year-old will become an unrestricted free agent this summer after he appeared in 44 games with the Sabres this season, totaling five goals and two assists for seven points.
Colin Miller, defenseman, Canada: An upper-body injury cut Miller’s tournament short at only four games, so he was not on the ice when Canada won gold with a 3-2 overtime victory over Finland on Sunday. Miller, 28, was an alternate captain and had one assist. He’s under contract with the Sabres for one more season with a $3.875 million salary-cap hit.