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Overreactions: CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (featuring bonus Instigator Podcast)

HKO CHL ProspectsThursday night, the hockey world converged on nearby St. Catharines, Ontario for the annual CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. The brand new Meridian Centre, home of the Niagara Ice Dogs, was the site of the yearly showcase for the best draft-eligible junior players in the Canadian Hockey League.

Team Orr (coached by Bobby) defeated Team Cherry (coached by Don) by a 6-0 score. But the score doesn’t matter. Everything Connor McDavid did does. It’s a chance for young players to stand out among their peers with NHL scouts filling the building.

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Some quick thoughts, including a podcast with my esteemed colleague Chris Ostrander from the Two In the Box:

  • Connor McDavid was the best player on the ice. He wasn’t the leading scorer, he wasn’t most valuable player, he’s just clearly the most skilled guy there. I wonder if he “jumped off the screen” to those watching at home.
  • When the CSS rankings got released this week, there was some chatter/outrage over Lawson Crouse being ranked ahead of Mitch Marner, who’s been putting up ridiculous numbers in London. Getting a chance to see them together, I’m coming around to seeing why Crouse is ranked higher. He’s not the type of player who’s going to rack up points, but he can generate offense and be a force in all facets of the game.
  • Former Sabres general manager Darcy Regier was in the house. He was sitting four rows in front of me. He makes an appearance in the podcast below.
  • Also spotted: Sabres legend Donald Audette. Audette is now an amateur scout for the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Paul Bittner was really good for most of the game. He’s ranked 19th among North American skaters and might be in play for a late-1st/early-2nd. I’d be cool with it.
  • It’s a shame Ivan Provorov won’t be available in a position the Sabres will be picking. He’ll go around 10-15. He’s gonna be a stud.
  • It’s a shame that the Sabres as an organization don’t do more with the IceDogs. They’re in their market. They should be playing a preseason game in St. Catharines each year. But then again, hard to sell Sabres to Canada when #WeAreBuffalo.
  • Still not sure I know how to say Travis Konecny’s name, but I really liked him. Him and Timo Meier were good, despite their linemate (McDav-something?) not really being all that generational.
  • Guy I liked: Nathan Noel. Scored a goal late, but just has that indescribable that-guy-looks-like-an-NHL-player quality about him. Not super impressive, just seems to have it.

Here’s a quick podcast we did during the second intermission:

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Overreactions: All-American Prospects Game

027_WEB_Prospects20140925_mediumThursday’s All-American Prospects game at First Niagara Center was nice. It wasn’t great, but it was nice.

The third edition of USA Hockey’s showcase of draft eligible prospects, held in Buffalo for the second time after an affair in Pittsburgh, ended with Team Grier (led by the Sabres legend) defeating Team Olczyk (led by noted horse racing fanatic) by a score of 6-3.

But a couple big name coaches weren’t the story. The story was Jack Eichel, the hotshot prospect who’s going to be the not-so-terrible consolation prize in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes next April.

Eichel, the Boston University freshman who is a sure-fire top-2 pick in next summer’s NHL Draft, was conspicuous throughout the night. Tallying one goal and one assist, the eyes were clearly on him, and not just because he’s a dead ringer for Lindsey Buckingham, notably of Fleetwood Mac.

No, Eichel was the main attraction on the night, and he didn’t disappoint. He was dynamic with the puck, showing great poise and vision, setting up Jeremy Bracco for an early goal, and then a fine finish late in the third to win him the MVP. He’s going to be a fantastic NHL player, and if the Sabres do their job and finish dead last this season, it’ll be alright if it’s not their logo getting pulled out of that envelope belonging to the #1 overall pick.

Some thoughts:

  • It’s great that the Sabres have gotten this event going and will be hosting again next year. Before then, they really need to re-evaluate how they market it. With 16,000 season ticket holders getting free tickets, more being given away and likely tepid individual sales, they announced just over 7,000. I doubt there was that many in the house, and the lower bowl looked so bad that 300 Level ushers were telling fans to move down to the 100 Level. It’s a cool event that should be really interesting. They just don’t seem to know what to do with it.
  • One way to engage fans more? Get the players’ junior/college teams involved. Get some awareness for the junior system in the United States. Build the context for the depth of the American game. If you beat people over the head with the fact that Eichel is playing at Boston University or that other top prospect Noah Hanifin is at Boston College, maybe people will make a point to tune in if they’re on television. Build the demand. Even if you’re the Buffalo Sabres, you’re better off if people give a shit about hockey.
  • Biggest improvement from the 2012 game to the 2014 game? Uniforms. Game looked clean, players seemed easier to identify than last time. Minor thing, but I noticed it.
  • Hanifin is going to be a rock for whatever team that drafts him. Hopefully the Sabres are done and have their guy by the time he’s getting picked, but with some guys, you can just tell. He’s gonna be good.
  • It’s really hard to get a good read on players in an event like this. The best stand out. Some guys can surprise. But I’m not gonna act like I know a player’s game from how they look in an all-star event. Gotta see them at the club level.

That’s about it. Gonna have to see when BU will be on television this season.

Sabres wrap up rookie camp

This morning the Buffalo Sabres concluded their week-long development camp with a scrimmage at Dwyer Arena.

With a packed house at Niagara University, the Blue squad defeated White by a score of 9-6. Marcus Foligno was the star of the scoresheet, scoring three goals for Blue.

