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By Jourdon LaBarber for

If only we could all be as productive to start our weeks as the Buffalo Sabres were on Monday afternoon.

The Sabres dominated their way to a 10-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in their Prospects Challenge finale, an encouraging end to the tournament for a group of young players looking to stake their claims at NHL roster spots when training camp opens on Thursday. 


"I think overall it was a great weekend," Sabres general manage Jason Botterill said. "Just the atmosphere in the building on Friday and Saturday night certainly got our players excited, and I really liked the effort from the entire team.

"Throughout the three games I thought they battled hard, they showed some of their skill out there, they showed puck possession. I thought the tryout guys showed something out there [as well as] the guys preparing for main camp, so overall it was a very positive week."


Defensemen Rasmus Dahlin, Brendan Guhle and William Borgen were among the players given a day off, but a trio of forwards with NHL aspirations this season stepped up in their absence. Rasmus Asplund (1+3) and Alex Nylander (2+2) scored four points each, while Casey Mittelstadt tallied three assists. 

Nicholas Welsh, one of the players on a tryout, added a pair of goals. Arvin Atwal, Cole Coskey, Kevin Hancock, Andrew Oglevie and Myles Powell also got on the board for Buffalo. 

Jonas Johansson was a perfect 17-for-17 in net for the Sabres prior to being replaced by Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who faced just three shots in relief.

If the first few minutes of the game felt like your usual Monday morning, Asplund was the team's shot of espresso. The 20-year-old centerman seemed to play a notch above the competition, whether he was puck-handling his way over the blue line or delivering seeing-eye passes through the offensive zone.

Asplund's first assist, which set up Oglevie's goal to open the scoring, was the product of a workmanlike effort along the boards, bumping off bodies with possession as he skated into the zone. As an encore, he deked his way into the slot through four defenders for a goal of his own.

Count Mittelstadt among those impressed by Asplund, who's set to begin his first pro season in North America.

"You saw the play he made tonight on his goal," Mittelstadt said. "I think you see him do things like that but there's a lot of other things that people miss: winning faceoffs, he's always in the right spot defensively, neutral zone, everything. He was really impressive this weekend. It was fun to see."


Mittelstadt and Nylander, skating as linemates for the first time, stole the show during a seven-goal third period. The two put their instant chemistry on display on Nylander's second goal, the product of a give-and-go capped by a slick pass through traffic from Mittelstadt.

Mittelstadt seemed to find the timing he had lacked from an offensive standpoint through the first two games of the tournament, when he was held without a point despite having several scoring chances. What he had lacked in scoring those first games, he made up for with work ethic. 

"I liked his compete, I liked his effort to at least try and find things out there," Botterill said. "This hockey's sometimes difficult, there's not a lot of structure to it, but you're not looking for structure. You're looking for guys battling, you're looking for them to bring some passion to the game, and I thought Casey did that."

It should also be noted that Mittelstadt dealt with extra defensive attention throughout the tournament, something he became used to during his days playing high school hockey in Eden Prairie. 

"It's a little chaotic, brings me back to high school days," he said. "But it was really fun. Normally I end up playing 10, 15 games a summer just around camps and things like that. This summer I had nothing besides development camp, so it was super nice to be back out there, get competitive again."


Nylander, too, earned praise for his hard work after missing last year's Prospects Challenge due to injury. He tied for the tournament lead with three goals in three games but stood out just as much for winning battles on the penalty kill.

"I think especially this weekend he was winning a ton of battles, doing really good defensively and then obviously he has the offensive talent that speaks for itself," Mittelstadt said. "You can definitely see the work he put in and hopefully he keeps it going in camp."

"I think we've seen a different Alex Nylander throughout the summer, just in our dialogues," Botterill added. "I thought it was a step in the right direction being healthy, playing in this tournament. It was disappointing last year, getting injured and just sort of always playing catchup.

"We've seen him put the time in the weight room. He looks stronger, he looks more confident out there. And I think the thing we always have to remember with Alex is he's 20 years old. This technically should probably be his first time in pro hockey, but he's already had that experience. I'm excited about how he performed this weekend." 


Nylander hasn't been shy about his goal to make the Sabres out of camp this fall, nor has Asplund, Guhle, Victor Olofsson or any of the other young players getting set for camp. The Prospects Challenge was an appetizer for the real challenge, which begins Thursday.

"We've talked a lot as a group that we just had to bring in more internal competition, had to give Phil [Housley] more options at different position," Botterill said.

"We think we've done that this summer, especially at forward, bringing in some guys but also having some young guys who are going to be pushing for positions."

2/15/2019 7:05 PM / Rochester, NY
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