Author Archives: chrisdierken

Jason Botterill media availability (10/22/19)

October 22, 2019

Jason Botterill

Media availability (10:30 a.m.)

Jason Botterill: I think our players have been very open to receiving that message. They’ve certainly put the time in during the summer to be prepared. I think the things we challenged them on last spring, they took it to heart. What I liked about the western road trip was our response after a loss. It wasn’t the prettiest game against L.A., but I thought Carter [Hutton] played outstanding, and I thought we came back with a strong effort afterwards. Through the course of the next couple months here, we know we’re going to face adversity, it’s how we handle it. Right now we’re feeling very good about our game.

What’s the impact of coaching here? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: I think it’s a combination. I think certainly Ralph’s brought in, like I said, a clear message and has done a great job of communicating with our group at times one-on-one, at times in groups of three or five. But I also think our players, like I said, have been very open to it and they’ve been engaged with him since day one. You look at whether it’s our veteran players with our goaltender Carter Hutton or a player like Marcus Johansson coming into our group or young players such as [Rasmus] Dahlin or [Casey] Mittelstadt, they’re engaging with our coaching staff. It’s the start of the season. Although our record is our record, there’s a lot of mistakes all over the place out there. The fact that we had that dialogue, had that communication to rectify those I think is good. I think the focus right now continues to be, hey, how are we getting better each day as a team?

Do you think this group is better equipped to handle the adversity given an extra year of experience for a lot of guys even like Jack [Eichel] and the new faces, whether it be Marcus [Johansson] or Colin Miller? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

JB: Look, over the course of 82 games you’re going to have adversity, 100 percent. I think our younger players are certainly more prepared for it because of going through it. A player like Rasmus Dahlin or Casey Mittelstadt, you can talk to them about the NHL grind and what it is and how the level of intensity increases in the second half of the season and what you have to do to have success. But until you go through that entire process, you truly don’t know. And I think our veteran players who’ve been around for four or five years saw last year certainly what equates to success but then how if you lose those things and you lose details in your game, how that success can go away. And then the players that we’ve tried to bring in I think have been a really calming influence so far. I think the players that have been through playoff series and have had success have a calmness to them and they’ve certainly shown that. What we’ve tried to do, we’ve brought it up before, is the course of over 82 games we’re going to need everyone. We’re going to need more depth. We’ve tried to add that to our group here, and hopefully that allows us to prepare and get through adverse situations. And I think you saw that on the road trip there that we had scoring from a lot of different lines. Carter Hutton obviously had the great game. We had good goaltending, but I thought our entire team contributed on the road trip.

Is there any fear that Zach Bogosian may not play this season? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

JB: In my mind there’s zero fear from that standpoint. He’s back skating here right now. Very excited for where Zach is, and look, going over the type of procedure he had, it was a serious procedure. Zach is, he’s a powerful individual, so you want him to come back. It’s difficult for him right now because he wants to be back, especially once you get into games as a player, that energy, you want to get back out there, be a part of the group. But it’s also imperative for him, for not only for us this year, but for his career long term that we get this right. But from our standpoint, the fact that he’s back skating here right now is a good sign. I’m looking forward to it.

How good a problem do you have on defense and how difficult is it going to be when [Brandon] Montour is ready to play to decide what you’re going to do? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: It’s a great problem that hopefully we have. Because there was talk a lot, I think, during the summer, ‘We have too many defensemen.’ You saw before games even started we ran into injury issues. I think as an organization we’re ecstatic about going over to Sweden. I think with so many Europeans on our team, the opportunity to compete in front of family and friends over there. Just being in that sort of environment for the league, and we’re very excited about it, but it really condenses our schedule when we come back and that’s where we’re going to need all these defensemen. But we’re happy the step that some of our defensemen have taken and especially I think Henri [Jokiharju] on the back end has come in and played even beyond our expectations so far.

