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Musings From Day One of the Prospects Challenge

September 18, 2021, 2:22 PM ET [653 Comments]
Hank Balling
Buffalo Sabres Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT

Rule number one for prospect events is that they’re largely meaningless and not indicative of future success, necessarily. Anyone who has attended Sabres prospect tournaments or development camp at any point over the past decade will remember the names of players who flashed at times. Names like Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste and Cliff Pu spring to mind first. Brett Murray is another player who has impressed over the past few years in these camps due to his intriguing size and decent hands around the net.

Prior to the pandemic it was something of a ritual for me to play hooky from work for an afternoon and head down to the Harborcenter to see the up-and-comers in the Sabres organization practice and play against one another. It’s incredibly refreshing as a fan of the sport to step out of the July or August heat and walk into a chilled hockey rink during the doldrums of the NHL calendar to get a taste of hockey in the middle of the off-season. Back in 2019, which feels like a different world at this point, I had taken in practice led by then-development coach Matt Ellis, who is now an Assistant Coach with the Sabres, as he put the young players through their paces with cone drills. Murray immediately caught my eye due to his sheer size at 6’5” and 228 pounds.

The 2016 fourth-round pick was fighting for his future as a member of the Sabres organization, and he had a strong enough camp that then-GM Jason Botterill offered him an AHL-only contract to keep him with the club. Fast forward to this tournament and the 23-year-old is still impressing, although that comes with the enormous caveat that he is playing against much younger and smaller competition and he has now played professional hockey for two years, including a two-game stint with the big club last year. Murray potted a net-front goal on the power play during game one on Friday against the Devils and added an assist on a 3-on-1 as he fed JJ Peterka for a cross-ice goal.

Murray’s speed is below NHL-average, but he demonstrates very good body control for a man of his size. On the 3-on-1, Murray broke up a rush going the other way and then easily transitioned the puck from a standstill to lead a counterattack. Will his skating every be good enough to be an NHL regular? It could be if he’s able to use his frame in other ways to make himself a useful power forward who can screen the goalie and provide some size to an awfully small group of Sabres forwards.

Maybe he won't amount to an NHL player. Or maybe he can carve out a role as a depth forward on the big club. Time will tell.

Assorted Musings:

- Linus Weissbach is an incredibly fast player. His performance took me back to a development camp a few years back when former Sabres prospect Cliff Pu put on a dazzling performance with his pure speed but was unable to finish on his opportunities. Weissbach had two full breakaways and a partial break against the Devils on Friday but he couldn’t cash in the chances. That’s not to say that Weissbach will have a similar career arc as Pu, but likewise, it’s always important to keep in mind that generating opportunities in prospect camps is not indicative of future success. Still, it’s a good that the Sabres retained Weissbach’s rights after he left college. Management would look pretty foolish if he turns into a player like Brandon Hagel who is now with the Blackhawks after Jason Botterill elected not to qualify the forward.

- Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was strong in net but was not challenged much on Friday. He had a very nice save on a shorthanded chance at the end of the first period which he turned away with his pad. I happened to catch Marty Biron talking with Andrew Peters on the Instigators on Friday and Biron mentioned that he thinks UPL should be given a real shot to be the Sabres starter this season. I have been pretty consistently in the “play UPL in Rochester” camp, but if Biron thinks he’s ready then perhaps it’s time to rethink that.

- Jack Quinn was not noticeable for the most part on Friday. That does not mean he’s a bust or he’s bad or I’m writing him off, just like I’m not ready to assume Weissbach and Murray are suddenly terrific prospects following strong performances. Quinn was strong on the dot although I didn’t keep exact statistics of his win rate, I saw him win a lot of faceoffs.

- Mattias Samuelsson still looks ready to be an NHLer. He has a big frame, shows very solid poise in the defensive zone and he leveled an absolute monster of a check on Friday. He could easily be a 6/7 defenseman this season and learn on the job. He also looks like he’s about 35 years old out there between the beard and his 6’4” frame. It’s a shame that he’s probably going to Rochester this season because he looks ready for the show.

- Remember when the Sabres went off the board to select Oskari Laaksonen - who was listed at 144 lbs at the time – and everyone was incredibly confused? Laaksonen has definitely grown up since then and although he’s still only listed at 172 pounds and 6’1”, in person he looks pretty large.

- I’m tempted to break my own rule about not overvaluing prospects as it relates to JJ Peterka. The German-born winger has all the tangibles one could hope for in an NHL prospect: shooting, skating, tenacity and a knack for the net are just some of his traits. You know what, I am going to break the rule in this case. JJ Peterka looks like a future NHL player.

- Don Granato, Kevyn Adams and Terry Pegula were on-hand Friday to watch the game. Seth Appert and Michael Peca were among those behind the bench. The training staff did an excellent job diagnosing what looked like a concussion to #48 after he took a nasty jolt to the noggin. He was observed on the bench and then sent to the locker room. It should have been called an illegal check to the head and it was instantly apparent that he wasn’t right.
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