MURRAY MAKES A STATEMENT IN PROSPECTS CHALLENGE OPENERSep 18, 2021
By Jourdon LaBarber for Sabres.com
Brett Murray resisted pleas from his family to sit down and watch the two NHL games he played with Buffalo to end last season, the culmination of a hockey journey that has been anything but linear.
Instead, Murray let his first NHL memories loom in the back of his mind as he prepared for a follow-up act.
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"I just used it to fuel my offseason," Murray said. "I just wanted even more to get more than two games. I don't want just to cap it at two. I want to play all 82 games. So, I just used it as fuel."
Murray put together a convincing first statement during the Prospects Challenge opener on Friday, netting a goal and an assist during the Sabres' 3-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils.
Here are five takeaways, beginning with the strong outing from Murray.
1. Murray makes a statement
First, a refresher on Murray's unconventional path to pro hockey. He was a fourth-round draft choice by the Sabres in 2016, then spent two seasons at Penn State before leaving the program. After a productive year in the USHL, he decommitted from Miami University (Ohio) ahead of the 2019-20 season and made a bet on himself by showing up to Sabres camp with no contract.
Murray played well enough at that year's Prospects Challenge to stick around for Amerks camp, then did well enough there to earn a one-year AHL deal. His rookie season in Rochester was rewarded with an NHL contract prior to last season, which he vindicated by leading the Amerks with 20 points in 27 games.
He attributed that success to learning to use his 6-foot-5 frame effectively at both ends of the ice, which he continued to do well Friday. Murray opened the scoring with the Sabres on the power play during the first period, jostling for position in the blue paint and cleaning up a rebound after a shot from the point.
"It feels good," he said. "Positioning pays off. I had to work hard for that goal and I was lucky enough for it to bounce in. I thought I could have had a few more in front of the net, too, but they'll start bouncing in as the season goes on and timing gets better."
Murray stood up a puck carrier at the red line and delivered a high-to-low feed to set up Peterka's goal during the second period.
"I was really happy with his performance," Rochester coach Seth Appert said. "Right from the start, first shift, had a real hard-finish check. I thought he stuck up for his teammates. … I thought it was a real statement that he made tonight that this kid, he's gonna keep coming."
2. Luukkonen shuts the door
Luukkonen played his first game since he sustained a season-ending ankle injury while with the Sabres on May 1. He set the tone with his second save of the night, a sprawling stop on a 2-on-1 rush.
"His presence was huge and I thought that he got us through some moments when we were a little less than stellar with our puck decisions," Appert said. "… He made it look easy."
3. Samuelsson, Laaksonen impress
Oskari Laaksonen said Thursday that he and his defense partner, Mattias Samuelsson, wanted to be the best pair on the ice during the Prospects Challenge. The two looked the part of veterans against the Devils, whether they were aggressively closing gaps or moving with the puck on their stick.
"I thought they both did a really good job, provided a calming presence for us," Appert said. "… Sammy, especially, I thought was really physically dominant. He broke the puck out well. I felt Laaksy, especially in the first two periods, was outstanding as well."
4. Samuelsson exits early
Samuelsson left the game with 1:30 remaining after blocking a shot, but returned to the bench before the final horn sounded.
"We think he's fine," Appert said. "What a block. I've been fortunate to coach him for a long time and there's a reason he wore the 'C' for us with the national team. That's just another example. He's a winner of a hockey player and a teammate."
5. Up next
The Sabres conclude the Prospects Challenge against the Boston Bruins at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are still available. Fans in the Buffalo broadcast market can stream the game here on Sabres.com.