Training Camp News & Notes: Unstitching the C, high-tempo hockey, and top-line Cozens

The nights are a little cooler. The leaves are starting to change color. The Buffalo Sabres are back on the ice. The 2021-22 NHL season is upon us with the new look Sabres hitting on-ice drills for the first time this season. We got to hear from head coach Don Granato and general manager Kevyn Adams along with getting our first look at some lines for this upcoming season. So let’s get into it and break down today’s day at camp:

From Captain Jack to Regular Jack
The big news coming out of the Buffalo Sabres’ camp this morning was the announcement that Jack Eichel is no longer the captain of the team. “I spoke to Jack two days ago, I spoke to the team yesterday and addressed this, Jack Eichel is no longer the captain of the Buffalo Sabres. From our perspective, the captain is your heartbeat of your team, and we are in a situation where we felt we needed to make that decision,” said GM Kevyn Adams.

This was a move that was expected, but is still a bit shocking to finally hear it said. Just a few months ago, Jack Eichel was the face of the franchise. Today, the relationship continues to be in free fall. When Adams was asked if there is any pressure from ownership to move Jack Eichel, he responded with, “Quite the opposite.”

Will this be a move that affects Jack Eichel’s trade value? I think it’s difficult to answer one way or the other. It certainly does not help his trade value, but the “cat has left the bag” with Eichel’s desire to leave the Sabres becoming very public this past offseason. I just think this confirms the notion that the two parties have both moved on and it is just a matter of “when,” not “if” at this stage.

Adams went on to say that Eichel still refuses to get the fusion surgery that is desired by the Sabres as he is still holding out for the disc surgery. The Sabres are not interested in disc surgery. This is just a tricky, tricky situation that has so many layers to it. One thing I can say with confidence is that I am not envious of Kevyn Adams’ position right now.

The “Fun” Sabres
One of the key takeaways from Don Granato’s media appearance this morning was that he wants to play a more fast-paced style. “We’re going to go at our opponent when we can. We want to play with high-pace and high-tempo,” said Granato. He went on to talk about how the style he wants the team to play fits the style that Jeff Skinner plays.

These are certainly encouraging words for Sabres fans to hear after sitting through the sludge fest that was the team’s offense under Ralph Krueger’s control. If Jeff Skinner is the type of guy that stylistically fits your team, you will probably be playing some fun, aggressive, high-danger hockey. It is almost a foregone conclusion that this Buffalo Sabres team will struggle next season, but you might as well play some entertaining hockey and experiment while you’re at it.

Another player who probably loved Granato’s presser was Rasmus Dahlin. He was a player who looked like he had a spell cast over him in the Ralph Krueger era after his brilliant rookie campaign under Phil Housley. Granato cited Dahlin as a player whom he wants to be unafraid to make mistakes and willing to learn from those mistakes. That statement may or may not have something to do with Ralph Krueger’s very limiting (and rage inducing) approach to Dahlin’s development over the past two seasons. Granato wants Dahlin to embrace his dynamic ability.

Still no Jack Quinn or Mattias Samuelsson
After missing the Sabres’ final game of the Prospects Challenge on Saturday due to a “maintenance day,” Jack Quinn is still not back on the ice. Adams said that Quinn is not injured, but they are being cautious with him as they ease him back to the ice after an offseason hernia surgery. Certainly a situation to keep an eye on and it may be one that signals a start in Rochester as he continues to work back into game shape.

Mattias Samuelsson suffered an injury in Friday’s Prospects Challenge match and his situation does not look to be as hopeful as Quinn’s as he will be looking at a week-to-week recovery. Samuelsson had a decent shot at an NHL roster spot during this training camp, but it looks like he may also find himself starting his season in Rochester.

Lines, lines, lines
Personally, one of my favorite things about the opening of NHL training camps is the first look we get at some potential lines. Fortunately, we got to see some set lines with the Sabres’ two practice groups today.

What we do know is that centers at practice today were Dylan Cozens, Casey Mittelstadt, Zemgus Girgensons, Arttu Ruotsalainen, and Cody Eakin. Some of the “permanent” line rushes we saw from the 1st practice group were Bjork-Mittelstadt-Thompson and Caggiula-Girgensons-Okposo. The 2nd practice group saw Skinner-Cozens-Olofsson and Asplund-Ruotsalainen-Hinostroza taking line rushes.

It appears that the plan is to place Cozens and Mittelstadt into top six center roles which would be a huge opportunity for those two. Placing two young centers in those spots may not necessarily translate to a lot of wins, but it will be a great learning experience in what will be considered a rebuilding year. We got a look at what Mittelstadt was capable of last season in middle six center role and will get to see how Cozens fares being flanked by two experienced scoring wingers on the top line.

Another interesting thing to watch for will be what Cody Eakin’s role with the Sabres is going forward. The $2 million man was a center who was heavily relied upon by Ralph Krueger, but saw his role diminish once Don Granato took over behind the bench. Based off today’s line rushes, it seems like Eakin could find himself relegated to the 13th forward role to start the season.

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