"Positive vibes" and “enthusiasm” were not words fans associated with the last-place Buffalo Sabres last season. But for the hundreds who attended the team's summer development camp at HarborCenter this week, the wide belief is that better days are ahead.
More than 40 of the team's young prospects hit the ice, some with NHL experience and others new to the team. All eyes were on Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, the first overall pick in last week's NHL Draft.
Fans were pleased with what they saw, often oohing and aahing anytime Dahlin showed off his prodigious skills.
"It’s nice to see the Sabres draft some younger guys and put a little enthusiasm back in the community," said Greg Gonter, a season ticket holder for 15 years. "It’s been kind of a negative feeling around here for the last three or four years and now I think there’s a positive vibe to the way things are going.”
Gonter is one of many whose hope for the future hinges largely on Dahlin. The 18-year-old Swede, considered by many to be a generational talent, did not disappoint.
“Dahlin reminds me of the old-time Sabres with [Gilbert] Perreault and René Robert and [Phil] Housley,” Gonter said. “He’s got some speed stick handling and he seems to be confident in what he’s going to do.”
Other fans, like, Rocco Strangio, were similarly impressed.
“He’s going to be a great player,” Strangio said.
“Dahlin’s impressive. He’s got a lot of foot speed, a real quick shot, impressive to watch for sure,” added another fan, Chris Frankino.
Tanyon Aquila and Nicholas Revay, both defenseman for Buffalo Junior Sabres, watched Dahlin in awe. They were also impressed by Minnesota State defenseman Connor Mackey.
“They’re good. The one scored by Mackey between the legs, that was pretty dirty,” Aquila said.
“That was nice,” Revay added.
Several spectators pointed to Victor Olofsson, another Swedish player who was drafted in the 7th round.
“Victor Olofsson, 61, is really impressive. He’s got real quick foot speed, real quick release. It looks like he’s got a good chance to make the NHL,” Frankino said.
The camp wraps up Saturday with the French Connection tournament. Though not open to the public — tickets were distributed exclusively to season ticket holders — the game will be live-streamed on Sabres.com and on the team's Facebook page.