By John Giustino
The Buffalo Sabres will host the third annual prospect challenge, a tournament that takes place at HarborCenter during the month of September which will feature both new draftees and up and coming prospects alike. One year ago, the Boston Bruins won the championship game with an early win over the New Jersey Devils and a victory over Buffalo in the championship game. There will be a new team participating this year; the Pittsburgh Penguins, who boast a deep and skilled draftee and prospect pool that will certainly challenge for the title.
One of the key features to focus on for the Sabres in this tournament will be how new players adapt to the adversity put forth by other teams’ top prospects who are poised to make it to the National Hockey League for the 2017-2018 season. This is a new level of competition for those players as it will force skaters and goalies alike to reach a higher level of play against division rivals and conference opponents, something not seen earlier in July at the Sabres’ development camp. The shots, hits and pace will be much less forgiving with more crowded ice and it being the start of crunch time for coaches and the front offices to evaluate who will be playing in Buffalo, Rochester or staying in their respective leagues.
This will mark the first time Sabres fans will be able to observe a new system coached by Phil Housley with an even strength roster and standard regulations on the ice. The style of play is touted as a strong and fast paced north-south game, with precise puck movement from the back end to create breakouts and faster rushes. With this type of play, one may expect less clogging in the neutral zone and a quicker, better transition game between all three zones. The defensemen will most likely be expected and encouraged to play aggressively when the situation permits it, opposed to a more overall conservative system when considering defensemen joining the attack and taking chances.
While the rosters have not yet been released, several potential names can be on the list. First round draft pick Casey Mittelstadt could have a great chance to display his size and skill to the Sabres brass if he does in fact get invited to the tournament. Another newcomer who could make the tournament is goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Touted as one of the best goaltenders in the 2017 National Hockey League Entry Draft, his performance during development camp was strong and tape from gameplay in Finland could land him a roster spot.
No matter who will be on the roster for the prospects challenge, the Buffalo Sabres squad will look to be the top team and the champion this year after a sweeping personnel change this summer. With several hungry players looking to prove their worth at every turn possible, the expectations and intensity will most definitely rise once the tournament starts and progresses and will give Sabres fans an early look at who could potentially land positions on the Sabres and Americans.