5 Observations: Sabres open training camp

Posted at 11:47 AM, Sep 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-14 11:47:01-04

Happy hockey season! On Thursday, the Buffalo Sabres reported to KeyBank Center for the first day of training camp. The team won't hit the ice as a group until Friday morning. However, we had a chance to speak with a few players and new head coach Phil Housley as they get ready for the 2017-2018 season.

Five observations from Thursday:

Eichel ready to dominate 

Jack Eichel thinks that he has been a mediocre hockey player during his first two seasons with the Sabres. 

"I think I have a lot to prove," Eichel told reporters. "Actually I think I've proven nothing. It's a huge year for me personally and as a team." 

Eichel says he needs to show that he can be a leader on and off the ice, making plays in big situations and helping lead the Sabres to their first playoff appearance in six years. 

Not surprisingly, Eichel was asked about his contract negotiations that have been a topic of conversation for Sabres fans all summer. The Sabres 20-year-old forward has one year remaining on his entry-level deal before he becomes a restricted free agent after this season. 

"For me, it's more along the lines of being prepared every day to be the best player I can be and try to help this team be a better team, and be a good teammate in the locker room," Eichel added. "Like I said, If you do that, I think the contract takes care of itself, whether it's today, tomorrow, a month, eight months, who knows, it's not really something I'm worried about right now."

According to Darren Dreger of TSN, Eichel and his representatives plan to continue talks with the Sabres this week. Dreger adds that the two sides are comfortable starting the year without a new deal in place. 


Phil Housley spoke with the reporters for one of the first times since he was hired earlier in the summer. He was asked about his team, the style of play he wants to implement and expectations this season. Of all the things he said, this response stood out the most. 

"We've talked about playing aggressive offensively but we need to talk about playing aggressive defensively. I think defense gives you a chance to win every night. They [players] will understand but we want to be fast and aggressive. The days are gone when a guy makes a breakout pass and the defense just watches the rush go up in the play. They have to get up in the play, not only to maybe join the rush and add to the attack but to be in the offensive zone, being able to keep pucks in or else you're going to start playing defense. But when the puck gets turned over our mindset and our back pressure is going to be aggressive. We're going to try and take time and space away so teams can't make plays. That requires playing without the puck. We've got to be accountable that we're just not going to think offense. I'm not saying playing wreckless hockey because you have to take what's given but when we're playing defense we want to be aggressive in that area too and that's one of the things that come when you talk about aggressive style."


That response should be music to Sabres fans ears. Last year the Sabres blue line was abysmal. With a revamped group and a defensive specialist now calling the shots, we should see plenty of improvements to what was believed by many to be the worst unit in the league. 

Housley had a lot to say. You can listen to his full comments (along with Eichel's) above. 

Okposo grateful to be back, thanks the fans 

In his short time in Western New York Kyle Okposo has become a fan favorite. As last season came to an end the first year Sabre was hospitalized and spent time in the neurosurgical ICU after dealing with reported complications from a concussion. At the time, Okposo said he was focused on his health but realized that his hockey future was in question. 

"There were times when things weren't going well and that I definitely thought "you know, I might not play again," Okposo said Thursday morning. "I'm happy to say that those thoughts are out the window now and I feel confident and I'm 100-percent good to go."

In 65 games with the Sabres last season, Okposo scored 19 goals and added 26 assists (45 points). Up until his first injury, Okposo was putting up solid numbers after signing a contract keeping him in Buffalo until the conclusion of the 2022-2023 season.

This year, Okposo will need to replicate the start he had to last year if the Sabres are going to have success. More likely than not, Okposo will be on the Sabres' first or second line, playing alongside Ryan O'Reilly. 

"We can all be better," Okposo said. "We can cut that learning curve down significantly if everyone really buys in and if we have some maturity to our game." 

Know Your Role

"If everybody plays their role to the best of their ability, that's what good teams do," 

Can you smell what Evander Kane is cooking? 

Kane kept things lighthearted when talking with reporters about the upcoming season. After this year, Kane will become an unrestricted free agent and can sign wherever he'd like. Unless he signs a contract extension before the deadline, this year will likely be filled with trade rumors involving Kane, but that's nothing new. 

"You know, I'm not one to talk about what I think about management and business decision type issues," Kane said with a smile. "I'm happy to be back. I knew I was going to get the reaction that I got.  It was definitely on purpose. Sometimes I guess common sense doesn't always fall into the minds of a lot of people, so I think I kept that going for over a week, so that was fun." 

Lehner doesn't mince words

Former Sabres GM Tim Murray traded a first round pick for goaltender Robin Lehner in 2015. Fast forward to 2017. Murray is gone and Jason Botterill has taken over, but don't think that has Lehner worried about his job. 

"Everyone needs to prove themselves year in and year out, but I'm done coming in and trying to impress people," Lehner told reporters. "I am who I am and I know what I can do when I'm healthy and I know if we put this team together and everyone plays to their capabilities I think we can have a good season and good future here." 

Despite the trolls on Twitter, I think Lehner is coming off a very solid season. It seemed like every night he faced an absurd amount of shots and more often than not, gave the Sabres a chance to win.

But the shootouts!

Okay, yes, Lehner was terrible in shootouts. That said, I think that was a mental problem that he can overcome this season. It's like a hitter who is in a slump or a free-throw shooter that can't make his shots from the line at the end of the game. 

In the offseason, Lehner and the Sabres agreed to a one-year deal worth $4 million. Like last year, Lehner will be a restricted free agent after the season. I'm expecting Lehner to have another nice season, especially with a revamped group of defensemen playing in front of him. 

The Sabres have their first practice tomorrow morning at HARBORCENTER. Practices are open to the public.