After Prospects Challenge, battle for roster spots begins for Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – After a rough start to the Prospects Challenge, General Manager Jason Botterill liked how the Sabres finished the tournament.

The leaders of the group — Justin Bailey, Hudson Fasching, Nick Baptiste and Brendan Guhle — all stepped up over the final two games against New Jersey and Boston.

Now the focus for those four shifts to training camp and potentially earning a roster spot with the Blue & Gold.

“You get to a main camp there is going to competition for spots,” Botterill told reporters on Monday.  “That’s what we’re trying to create here, competition throughout the lineup. What I’m excited about starting camp is getting our veteran players back in the mix here.

“We’ve talked a lot with (Head Coach) Phil (Housley). Phil’s very open to giving young players opportunity right out of training camp and seeing how they mix in with our veteran players. We’ll see how things progress the next couple of weeks.”

Guhle and Bailey might be the two most intriguing players heading into fall camp.

Guhle, who finished the prospects challenge with back-to-back multi-point games, has established himself as a puck moving defenseman and will be competing for a job on a rebuilt, improved blueline.  In three games with Buffalo at the end of last season Guhle didn’t register a point but with the club’s AHL affiliate in Rochester he netted two points (1G, 1A) in six games.

“You’re always going to give young players opportunities. We’re ecstatic to have Brendan in our organization,” Botterill said. “Just what he can bring to the game and with how the game is being played right now. The success of some teams right now — Chicago, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay Nashville — speed is a huge attribute out there. The way Phil wants to play meshes with how Brendan plays.

“Whether he’s in Rochester or whether he’s in Buffalo, we feel like we’ve brought in a lot of good people into the organization on the coaching staff that can help guys not only like himself, but NHLers like Ristolainen and (Jake) McCabe, we feel like a lot of these guys we’ve brought in can certainly help these defenseman achieve another level.”

Of all the players battling for a spot, Bailey has the most NHL time seeing action in 40 games.

“For me I have that NHL experience, I’m happy to have it. Those are games I have on those guys,” Bailey told reporters following Monday’s 5-3 loss to Boston. “Until I’ve established myself, it’s going to be the same thing every summer coming in here and earning a job.”

The forward added he didn’t use the three day event to get ready for camp but is hoping to use it as a spring board heading into training camp which begins on Friday.

The former assistant general manager of the Penguins, Botterill knows all about finding opportunities for young players.  Jake Guentzel earned time on the Pens’ top line with Sidney Crosby while Matt Murray emerged a solid goaltender and help lead Pittsburgh to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles.

“Phil’s very open to giving young players opportunity right out of training camp and see how they mix in with our veteran players,” Botterill said.
“We’ll see how things progress the next couple of weeks.”

The Sabres first preseason game is Monday, Sept. 18 against Carolina.

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