Is there a sign, I know we’re only nine games in, of something that Ralph’s done where you can say, ‘You know what, last year that would’ve been different,’ or, ‘This guy’s playing somewhat differently,’ or, ‘He’s reacting differently’? Have you seen any kind of signs so far? (Michael Traikos – National Post)

JB: I think it’s just, look, when we do face adversity, you look at a game such as the L.A. game that wasn’t going the way we wanted it to, but we found a way to win the game. You look at in San Jose, the excitement of grabbing the 3-2 lead, they come back right away to score and make it 3-3. But then there’s not panic within our team. There’s a calmness about, ‘Hey, this is what we have to do to have success here.’ I even look back the previous game to, or a couple games last week, against Florida. I thought in the third period our game was all over the place, but then yeah they did score the goal in the last minute that we have to work on in a 6-on-5 situation, but I thought from about the eight-minute mark to right up to the last minute there, we did get back to our game and started playing with some structure in the defensive zone, playing the way we have to to protect a lead from that standpoint. Those types of things, I think, one, it’s a clear message, like I said, from Ralph, and it’s also our players understanding they have to play as a unit to have success.

And they trust whatever system they’re playing? Like you said, no panic? (Michael Traikos – National Post)

JB: Right now I think that there’s certainly trust from our player standpoint with their coaches. I think there’s dialogue on what works up there and that’s what’s been good. And it’s not only just Ralph. We’ve faced some adversity on our coaching staff with what’s happened with Donny Granato and with Chris Taylor coming back up there. The interacting with our assistant coaches with our players right now is something that we’re excited about from a development standpoint.

How much of a factor is having a positive attitude around the room? Because Ralph, no matter what, is always playing it forward in a positive way. How much of a factor is that for these guys because it has been very negative over the years? (Joe Yerdon – The Athletic)

JB: I think he’s certainly, and I think Ralph will tell you too, he brings a positive attitude and excitement. I think you can see he certainly loves his job right now and he loves being back behind the bench. But he’s also very truthful with these guys. And when things aren’t going the right way or when he sees something in practice or in the game that’s not being done to our standards, he’s going to correct it. And I think that, just that way he’s communicating with the players has gone over very well with the players and it’s been a good relationship for them. But, as a whole, yeah, it’s been a positive start. We were very excited about our home opener, just having the captains back, having the excitement in the building and now it’s up to us to keep that going.

You were furious two years ago when you only won 11 games [at home]. You could go 5-0 tonight. How significant is it to this team and Ralph is taking to having this as a tough building to play in? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: Well look, it’s something that Ralph has talked a lot about, about look, the results aren’t always going to be there, but the effort has to be there. I must say, I enjoyed our Kids Game against Dallas a little bit more last Monday and I thought that was a great game of just our entire team playing well. But this league is so difficult and especially, as we talked about, their schedule what’s going to happen when we come back from Europe there, we have to have an opportunity to capitalize and win our games at home. And I know our players feed off the energy from our fans and hopefully we’ll continue to give them that same effort.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (10/14/19)

October 14, 2019

Ralph Krueger

Howard and Jeremy (9 a.m.) (13:58)

Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, welcome to the show.

Ralph Krueger: Yes, good morning. Happy Columbus Day to Buffalo and to your listeners.

HS: So listen, I saw you guys had a day off on Saturday. I saw a little clip yesterday, apparently you said you spent the day shopping and going to a movie. What movie did we see on Saturday on our day off?

RK: I went to go see Judy with Reese Witherspoon. Quite amazing, the acting performance and also the storyline on really the tragedy around Judy Garland’s life. My wife and I enjoyed it. It should be an Academy Award.

Jeremy White: Did you get popcorn?

RK: [laughs] We didn’t originally and then sitting watching the pre-show, my wife goes, ‘Ah, come on.’ So we had some popcorn, yeah.

HS: So, your hockey team has at least a point in each of its first five games. In general, at this point, how do you think they’re playing right now?

RK: The character has been outstanding. It’s a big ask what we’ve been through in training camp on the tactical side and the principles and values that we’re driving for as a team are definitely based on you needing to work hard and to work for your teammates and we’re seeing a lot of that. We’re pleased, but we’re keeping the picture small. We had a goal this year to try and improve every single day and I take it one day at a time and this is what we continue to do, but from a coaching perspective we’re extremely pleased with the way the group is attempting to perform. We still have a lot of growth in us, which is also very exciting.

