When the Sabres drafted local prospects Justin Bailey and Sean Malone in the second and sixth rounds of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, respectively, the franchise was in quite a different state than it is today.
Darcy Regier was still running the show as general manager, Coach Ron Rolston just had the interim tag taken off his title, and Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek hadn’t been named captains yet, much less traded.
Much has changed with Bailey and Malone in the past year as well, as both participate in their second Sabres Development Camp at First Niagara Center.
Malone, a West Seneca native who attended Nichols High School, played his first year of college hockey with Harvard while Bailey spent another year in juniors with Kitchener.
As one would expect, going through camp is a little less stressful the second time around.
“Being a year older, you feel more experienced,” Malone said. “There’s not as many expectations. You’re stronger, you have a lot more confidence. I know what we went through last year. I’m used to it. Now, it’s a lot easier.”
Bailey may feel even more comfortable with his surroundings because the Williamsville native has been working out with the trainers since his junior season ended.
“This year I have a lot more confidence,” Bailey said. “I’ve been here working out since April now, so I’m comfortable with the training staff and the workouts. Nothing’s new to me. I feel like I can have more of an impact.”
While Bailey and Malone are both still early in their careers, their roles appear to have switched a bit since last year.
Malone, the later pick, was named Ivy League co-rookie of the year for his contributions on a young Harvard team with 20 points in 31 games.
The effort landed him a spot at the U.S. Junior National Evaluation Camp, where he has a chance to earn a spot on the U.S. Junior National Team.
Even though Bailey’s goal total (25 from 17) and points production (43 from 36) increased in his second season with the Kitchener Rangers, he did not receive an invitation to the evaluation camp.
Bailey, a camp participant last year, was slightly taken aback when he learned he wouldn’t be attending the August camp but knows the final U.S. team roster for the World Junior Tournament can include noncamp attendees.
Bailey said he better understands his role. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound winger considers himself less of a power forward and more of a skilled big man.
“Being a bigger guy, you have to go out there and play physical,” Bailey said. “I think what separates me from a typical, bigger player is that I’m able to skate and I have enough skill to play with top-line guys. I think I can be slated in and make an impact on the top line. I can make that skill play that produces goals.”
Similarly, Malone better understands his role after a year of development. The 5-11, 190-pound Malone is a defense-first, two-way center. He models his game after Boston Bruins center and perennial Selke Trophy candidate Patrice Bergeron.
“I like to play defense, get back and also contribute offensively,” Malone said. “I like to use my speed and I’m working on my strength right now.”
After he’s done with both Sabres and U.S. Junior Evaluation camp this summer, Malone will return to Harvard where he plans to grow as a student as much as a hockey player.
“Education has always been a huge thing in my family. Even going out to the national team, I knew I had to take tougher classes just to fulfill my requirements for school. It’s an important thing to actually have an education to fall back on, and you’ll also get four years to develop.”
The Sabres signed restricted free agent defenseman Chad Ruhwedel to a two-year, $1.3 million contract Wednesday. He will make $625,000 next season and $675,000 in 2015-16, making his cap hit $650,000.
The team originally signed Ruhwedel out of Massachusetts-Lowell in 2013. The 24-year-old has one assist in 28 games for the team over the past two seasons.
Sabres prospects had an off day Wednesday for team-building exercises.
Development camp resumes today with practices from 10:30 a.m. to noon and 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.