Find out how the top prospect names from Buffalo, St. Louis, Minnesota and the New York Rangers fared in the mind of our expert at the annual rookie showdown in Michigan.
The annual Traverse City prospects tournament is in the books for another year and this time, Columbus came out on top despite losing 2014 first-rounder Sonny Milano in the first game.
Despite boasting some of the biggest names in the tournament, the Sabres ended up dead-last, losing to the Blues in their final match to go winless overall. Coach Chadd Cassidy believes bad starts doomed the squad and the fairly young group just couldn’t get over the pressure once they got down.
But how did the individuals fare at the tourney? Here are my thoughts on players from the first four teams. Since games were staggered between two rinks, I saw more of some squads than others and the amount of reports reflects that.
Sam Reinhart, C – The second overall pick in 2014 never got on track offensively in Traverse City, failing to score a goal on the week. You could see the smart parts of Reinhart’s game at times and he was pretty good on faceoffs, but he didn’t stand out the way most folks expected.
Rasmus Ristolainen, D – The Finnish world junior hero and fellow high-profile blueliners Jake McCabe and Nikita Zadorov all looked pretty similar. Though all three have had their shining moments on the international stage, the trio couldn’t stanch the bleeding in Traverse City. The Sabres gave up six goals to Carolina and seven to Dallas and goaltending was not the sole reason. I got the impression all three were waiting for the Sabres’ main camp to start; they just weren’t really crisp. Ristolainen showed the most fire.
Vaclav Karabacek, RW – Any time Karabacek got the puck, he seemed to move at double speed. Real fun to watch, he’s got a ton of skill and flash. He can get picked on in scrums, but that’s what brawnier linemates are for.
Brady Austin, D – My most pleasant Buffalo surprise. Austin is a mammoth of a D-man, but he can move pretty well and showed some offensive flair. Ultimately, he’ll be known more for his physicality and defense, but at least he has another dimension to him.
Justin Bailey, RW – I overheard two scouts from another team talking about Bailey and they were impressed. He clearly has a lot of skill and speed, while that 6-foot-4 frame is a great asset. He may need a couple more years of development, but the upside is very high.
Joel Armia, LW – One of the more experienced players here, Armia made that evident. He had some very dangerous rushes and though he didn’t pot one, it was not for lack of effort. Mixed it up in front of the net a lot too.
Brendan Lemieux, LW – I get the impression that Lemieux is a victim of his own creation right now. Openly modelling his agitating game after dad Claude Lemieux, Brendan is always in the middle of things, for better or worse. I can’t see a lot of calls going his way because of that and he can get frustrated. Having said that, there’s a nice defensive element to his game.
Robby Fabbri, C – One of the best players in the tourney. Fabbri was heavily involved in the Blues offense and scored some sizzling goals. He got his nose dirty on the forecheck and with St. Louis protecting a late lead against Buffalo, he played the entire final minute, locking down Sam Reinhart in the process.
Ty Rattie, RW – Rattie didn’t have to come here; the Blues gave him the option and he took it. That’s great to see and he was rewarded with the captaincy. Offensively, Rattie is quite dangerous and looked very confident with the puck. You could tell he had pro games under his belt.
Niklas Lundstrom, G – Lundstrom faced a ton of shots against Buffalo and sparkled. He tracks the puck well and has great reflexes. If he needs to make an acrobatic save, he’ll do it, though he’s usually more controlled. Handles the puck OK, but clearly doesn’t revel in that aspect of the game.
Tommy Vannelli, D – It’s wild that Vannelli is listed at 6-foot-2, 165 pounds, but he does look skinny still. He’s an artist with the puck on his stick and has great escapability on the blueline, though his passing could be crisper.
Ryan Tesink, C – In the loss to Columbus, Tesink got up to a good amount of sneaky stuff, but since he never got whistled for it, I applaud him. He plays an aggressive game and can kill penalties. Could be a nice bottom-sixer.
Justice Dundas, RW – A nice surprise who was here on a tryout, Dundas looks like he could be a great energy player. He’s a banger and crasher and a nightmare to handle on the forecheck.
New York Rangers
Kevin Hayes, C – Expectations were high for Hayes and he was OK. Considering he played wing for the past two seasons at Boston College, I can’t really fault him for being poor on faceoffs, but he got beat a lot nonetheless. Made some unexpectedly solid moves on the forecheck and has the ability to create turnovers. Didn’t break out offensively.
Mat Bodie, D – A free agent signing out of Union College, Bodie still needs to iron out his game. He missed on what would have been a thunderous mid-ice hit against Minnesota and took himself out position in the process. Pretty good with the puck, though. One player from another team watching him play said Bodie looks like he weighs 120 pounds, for what it’s worth (he’s actually 175 and six feet tall).
Anthony Duclair, LW – When Duclair gets going, he can do some fantastic things on the rush. Against Carolina, he had a chance to end the game on a breakaway and made a nice move, only to see the puck roll off his stick.
Matt Dumba, D – With his NHL experience, it was no surprise that Dumba captained Minnesota’s entry. He played with passion and fire, while logging a lot of ice, putting up points and playing a variety of roles.
Christian Folin, D – Did some nice shutdown work on Duclair in the New York game. Folin has an offensive dimension to his game, but mostly stuck to the defensive end here, though he did get some power play time.
Pavel Jenys, RW – I quickly realized that Jenys’ happy place is when he can go darting down the left side of the ice with the puck. A big kid with some great skill, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to North America, as he joins OHL Sudbury this season.
Dylan Labbe, D – Another solid defense prospect for the Wild, Labbe plays a simple game with a physical edge and he also got some second unit power play time. I saw him in the AHL late last season and he looked comfortable.