The Sabres can’t make their prospects spend the offseason in Buffalo. They can, however, strongly suggest it.
The youngsters’ willingness to comply has led to a change in the team’s development camp.
The Sabres will hold their annual prospect gathering this week, but it will be shorter than previous summers. Typically a five-day festival, the camp will be held Wednesday through Friday in First Niagara Center.
“We’re compacting it into three days versus five,” said Kevin Devine, the Sabres’ director of amateur scouting. “We’ve really stressed to a lot of players to get into Buffalo to work out during the summer. It’s their choice, of course, because of the CBA, but there’s been a lot of compliance with that with the younger players coming in.
“With that, the five days wasn’t as important as the previous years.”
The collective bargaining agreement stipulates that NHL clubs can hold one conditioning camp in June or July, and it may not last longer than seven days. The Sabres had their top prospects in Buffalo for several weeks last month and hope to keep many around through August. Since the stays are “voluntary,” it’s allowed within the CBA.
The official camp is open to players on their entry-level contracts, as long as they’ve appeared in fewer than 120 games; unsigned draft choices; draft-related free agents; and players who were eligible for the draft but not selected.
The 40 prospects will be split into two groups. They’ll skate from 10:30 a.m. to noon and 3-4:30 p.m. Wednesday, and 10:30 a.m. to noon and 2:15-3:30 p.m. Thursday. Those sessions are free for the public.
The players will scrimmage at 4 p.m. Friday as part of the Sabres’ summer fan fest. The cost is $10 and includes an autograph session at 6 p.m. and concert by the 10,000 Maniacs at Canalside at 8 p.m.
Mikhail Grigorenko heads this year’s list of prospects. General Manager Darcy Regier said the 19-year-old center will spend all of next season in Buffalo after shuttling between the NHL and junior hockey last year.
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, picked eighth overall in the NHL Draft last month, will also attend. He’s said to be ready for the NHL after playing against men in Finland for two seasons.
“We’ll give him every opportunity, but he is 18,” said Devine, who added Ristolainen will compete against the Sabres’ other right-handed defensemen, Tyler Myers, Mark Pysyk and Jamie McBain. “We’ve got three guys who’ve proved they play in the NHL, so we’ll just see at training camp.”
Two of the Sabres’ top prospects, Joel Armia and Johan Larsson, will not be in attendance. Armia, the first-round pick in 2011, has a wedding this weekend. Larsson, acquired in the trade that sent Jason Pominville to Minnesota, has a prior commitment in his native Sweden. Both were in Buffalo in June to work with the team.
Armia, a 20-year-old winger, will get a good look during training camp. He helped lead Assat to the Finnish elite league championship this year while totaling 22 goals and 19 assists in 63 regular-season and playoff games.
“He had a very good year,” Regier said. “I think what he’s being recognized more for is his all-around game, meaning the defensive side when we don’t have the puck. He’s made some very big strides in that regard.”
The work of all the prospects during the offseason will sway management’s decision on where they should play when pucks drop again.
“That gets driven more by the player than anyone else,” Regier said. “Whether it’s Armia or Johan Larsson or Girgensons or Grigorenko, the work that they do in the offseason and the work that they do in training camp is going to drive that decision.”
David Leggio, the goaltender from Williamsville, has agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with the Washington Capitals. Leggio, 28, spent the previous three seasons with the Sabres’ minor-league clubs in Portland and Rochester.
Contract terms were not immediately available for Leggio, who made $105,000 in the American Hockey League last year.
He was an unrestricted free agent. The Sabres added goalie Matt Hackett in the Pominville trade, and they have three prospects (Andrey Makarov, Nathan Lieuwen and Connor Knapp) who will fight for playing time in Rochester.
Leggio went 38-24-1 with a 2.56 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and four shutouts in 64 games last season in Rochester. He led the AHL in wins and games played, and he ranked tied for fourth in save percentage.
Although Leggio has been selected as the Amerks’ season MVP the past two years, the former St. Joe’s and Clarkson University product has yet to play an NHL game.
“I just wish I had a chance to throw on that sweater just once in Buffalo,” Leggio told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “But it’s OK, it just wasn’t meant to be.”