The first game of the 2017 Prospects Challenge for the Sabres resulted in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils. While the Sabres did lose, some players were a pleasant surprise throughout.
One of the most surprising players was Vaclav Karabacek. From the first period through the third he demonstrated tenacity up and down the ice, often engaging plays and not giving up so easily, causing chaos for the Devils skaters and ended up registering an assist on the third Sabres goal. Karabacek has been getting better with every passing year, making it hard to rule him out as a potential Sabre in the future if his development track remains the same as it has been. Colin Blackwell, an invitee, notched two goals in this game, one being off the sticks of Karabacek. Blackwell was able to rush up the ice quickly and get into scoring position more than a few times, definitely causing staff to turn their heads. Lastly, Daniel Muzito-Bagenda emerged late in the game as a positive surprise. Playing with Karabacek and Blackwell, he tallied an assist on Blackwell’s second goal of the night by quickly moving it to an open Blackwell on a quick rush. The line seemed to be effective when deployed for most of the night.
Cliff Pu scored the Sabres’ first goal. Justin Bailey was also notable, using his size and speed to control areas along the boards and while moving the puck up-ice. Vasily Glotov continued his positive trajectory from development camp with an assist on Pu’s goal.
With positives usually come lackluster results as well. Alexander Nylander seemed to have had a rather sluggish game, often taking extremely short shifts during the game. Combined with a rather average development camp this past July and a less than stellar season in the American Hockey League, this could easily be a cause for concern if it continues through the tournament. Nylander did place a good shot on net in the overtime period, but Devils goaltender Evan Cormier stopped the threat. Nylander is considered one of Buffalo’s top prospects; one should hope that he emerges as a dominant point-producing skater sooner rather than later. There is no doubt that the Sabres staff will give Nylander more opportunities to try and take over games on the scoresheet and on the ice, but there is also a fairly large amount of work to do between those given chances, starting with preparing for game two against the Boston Bruins on Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
Sabres goaltender Jonas Johansson made thirty-four of thirty-eight saves through three regulation periods and overtime.