While looking at the rosters, White seemed to be the favorites here, with their roster featuring Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis. While Ennis was spectacular, Myers didn’t really dominate the play as one would expect.

Blue got out to an early two goal lead. Nathan Gerbe grabbed the puck in his own zone, and with Myers caught pinching, raced down the ice and fired a shot which was kicked into the slot by Connor Knapp. Corey Tropp was there to cash the rebound less than a minute into play. Not even a minute later, Alex Biega sent a soft wrist shot from the point which beat Knapp high glove.

White earned one back as Travis Turnbull appeared to knock home a loose puck past Jhonas Enroth in a scramble in the crease, with Maxime Legault and Christian Isackson hovering. Moments later it was Riley Boychuk winning a battle behind the net and finding camp invitee Brody Sutter alone in the slot to tie the game.

Foligno tallied his first of the game to put Blue back into the lead, as Mark Adams found him alone in the slot with a nice pass from along the wall. Connor Knapp’s struggling glove seemed exposed as he was beaten to his left again.

Tyler Ennis, who was by all accounts the most dynamic player in camp this week, found his way to the scoresheet as he beat his defender along the wall with a sick head-fake and spotted T.J. Brennan pinching in the slot. Brennan’s glove side laser beat Enroth to tie the game. Travis Turnbull later scored on a penalty shot to give White the 4-3 lead headed into the break.

Read the rest of this entry

Sabres select Tyler Ennis

Tyler EnnisSo the Sabres decided to go with a small forward with their second 1st rounder.

Obviously, it’s because they don’t have enough of those.

TYLER ENNIS
Center
Shoots Left
5’9″, 146 lbs
Born: Edmonton, Alberta, October 6, 1989
Hometown: Edmonton, Alberta

Absolutely tiny. I can’t say I’m thrilled that the Sabres would use the pick on Ennis, because I’d think they could trade down and still get him. But they must know something we don’t.

And now, the pertinent information: Read the rest of this entry

Sabres select Tyler Myers

Tyler Myers

We have our big defenseman.

The Sabres traded up one spot to #12 to get Tyler Myers with their first pick.

Here are the basics:

TYLER MYERS
Defense
Shoots Right
6’7″, 204 lbs
Born: Houston, Texas, USA, February 1, 1990.
Hometown: Dewinton , Alberta

Now, thanks to the NHL, are the things you REALLY need to know about him: Read the rest of this entry

Speaking of signing prospects… Sabres sign Dennis Persson

Dennis PerssonWell I guess the Sabres haven’t given up on Dennis Persson.

The team announced today they have signed their 2006 1st round pick.

Persson (6/2/1988, 6’1”, 181 lbs.) split last season between Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League, and Nykoping of the Swedish second tier league. Persson recorded one assist and 6 PIMs in 21 games with Djurgarden, and added four points (1+3) and 14 PIMs with Nykoping.

There had been discussion as to whether or not the Sabres would even sign him. Persson didn’t exactly do a lot at last summer’s prospects camp to distinguish himself from any other prospect. He didn’t exactly have a stellar year, not getting much playing time in the Elite League and getting passed over for the World Juniors.

Whether he turns out being a bust or not, at least we will get a chance to see him play in the organization, unlike Sabres legends like Barrett Heisten and Artem Kryukov.

Add another local to the roster: Sabres get Tim Kennedy signed

That Pirat… I mean, Sabres farm club roster sure is shaping up.

The Sabres announced today they have signed Buffalo native Tim Kennedy to an entry-level deal.

“We are thrilled to have a player of Tim’s caliber join the Sabres organization,” said Regier. “After three years at Michigan State, we believe this local product is ready to make the move to the professional level.”

A native of Buffalo, Kennedy (4/30/1986, 5’10”, 180 lbs.) led the Spartans in scoring for the second consecutive season, tying his career best with 43 points (20+23) in 42 games. He led the team in all offensive categories, while scoring nine PPG’s and added five game winners. For his efforts, Kennedy was named a Second-Team All-CCHA selection. Kennedy finished with 105 points (42+63) in 113 games during his three years in East Lansing.

Kennedy was headed into his senior year at Michigan State, and had he finished his career as a Spartan, he would’ve been eligible to become an unrestricted free agent if he didn’t sign with the Sabres. The pressure was on to get it done so that wouldn’t be a problem.

Now it’s irrelevant, another local boy is in the system. Good to see.

It’s about damn time, Darcy! Sabres sign Enroth

Jhonas EnrothThose Sabres sure do like waiting until the last minute.

The Buffalo Sabres announced today that they have signed goaltender Jhonas Enroth, just hours before the Sabres would have lost his rights.

“We’re very happy to have Jhonas under contract,” said Regier. “He’s performed very well in Europe, and we look forward to his continued development as a member of our organization.”

Enroth (6/25/1988, 5’10”, 175 lbs.) spent last season with Sodertalje SK of the Swedish Elite League, and led all goaltenders with a 2.13 GAA in 27 games. A finalist for the league’s Rookie of the Year award, Enroth finished the year with a record of 10-14-3, along with two shutouts and a .932 save percentage.

Honestly, the term “disaster” might not be strong enough to describe the situation if they didn’t get Enroth’s name on paper. Read the rest of this entry