Buffalo Sabres: 5 Players to Watch in Development Camp

Matt CloudenCorrespondent IJuly 15, 2014

Buffalo Sabres: 5 Players to Watch in Development Camp

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    After a seemingly successful draft weekend, the Buffalo Sabres are now able to gather most of the prospects from one of the best pipelines in the NHL at their development camp. Prior to the 2014 NHL draft, Hockey's Future rated the Sabres' pool of prospects as the best in the league.

    Practices began on Monday, but the big event will be Tuesday night's scrimmage at 7 p.m. ET. That is when the "veterans" will be able to show how far they have come and the new guys will provide glimpses of their upside.

    Though development camp won't make or break a prospect, it can go a long way toward acclimating them to the teambe it the city, the facilities, the fans, etc.

    So, while no one will look back to development camp as the thing that turned these prospects into stars, it certainly can be an important step in the process.

    Here are the five players all Sabres fans should be following between this week and the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, in mid-September.

     

    Tuesday's scrimmage can be streamed on Sabres.com. Projected lineups can also be found on the team's official website.

1. Sam Reinhart

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    No one really needs a reason to watch this guy, as he'll easily be the most watched Sabres prospect on the ice this week.

    That's the type of attention a second overall pick and future building block commands.

    With his new entry-level deal in tow, Sam Reinhart will step onto the ice in Buffalo for the first time this week with high expectations and a growing sense that he will be a part of the mix from opening night this year.

    Reinhart's former general manager in Kootenay, Jeff Chynoweth, told WGR 550 that he believes Reinhart be playing with the Sabres next year, saying he will be a better pro than he was a junior player. Chynoweth acknowledged he needs to get bigger, but thinks Reinhart will "do what it takes" to make the team this year.

    We'll see if Sabres GM Tim Murray agrees soon enough, but expect development camp to be the first test to see if Reinhart is in fact ready for the NHL game this year.

2. Brendan Lemieux

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    While he certainly doesn't come with the same offensive pedigree as Reinhart, Brendan Lemieux has the ability to be every bit as important to the Sabres.

    The 31st overall selection in last month's draft, Lemieux made it very clear in an interview with Puck Daddy's Sean Leahy that the 29 other teams that passed on him will regret their decision.

    In his second Ontario Hockey League season with the Barrie Colts, Lemieux improved his point total by almost 40 points (finished with 53 points in 65 games) while scoring 27 goals—all of that on top of a very healthy 145 penalty minutes.

    Many—such as Elite Prospects' Tyler Parchemhave compared Brendan to his father Claude, and the Sabres would be glad to get a modern Claude on their team. However, Brendan has the ability to be better than his dadsomething that should excite many inside and outside the organization.

    He certainly has been getting early looks at playing with the top talents, as the team's Twitter account indicates that he skated with Reinhart and Joel Armia during line work on Tuesday.

    The Sabres injected a bit of sandpaper and fire into their lineup, and should be all the better for it with Lemieux.

3. Jordan Samuels-Thomas

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Jordan Samuels-Thomas may be new to the Sabres organization, but that doesn't mean the level of intrigue around him is low.

    Acquired for a conditional seventh-round pick last week, the Quinnipiac and Bowling Green left winger is coming off back-to-back 29-point seasons with the Bobcats and a trip to the NCAA Championship Game in 2012-13.

    Many reference Samuels-Thomas' "imposing frame," but Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold suggested to the Olean Times Herald's Bill Hoppe that the 6'3", 195-pounder has "high-end potential" despite his need to shore up his defensive game.

    More than anything, it seems there is some intrigue because of how respected Murray is as a talent evaluator. What is there about this kid that made him worth pursuing?

    It could just be that he's a big-bodied guy, but with Murray you almost find yourself asking, "What am I missing?"

    We should see soon enough, as Samuels-Thomas should play a role in Rochester (AHL) this season.

4. Nikita Zadorov

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    Last year, it seemed Nikita Zadorov was lost in the shadow of Rasmus Ristolainen, the defenseman taken eight spots ahead of him in the 2013 draft.

    Not this year.

    Ristolainen has shown enough at the NHL level to indicate that he will be excellent in a few years, but Zadorov only had seven games in Buffalo, so many are still in the dark as to how talented he is.

    And that's very, very good.

    The 6'5", 220-pound blueliner caught everyone's eye when he went back to London of the OHL last year, scoring 30 points in 36 regular-season games and another nine points in nine playoff games.

    He was also named in two OHL Coaches Polls, ranked as the third-best offensive defenseman and the second-best defensive defenseman in the Western Conference.

    Despite his success, it would be surprising to see him in Buffalo for the entire season. However, his time is not too far off at all.

5. Mikhail Grigorenko

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    It's not Mikhail Grigorenko's fault he was poorly utilized during his first two pro years, but this will be the year when he needs to show the ever-growing group of doubters he's ready to turn the corner.

    He claims to be coming into camp at about 220 poundsabout 20 lbs. heavier than his draft-day weightso that in and of itself shows a level of commitment to getting better.

    Now the question is whether or not it can translate onto the ice.

    This is Grigorenko's third go at this camp, so he should reasonably be head and shoulders ahead of most of the other skaters. A solid performance Tuesday night will go a long way toward showing he is on the way to being the guy that could have been drafted in the top three in the 2012 draft.

    With that said, he will have a better place to hone his play this year, as he is finally eligible to play in Rochester for the full season and will not have to return to juniors.

    There, he will join Joel Armia and William Carrier, among others, to create one of the more exciting young lineups in the AHL.

    Nevertheless, Tuesday night's scrimmage is the first step.

     

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