HS: When it comes to learning every day, Ralph, you probably have a list of things you’d like the team to get better at, a number of different things. How do go about, do you have a point of emphasis or two this week at one practice and then a different one another, how do you go about going down a checklist of a multitude of items to get better at and not throw too much at them at one time?

RK: Well, usually more on the non-gamedays, so yesterday would have been a day of learning and teaching. Maybe the last one before that was six days before where we really looked deep at some things that we’re doing. Gamedays we like to leave the minds free, concentrate on what we need to do, introduce the opposition in different aspects, but it’s more on the non-gamedays. As an example, on a trip like this to California where we are going to be packing bags and moving around in three games in four days, we’ll keep it simple and trust their instincts as they grow and develop. It’s very important to manage the energy in the National Hockey League season with the pace that we’re on and we’re trying to do our best with that as coaches.

HS: Last couple games your team has not been able to hold onto two-goal leads in the third period. Do you feel that the team was sitting back too much? Do you think there is a certain, I don’t want to say lack of killer instinct, but do you think they needed to attack more with the lead in the third period?

RK: No, not at all. We’re definitely continuing to play on our toes. There’s no mandate to sit back ever. In this league, there is no lead that’s safe. The strength of the opposition’s forwards and the way the D are involved, you’re seeing this on a nightly basis in the NHL, which makes it quite exciting. Now, we definitely aren’t happy with giving up two-goal leads and we’re going to get better with that and manage it in a more responsible way. Of course we were pleased the team dug out the two points in the end, but not pleased with giving up leads. But the mandate to stay on our toes and play forward and to attack is definitely there and the players did try to do that. We had chances in both of those games to extend the lead where we missed, we came up against some very good goaltending, as others are doing with us. That’s the nature of the beast right now. Everybody’s really playing a very attractive style, it’s an open league, lots of goals being scored, I think it’s what the fans want, and if we can end up on the two-point side of that more often as we have, we have to remain humble and happy.

JW: It seems like you’re kind of leaning toward experience and older players later in games in those two spots. Whether it’s Victor Olofsson off of a line late in the third periods or Rasmus Dahlin on Friday was a big story after the game, lot of people asking, wondering about Dahlin being on the bench for eight minutes-plus in that third period.

RK: There’s absolutely nothing against those players in those situations. It’s a compliment to other players we have and to the depth of the team. We’ve got different roles within our lineup, players that are going to carry the penalty kill or going to work in closing games out for us. If we need goals, others will carry the ball and that’s what a team is made of is different strengths and different roles and different characters. The focus on what isn’t often leaves out the conversation of what is. And what is we have a very strong, we have a lot of depth in our lineup and we have a lot of players that are specialized in different skill sets. As much as goal-scoring is a skill set, killing penalties, blocking shots, finishing hits — those are important skill sets in a good team and I think it’s also an education of our fan base and of the public to understand that that will change the ice time depending on the score. Rasmus is learning and growing every day. He is very coachable player, we love what he’s doing on and off the ice. There’s nothing but excitement about his future here.

JW: Ralph, it would be interesting to hear your feeling, as you mentioned, shot blocking, shot blocking is one thing in that the last however many years in the NHL, people kind of given a thumbs up and also a thumbs down. If you’re blocking shots, it’s good to block a shot, but if you’re blocking a lot of shots it means you’re on the ice when the other team has the puck and is shooting it. With regard to that, the give and take of what that actually means, the ability to block a shot is important, but late in a game, would you not want your defense to not be blocking so many because you’d be carrying play in the other end?

