For the first time this season, members of the Sabres organization took the ice wearing the team’s sweaters for the annual Prospect Challenge.
Despite not having top prospects like Owen Power, Isak Rosen or Prokhor Poltapov, the Sabres prospects skated away with a nice 3-0 victory against a Devils lineup that featured a few of their higher-end prospects.
With the game over and the dust settling, here are 5 observations from the game:
1. Luukkonen shows why he was worth a high pick
When the Sabres took Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in the 2nd round of the 2017 draft there was high hopes that they grabbed a future number one goalie for the organization. Fast forward to now and despite the hip surgeries and inconsistent play throughout his brief pro career, UPL put on a spectacular performance against the Devils.
His performance tonight reminded me of his season with Sudbury in the OHL, Luukkonen was calm cool and collected in the crease and if he can find this level of consistency then he has a real shot at living up to his pre-draft hype.
2. Bretty Murray, JJ Peterka and Quinn flash some of their potential
The Sabres “top line” in this game featured some of their higher-end forward prospects, and for the most part, all three flashed at least some of their potential.
JJ Peterka played an aggressive forechecking game, using his speed to chase down loose pucks and pressure the opposing players. He was rewarded with a goal in the 2nd period off a nice pass from Brett Murray.
Murray is in a prime position to seize an opportunity with the Sabres; the organization is rebuilding, and young players will have more opportunities than they’ve had prior to this season. Murray started off the year with a bang, registering a goal and an assist against the Devils and putting his physical gifts on full display.
Jack Quinn had an up and down game. He was given a chance to play center (more on that later), and despite the inconsistency, he flashed some of the tools that make him an effective player. He’s one of the more hotly debated prospects the Sabres have, and even though there’s a lot of work for him to reach his potential, I don’t think there’s any reason to start hitting the panic button on him (also more on that later).
3. Samuelsson and Laaksonen dominate (as expected)
The defensive group in Buffalo features mostly camp invitees, but Mattias Samuelsson and Oskari Laaksonen were the top pair for the Sabres and showed how crucial their age and experience have been for them.
Samuelsson’s skating has taken a huge step forward; he moved more fluidly around the ice and was able to consistently deny the Devils entrance into the Sabres zone. He threw his weight around, punishing the Devils players with his physicality and his strength.
Laaksonen is a prime candidate to join the Sabres after the trade deadline and make a positive impact right away. His IQ, skating ability and transition game make him an intriguing player, and after a solid first season in North America with Rochester, he looks very close to being ready to earn a spot in Buffalo.
4. Viljami Marjala flashes, while the other ’21 Draftees struggle
Out of the 2021 draft class, Viljami Marjala, Josh Bloom, Olivier Nadeau and Tyson Kozak are the only players in attendance and it wasn’t a great showing for the most part.
Kozak left the game early with an apparent injury, Nadeau struggled to keep up with the pace of play for most of the night and Bloom was forced into an unnatural position for most of the game, playing Center.
Marjala looked the most comfortable, using his speed, vision and playmaking ability to impact the game in the offensive zone. He’s worth watching in tomorrow’s game to see if he can string together two strong performances.
5. The Jack Quinn at Center experiment should end now
Jack Quinn is a gifted player when playing away from the puck. He uses his IQ and understanding of the game to find soft spots in the defensive zone coverage to set himself up for scoring chances. His ability to fill lanes, work out of the cycle and get his shot off quickly are all aspects that make him an effective winger.
While the prospects roster has limited centers, it makes sense to try a player like Quinn at Center to see how it works.
But trying to convert a player who excels away from the puck into a playdriving center is a tough thing to accomplish, and through no fault of his own, Quinn likely has a better future at being a complimentary winger.
Just watch his sneaky smart play on the Peterka goal:
He fills the lane perfectly, freezing the NJ defender in his place, allowing Peterka to remain open and capitalize on the backdoor feed.
It’s plays like this that make Quinn a successful winger, and it’s this type of skillset the Sabres should be tapping into with Quinn.
Sabres MVP: A tie between Murray and UPL
Sabres LVP: There’s a few options here: I’ll mention Nadeau, but I’ll stick with Quinn. I remain adamant that it’s both player and team inflicted. Try him at wing tomorrow and allow him to play his game before judging him unfairly.
- Linus Weissbach was really good: showcased his puck skills, high level shot and flashed some game-breaking speed.
- Arttu Ruotsalainen wasn’t as strong as I would have l liked to see, hoping he bounces back on Saturday.
The Sabres are back in action against the Bruins prospects Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.