BUFFALO – Watching a top prospect skate in a Sabres jersey for the first time, even in a development camp setting, is a special experience for fans always eager to welcome new talent.
For the next six days, starting with today’s session inside HarborCenter, the Sabres’ rabid fan base will receive its first glimpses of Swedish winger Alexander Nylander, the eighth overall pick June 24 at the First Niagara Center, sporting blue and gold on the ice.
Nylander, of course, will be the talk of the camp, which includes a scrimmage Saturday and a three-on-three tournament Tuesday. The chatter Nylander, 18, could crack the Buffalo lineup in three months will only increase as he showcases his slick skills.
But Nylander, a star with the Ontario Hockey League’s Mississauga Steelheads, is one of 43 prospects in camp. The Sabres have plenty of other talented youngsters capable of playing in NHL someday or returning. Here are several others to keep an eye on.
The Williamsville native, 21, is the most established player in camp. The 2013 second-round pick scored 20 goals and 45 points in 70 games as an AHL rookie last season, earning eight NHL games.
At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Bailey already has an NHL body. His production down the stretch in 2015-16 – 15 goals and 32 points in a 27-game run – was so good he could be on the Sabres’ radar for regular duty if he enjoys a strong training camp or posts similar numbers with the Rochester Americans next season.
Carrier, 21, has been overshadowed by the organization’s other prospects since he quietly arrived from St. Louis in the Ryan Miller trade in 2014.
After a slow start in Rochester, Carrier, a former second-rounder, finally turned heads late in 2015-16, his second AHL season, scoring nine goals and 20 points in a 21-game stretch. If the 6-foot-1, 204-pound Carrier builds on that run in 2016-17, he could earn his first NHL recall.
Pu, 18, the 69th overall pick last month, stood out during the London Knights’ run to the Memorial Cup, a notable accomplishment considering the OHL powerhouse featured three 2016 first-round picks and three 100-point producers.
Following a 12-goal, 31-point regular season, Pu scored eight goals and 13 points in 18 playoff appearances. With several of the Knights’ stars ready to graduate to the pros, the 6-foot-2, 192-pound Pu should have a bigger role next season and become one of their first- or second-liners.
Guhle, 18, quickly became the Sabres’ biggest surprise in training camp last year, earning a long look. Many wondered if the Sabres would keep him. Ultimately, Guhle, the 51st overall pick in 2015, suffered a concussion and was returned to junior.
The 6-foot-1, 186-pound Guhle won’t surprise anyone this year. Fair or not, his strong play created expectations. If he impresses again in September, perhaps the Sabres would consider using a nine-game NHL trial to evaluate him.
As the 189th overall pick last month, the 6-foot-3, 196-pound Osmanski, an East Aurora native, faces long odds to make the NHL someday. Still, Nylander’s junior teammate possesses the tools to make the jump someday, said James Richmond, Mississauga’s coach.
“He is a punishing hitter,” Richmond said. “He’s like (former Sabre) Brayden McNabb. … Ossie’s able to close quickly on guys at the offensive blue line, the defensive blue line, so guys aren’t suspecting it. Real, real good body checker. Obviously, he defends very, very well. …
“But for a guy his height, I think he’s a real good skater, too. He can cover the ice.”
Richmond added: “I think he has a real good shot at (the NHL). I know he’s a seventh-rounder, but you look at some at the seventh-rounders that have gone on to make it, this kid really, really wants it. He’s a super kid off the ice.”
Ullmark, 22, played so well early with the Sabres last season many fans wanted the rookie to become the regular starter. Eventually, Ullmark cooled off, although he still compiled a notable rookie run – 8-10 with a 2.60 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage – in 20 appearances.
The Swede struggled after returning to the AHL, posting some bad numbers, including a .868 save percentage in his final nine games. The Sabres want him to get more seasoning with the Amerks.
Sabres general manager Tim Murray hasn’t soured on the 6-foot-4, 212-pound Ullmark. After a backup goalie reneged on a verbal agreement Friday, he mentioned Ullmark as a potential replacement.
Murray traded for Anders Nilsson the next day. But given Nilsson’s nondescript NHL career, if starter Robin Lehner is injured again, perhaps the Sabres would use Ullmark regularly instead of Nilsson.
Update: Ullmark tweeted Wednesday morning illness will prevent him from attending camp.