RK: Well there’s no question that once the goalie’s out of the other team, you’re killing a penalty, because you’re playing 5-on-6 as an example. There it’s really important to be able to understand the patience that’s needed. For instance, in the last game, we just tried too hard. The guys battled like crazy and it was a little bit chaotic and there was a couple of broken plays and broken sticks and so on. But you need to stay in the lanes whenever you are killing penalties or you’re shorthanded. It’s really important to have that courage and especially up high, getting into the lanes. Everything coming from up high, nowadays it has a danger to it, it creates second chances in front of the net, it creates chaos that we’re trying to avoid in our end. You know, I think all through the league that’s definitely a skill set. We do attack more in our end than some teams sag right down back and rely completely on the shot blocking, where as we do expand and attack when we can. It depends on the situation, really.

JW: I’ve noticed much of the attacking on the kill this year as compared to previous years for the Sabres. With regard to Rasmus Dahlin, last year, his rookie year, he impresses a lot of people, this year — year two — maybe, myself included, we kind of expected him to just take off. When it comes to player development with him, are you very much keenly aware of the idea that he’s so young, that you’re still building a lot of what it is that he’s going to become?

RK: Look at Rasmus Dahlin at 19 and Henri Jokiharju at 20, the potential within both of those is so exciting. With Rasmus, players of that skill set are playing with the puck all the time when they’re young. They’re so strong and so powerful, it’s learning the complete game is what’s happened to every great defenseman in the National Hockey League as they mature. Again, I can only say that we are so thrilled with the foundation of what he is and who he is as a person and it takes time. It’s easier to come into the league as a high-end offensively skilled forward because the responsibility without the puck isn’t as large as it is when you play defense, especially in a league that plays with six defensemen all the time. You know, very rarely, Tampa plays with seven once in a while. Defensemen need to be all encompassing, they need to play with the puck, without the puck. It’s, again, something that we just need to be patient before a player with that skill set is complete. It just takes time and everything is on the right track for sure.

HS: With Rasmus and I guess with Jokiharju as well, Ralph, when you have that type of young player with those offensive skills, what is the message you give them? How do you balance the line between I want you to be creative, I want you to be aggressive, but you don’t necessarily want to go 1-on-3 in the neutral zone, turn the puck over, you want to be smart too — how do you get that message across to those young guys? You don’t want to stifle their creativity, but you know, they have to be smart too.

RK: Those are just team rules. That doesn’t apply to one player, that applies to our most experienced player or our youngest player. We just have a lot of team concepts and principles that we’re trying to turn into habits. It’s going to take time. We’re working hard at it, and the players are really, really all-in here. We’re having pleasure working with the group and whether it’s Rasmus or whether it’s Sobotka, it doesn’t matter. Everybody’s trying to get in line with what gives us a chance to be the best team we can be on a daily basis and what gives us a chance to win every night and being responsible with the puck is definitely one of the — the puck management is one of the most important things in a league where every team has so many lethal players. You need to understand where the risks are worth taking and where not.

HS: One last thing I want to ask you, Ralph, about Casey Mittelstadt, got a nice shootout goal the other day. What are you seeing from him so far? Again, I know it’s really early, but you’ve talked about the stress on centers in your system with your principles. He’s still going through that growth process in the NHL, what’s your evaluation that you’re seeing so far from Casey?

RK: Well, Casey is also a player who’s evolving his game. We have a fundamental skill set in him that’s unique and it’s really exciting. He’s got so much potential and, again, an excellent character, very hardworking and just developing everyday. Every day there’s something new and something good going on with Casey Mittelstadt and the coaches are all doing their bit to help him to develop and to help him grow. He’s somebody we can be really excited about. You know, the way he hadn’t played for a while in the last game and stepped into the overtime and created more chances, actually, than anybody else and then quite coolly sunk the third penalty shot goal for the win is just a sign of the top-end of Casey and just like a player that we just spoken about, like Rasmus, there’s a game away from the puck, there’s a pressure coming from the top lines of the other team that pushes you back into your own end that you have to learn to deal with and have to learn to manage and it’s that side of the puck that’s why we have coaches, why we have jobs, I guess, the skill on the offense is more difficult to teach than the game away from the puck. We’re so pleased that he has that foundation and what makes the exciting future he has.

HS: Well thanks again for the time, Ralph, appreciate you coming on a little bit earlier this week with the trip coming up. Good luck against the Dallas Stars, good luck out west and we’ll talk to you next week.

