SABRES PROSPECTS HIT THE ICE FOR DAY ONE OF DEVELOPMENT CAMPNews | 7/10/2013 3:14:06 PM | Rob Crean
The opening day of the Buffalo Sabres 2013 Development Camp marked the first time that the team’s two first round picks from last month’s NHL Draft were on the ice together. Finnish defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen and Russian blueliner Nikita Zadorov were taken eighth overall and 16th overall, respectively, and both were excited to step onto the First Niagara Center ice for the first time.
“It’s my first day on an NHL team, so it’s great,” said Zadorov, who spent last season in the Ontario Hockey League with the London Knights. “It’s the first day on the ice so it was a little tough, but you get the legs going a little bit and it’s not bad.”
The 6-foot-5 Zadorov helped lead London to the OHL Championship and an appearance in the Memorial Cup this past season.
“I think it went pretty well, a couple times not so good, but you learn from it and work hard,” Ristolainen said of going through his first session of on-ice drills in Buffalo.
Ristolainen became the highest drafted Sabre since the team selected Thomas Vanek with the fifth overall pick in 2003. By taking Ristolainen and Zadorov in the first round, it marked the first time in franchise history that the Sabres have chosen two defensemen in round one of the draft.
It was, however, the second consecutive year that Buffalo had two first round picks, and both of last year’s round one selections are also taking part in Development Camp this week. Mikhail Grigorkeno skated in the afternoon session on Wednesday while fellow forward Zemgus Girgensons joined Ristolainen and Zadorov in the morning practice. While Grigorenko and Girgensons took different paths during their rookie seasons of 2012-13, with Grigorenko splitting the year between Quebec (QMJHL) and Buffalo and Girgensons spending the entire year with the Amerks, the two players did suit up together at the end of the season, as Grigorenko joined the Amerks for their final two postseason games.
Another player coming off his rookie season no doubt feels like a veteran at Development Camp, as defenseman Mark Pysyk is appearing at the Sabres summer session for the fourth straight year after being drafted in the first round of the 2010 NHL Draft.
“The guys were talking and now the 91’s and 92’s (birth year) are the older guys at the camp and we’re feeling pretty old even though we aren’t,” Pysyk joked.
Going into his second season of pro hockey, Pysyk will be looking to take the next step in his career and solidify himself as a full-time NHL defenseman. After starting last year in Rochester and scoring 18 points on four goals and 14 assists in 57 games with the Amerks, the Edmonton native was called up to the Sabres in March and made his NHL debut against Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
“I’ve been back here in Buffalo for a couple weeks skating and working out, so that’s been keeping me focused, and I’m just working hard,” Pysyk said of his approach to next season. “Same as last year, I’m going to come in to camp in the best shape I can and be the best player I can be.”
Forward Phil Varone has served as one of Rochester’s top centers over the last two seasons, establishing himself as a reliable player who has been counted on to kill penalties, take key face-offs and skate on the power play. He is once again taking part in Buffalo’s development camp this week and is looking to, in his words, take “two steps forward” next season.
After a highly successful rookie season with the Amerks in which Varone led the team in scoring, his assist total declined last season, but he still found plenty of ways to contribute to the team’s run to the postseason.
“The window of opportunity closes quickly and this year would be a good year to get your foot in the door with Buffalo,” Varone said on Wednesday. “I didn’t take that step forward last year from my first year, so this year I have to take two steps.”
Varone scored 52 points (11+41) as a rookie in 2011-12, then posted 11 goals and 24 assists last season. He knows he will be counted on to provide offense for the Amerks next season, and he’s ready for the challenge.
“I pride myself on being able to play in different situations, whether it’s penalty kill, taking big face-offs of putting up points. I try to do all that in Rochester and if I get the chance in the NHL, I’ll try to translate that. That’s what it’s going to take and that’s what I’m working toward,” said Varone.