Skating backward to defend an odd-man rush, Mats Lindgren had Jiri Kulich’s solely passing possibility lined throughout a drill early in the Buffalo Sabres’ morning skate Saturday at LECOM Harborcenter.
All Lindgren may do was watch as Kulich rifled the puck off the cross bar and into the web, offering his teammates and coaches with one other signal that he was able to return from an damage scare that stored him out of the Prospects Challenge opener.
“Oh, so good,” Lindgren mentioned, nonetheless in disbelief from what unfolded on the ice. “He got here down 2-on-1 on me, I believe on the second drill or one thing. Sniped it, bar down. There wasn’t actually something I may do, I suppose.”
Kulich wasn’t finished there. He showcased his mixture of pace, fast palms and a shot that Rochester coach Seth Appert described as “scary” in the course of the Sabers’ 7-4 win over the New Jersey Devils’ prospects Saturday night time.
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Kulich’s tantalizing expertise didn’t trigger the audible gasps that he did all through the event camp. He scored an empty-net objective, added two assists and, though he confirmed some rust from lacking time in camp, there have been flashes of the dynamic talent set that satisfied Sabers administration that he is able to play for the Americans this season.
Ethan Ritchie, Filip Cederqvist, Aleksandr Kisakov, Spencer Sova, Isak Rosen and Matt Savoie additionally scored for the Sabres, who acquired 27 saves from goalie Beck Warm to enhance to 2-0 on the prospects match.
Kulich, 18, was noticeable all through the sport. Centering a line with Lukas Rousek on the left wing and Isak Rosen on the precise aspect, Kulich skated round defenders and confirmed poise with the puck. But it is his play with out the puck that may assist him with the transition to professional hockey in North America. Kulich is ferocious on the forecheck and works tirelessly to regain possession. He helped the Sabers on the penalty kill in the third interval Saturday.
“He’s a dynamic participant,” mentioned Appert, who’s main the Sabers on the Prospects Challenge. “He’s a objective scorer that is not only a objective scorer, proper? You noticed that on the World Juniors as a double underneath age that he is additionally a forechecker. He’s the man that hunts pucks, comes up with puck battles, takes pucks to onerous areas.
“He’s constructed in another way than most 18-year-olds, so we consider he’s prepared for the problem in the American Hockey League, or no matter else it is likely to be. But we consider in what we’re making an attempt to do from a developmental course of. Nobody is extra invested in their improvement than we’re, so when we have now proficient younger gamers like him, Rosen and Kisakov, we would reasonably be those growing them than trusting that to someone else who’s not affiliated with our group.”
Twice, Sabers General Manager Kevyn Adams tried to commerce up in the first spherical to pick Kulich, beginning with decide No. 17. A deal did not materialize, although, forcing Adams and his hockey operations employees to take a seat and hope that the Czech heart could be accessible when Buffalo was on the clock once more that night time in Montreal.
To the shock of those that watched Kulich on the IIHF Under-18 World Championship, Kulich fell all the way in which to the Sabers at 28 general. Appert is aware of as nicely, or higher, than anybody tips on how to correctly consider a participant’s efficiency on the match. He was a part of Team USA’s teaching employees at two Under-18s, together with as its head coach in 2018. Appert was “blown away” by Kulich’s efficiency.
As captain of Czechia, Kulich was named match MVP after main all gamers in objectives (9) and factors (11) throughout six video games.
“Quite frankly, I used to be shocked he fell to the place he fell,” Appert added. “And then felt much more that means on the improvement camp. Most objective scorers at that younger age do not play very onerous. That’s the truth. They simply do not. They do not know tips on how to work. They do not know tips on how to go forecheck, be accountable defensively, as a result of they have been one of the best gamers on their groups their complete life they usually rating so many objectives that they are allowed to get away with issues. He has a piece ethic, and a so-called B recreation about him. That additionally provides us numerous confidence about bringing him over right here this 12 months, that he will not be overwhelmed.”
Kulich is totally different, although. He proved once more final month on the IIHF World Junior Championship, which options the highest Under-18 gamers in the world, that he can win puck battles and earn house in the offensive zone in opposition to older, stronger competitors. His eight factors in seven video games had been tied with Canadiens prospect Jan Mysak, 20, for the group lead.
Still uncertain the place he’ll play this season, Kulich advised reporters that his focus is on enhancing “day-after-day” to attempt to attain the NHL. “Yeah, that is my objective,” he mentioned. Kulich, not like most prospects of his age, seems to have the required energy. Listed at 6-foot, 170 kilos, he performed 57 professional video games in the Czech Republic. His adjustment will probably be like that of JJ Peterka, who skilled some challenges with the Americans final season, however by means of improved protection, he scored 25 video games from January 1 till the tip of the season.
“When he will get the puck loads, gamers that we’re speaking about are particular with the puck,” mentioned Appert. “But it is how good they are often at getting it again that basically begins to ignite their offensive recreation.”
Here are different observations from the sport:
Lukas Rousek appears to be like just like the early favourite to stay across the NHL coaching camp longer than anticipated. Again, Rousek, 23, was a drive on the puck beneath the hashmarks and his passes to the blue line despatched the Devils right into a scramble, together with on Ritchie’s tying objective in the first interval.
Nerves are inevitable for prospects in this occasion. They’re making an attempt to make a powerful impression, and, in Kisakov’s case, this occasion is his introduction to the tempo of the NHL. The 18-year-old winger appeared rather more comfy on the ice, significantly when he bolted down the left wing to separate from defenseman Reilly Walsh and beat goalie Nico Daws with a wrist shot to the far submit to make it 3-1.
And Savoie lastly broke by means of offensively when he scored an necessary insurance coverage objective to provide the Sabers a 6-4 lead with 6:54 remaining in regulation.
Oskari Laaksonen pushed again in the first interval when the Devils crashed the web after the whistle. It will need to have been a welcome sight for Rochester’s teaching employees, which has pushed Laaksonen to be extra bodily engaged in the defensive zone.
Laaksonen should present administration this season that his improvement is trending upward. A 3rd-round decide in 2017, Laaksonen has 51 factors in 99 regular-season video games with Rochester, however he was a wholesome scratch for a lot of the playoffs due to his defensive habits.
“He is aware of that it is a large season. He’s actually purchased in,” mentioned Rochester assistant coach Mike Weber. “And clearly, final 12 months’s final 12 months. That’s type of what the message has been. And you’ve a chance when seasons finish to go and actually work on your self, discover that psychological toughness, work in your energy and your pace and your agility – all these issues – and are available into camp and a brand-new season.”
With winger Josh Bloom (higher physique) unavailable, Lake View native Declan McDonnell was drawn into the Sabres’ lineup and skated at left wing subsequent to Nolan Burke and Emmett Sproule. McDonnell, 20, additionally skated with the membership in improvement camp. He went unsigned by Tampa Bay after his choice in the seventh spherical of the 2020 draft, regardless of his distinctive play in the Ontario Hockey League.
The Prospects Challenge continues Sunday with the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens dealing with one another at Noon in LECOM Harborcenter. The Sabers are scheduled to apply at 10:45 am