BUFFALO — Connor McDavid will get a chance to show fans in Buffalo what he’s all about… Just not as a member of the Sabres. Not yet, anyway.
The Sabres announced they’ll be hosting an Ontario Hockey League game between McDavid’s Erie Otters and the Niagara Ice Dogs on October 22. McDavid was on hand at First Niagara Center for the announcement along with Otters GM Sherry Bassin as well as coach Kris Knoblauch.
“I’ve been to a couple Sabres games,” McDavid said. “I was here last year and it’s a pretty nice spot. The fans are crazy here – they’re great. I’m really excited to play here with my team.”
McDavid said it’s crossed his mind about what it might be like to play for the Sabres, but said his focus for now is on the season ahead with the Otters.
“Right now it’s all about getting back with the Erie Otters and having a good training camp, preseason, and a good start to the year,” McDavid said. “That’s what it’s all about and you’ve just got to worry about yourself. Then maybe when we get a little closer to the draft and the season’s over I think you start picturing which organization you’ll play with. But right now it’s all about having a good year.”
Both McDavid and Jack Eichel will have a chance to play in Buffalo this year. Eichel will be part of the USA All-American Prospects game in September. You can’t beat having both of the top prospects in next summer’s draft get a chance to see what it’s like to play in Buffalo when the Sabres could wind up with one of the top picks.
Pavel Zacha was this close to making his NHL debut.
Just days prior to opening their season against the Jets, the Devils returned Zacha — the sixth overall pick at this year’s draft — back to his junior club in OHL Sarnia.
The move comes after Zacha, 18, impressed throughout training camp and the preseason. He appeared in four exhibition games for New Jersey, scoring one point while endearing himself to the organizational brass, coaching staff and players.
“He understands the game. He plays with a maturity. It’s crazy to think an 18-year-old coming out of high school is up here and playing with the maturity and understanding of the game with the new system,” Kyle Palmieri told NJ.com. “I think he’s got a lot of raw talent there as a power forward. He’s got the body for it, the puck-handling skills and the nose for the net.”
At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Zacha has the frame and physical stature to play at the NHL level, and looked the part for long stretches of the exhibition season, getting turns on New Jersey’s top line.
The decision to send him back to junior is probably the right one, however.
Zacha only turned 18 in April and has limited experience even at the OHL level; ’14-15 was his first year with Sarnia, though he did appear in 38 Czech League games (for Liberec) the season prior.
There’s another Raffl in the NHL.
On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.
Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.
“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.
With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.
For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.