By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
HarborCenter was the place to be on Saturday morning, as a nearly full house turned out to watch the Buffalo Sabres’ prospect complete development camp with a three-on-three tournament. This may have been a case of the excitement generated by the players, or it was a cool place to go on a hot day. Or both.
No matter. The camp had the desired effect in this particular year. Not only did the young players go through an indoctrination process as they get ready for the chance to play pro hockey someday, but they gave Sabre fans a little ray of hope about what the upcoming winter might look like.
“It’s tough to evaluate anyone,” coach Phil Housley said. “It’s June 30. But you get to see the guys for a week. It was spirited out there.”
The No. 1 attraction, naturally, was Rasmus Dahlin – fitting his title as a No. 1 overall draft choice. No one seemed the least bit disappointed after seeing him on skates, in person. That includes members of the Sabres’ organization.
“It was inspiring,” assistant general manager Randy Sexton said. “He’s a special player and special person. We’re fortunate to have him and to see him play here for a long time to come.”
“This is a week where we do get to know our players,” assistant general manager Steve Greeley said. “In our exit interview I told him I was so pleased at what sort of person he was. …. He’s a great kid, a humble kid. That’s great to see.”
THE OTHER GUY
Dahlin swallowed up much of the week’s publicity, but Casey Mittelstadt showed on Saturday that he should be the subject of some anticipation about the new season. Mittelstadt has a barrel of offensive moves that were displayed at times during Saturday’s tournament. At one point he made a slick little move and threw a backhander into the top of the net. At another he made about six different fakes before sliding the puck into an open net.
“I think when we got him here in the spring, we opened his eyes to what it means to be a National Hockey League player,” Greeley said. “I think the Casey we’re seeing now (compared to a year ago) is more mature, more refined.”
I’m not sure that a team was ever lucky enough to have the top forward and the top defenseman from the World Junior Hockey Championships play for the same team a year later. Yet that’s the case with Dahlin and Mittelstadt, and they have the chance to be the two big pieces (along with Jack Eichel, well down the road of development relatively speaking) in the Sabres’ rebuilding program.
A few other people must have caught the eye of those watching. Matej Pekar did some shoving with Mittelstadt at one point in the tournament. The fourth-round draft pick wants to be a pest on the ice, and he passed the audition for that job description on Saturday.
“I love to be the annoying guy, getting under other guys’ skin. It’s my game,” Pekar said after the session.
Pekar also showed himself to be funny and engaging in an interview session after the game, prompting media members to start hoping that he will make regular appearances in the Sabres locker room for years to come.
Rasmus Asplund may be the third-ranked Rasmus on the team, but he has some offensive skills. The same can be said for Vasily Glotov, who scored some nice goals but who is no doubt still kicking himself about fanning on an opportunity around the goal in one of the mini-games on Saturday.
It was even a chance for free agents to make an impact. Hunter Shepard had some nice saves in goal on Saturday morning. Shepard was in goal last spring when Minnesota-Duluth won the NCAA championship. Has he done enough to collect some interest from the Sabres going forward? Maybe.
That’s all good. But mostly, people in the camp wanted to talk about the people who attended the camp – the Sabre fans. Hockey drills are rarely spell-binding, but the building was crowded throughout the week. Everyone noticed.
“I’d really like to thank our fans for coming out and showing their support,” Housley said. “I think the fans were entertained.”
“It was a blast,” Seton added. “It’s a very fun part of the season. The kids are enthusiastic, the fans are into it. It was a tremendous week for our organization.”
They’ll be back in September, when training camp opens.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB.)