BUFFALO – Sure, it’s just rookie camp, four days reserved for Sabres prospects before training camp. By the end of the month, most of the youngsters participating will be back in junior or the minors.
But with young talent relied on so heavily these days, the battle for NHL jobs really begins today, when camp opens inside HarborCenter.
Others, of course, should get a crack soon. Winger Alexander Nylander, 18, might possess the talent to play in the NHL just months after the Sabres drafted him eighth overall. A year after Brendan Guhle, 19, nearly forced the Sabres to keep him, the defenseman could earn a roster spot out of camp.
The Sabres host two Prospect Challenges games at HarborCenter – Saturday against the New Jersey Devils and Monday against the Boston Bruins – before veterans report for main camp next Thursday.
Here are a few storylines to watch throughout rookie camp:
Thanks to a torrid run with the Rochester Americans – 15 goals and 32 points in 27 games – the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Bailey, 21, earned eight NHL games as a rookie last season. Not surprisingly, the Williamsville native dominated throughout development camp in July.
While Bailey might start in the AHL again, a strong camp could position him to begin the season in Buffalo if there’s an injury or be the first winger recalled.
Since Nylander’s European team loaned him to the Ontario Hockey League’s Mississauga Steelheads, the Sabres have three options for the Swede: the NHL, a return to junior or Rochester, which seems like the most logical place.
Nylander has been called the most talented player in the NHL Draft. He should stand out against the upcoming competition. In July, he was mostly quiet during a development camp scrimmage. During shootouts, however, he dazzled, showcasing his soft hands by scoring a slew of highlight-reel goals.
Kasdorf and Ullmark will likely start the season as the Amerks’ two goalies. How will playing time be split up? Who would be the first goalie recalled? These upcoming games could provide the first indicators.
Ullmark, 23, played 20 NHL games as a rookie last season, often displaying the talents of a future No. 1 netminder. Still, the Swede struggled in Rochester late, compiling a ghastly .868 save percentage in his final nine appearances.
Right now, given Ullmark’s experience, he figures to be ahead of Kasdorf, an R.P.I. product who left school in March, on the depth chart. Kasdorf, 24, has only played one pro game, his NHL debut April 8. But if Ullmark performs poorly, Kasdorf could emerge as the better prospect.