RK: Thanks, and I wish everyone a wonderful Columbus Day.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (10/9/19)

October 9, 2019

Ralph Krueger

Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m.) (13:15)

Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning. How are you today, sir?

Ralph Krueger: I’m very good, thank you. Good morning to you Howard and Jeremy and to all your listeners.

HS: I wanted to start off our conversation with something you talked about yesterday. The process that you’re in, this deep process of, you know, the players learning your principles and all the teaching you guys are doing. I don’t mean for you to tell me, “Yeah Howard, by game 16 it’ll be in place.” But what is that process like? How involved in that and how are they coming along as you observe it as the head coach of this team?

RK: Well we really went through training camp in a heavy teaching process where we were splitting sessions in half so we could teach between, after 30 minutes, go back on the ice, and now we’re just deep in the core principles and the concepts. Every game is an opportunity for us to learn from, and we’ll be doing that right through the season. As a coach, you don’t really know exactly which direction the group’s going to need direction in or where we can improve on. It’s just been so much fun working with the guys because of their involvement and their interest to actually learn and grow. Yesterday we did some very good sessions where we could take things out of the Columbus game that should make us a better team tonight. That process, to tell you the truth, will probably never end because we’re always going to be looking for improvement. That’s our motto right now, ‘keep the picture small.’ Get ready for Montreal today and think of nothing else but trying to be better tonight than we were last game.

HS: How does the process work when you’re in a pretty hectic part of the schedule – I think it’s 13 games in the first 26 days. With that much activity in terms of games, maybe is it tougher to work on all these things in practice when you’re playing basically every other day?

RK: We’re doing most of the learning off of the ice. It’s video sessions that are quick and short and to the point. We have footage now that we can use and discuss, and we’re making sure the players have a voice in the process so we can understand what they’re thinking and how they’re processing everything. They’re used to the way we’re doing it. The practices are short and sweet. Yesterday we had 30 minutes, and we will be leaving out the pregame skate today to gather energy because of the three in six we have at home now. We want to keep our energy high for what the games will demand. It’s more off the ice really, Howard, that we are doing our work right now.

HS: In terms of teaching this team and all the things you’re going through, one of the things I was curious about you said ‘dialogue,’ ‘an open dialogue.’ The players can certainly ask you a question about a principle you’re teaching, but do they come up with suggestions? And if they do, do you listen to them as a coaching staff? Like, ‘Hey, that’s a good idea. Let’s try this.’

RK: Well more than anything, they’ve really bought into what we are, as coaches, working on and the way we want to go. The players are all in on that. And that hasn’t really been negotiable. It’s been something, through all the conversations in the summer with the players, I was able to feel what the good things were in the past to take with and where the opportunity was. So we had those conversations and that dialogue in the summer before we set the direction. All I can say is the players have been all in. Where you’re going to end up with more individual skills and conversations would be in conversations, especially around the power play. We have so much skill there and we’re working together. It’s a little more strategic as far as tactically you can make adjustments game to game and within the five-man unit what you can do. In the five-on-five game it’s really only about getting it right and trying to be consistent, which we lost a little bit of that in the first period against Columbus. We found our way again through the game and were able to dig a point out, which I was happy to see that. We’re still far from the finished product which is also exciting from a coaching viewpoint.

HS: A year ago this time, of course you weren’t here, we were going through the excitement of getting to watch Rasmus Dahlin in year one as a Buffalo Sabre. Again, since you just got here this season, in a limited amount of time going back to the preseason, through the practices, through the games, through the first three games, what are some of the things you’ve learned about Dahlin and his skill set now that you’ve been around him on a regular basis?

RK: Well first of all, like so many of the players, it’s been exciting to get to know them as people and as Buffalo Sabres. We have done an excellent job in recruiting good people, so that’s number one. He’s very coachable and the skills that lie within him and the potential of him is exciting for all of us. We see the offensive ability that’s there. He will be, with his deception, somebody who will continually excite. It’s also what he’s working on away from the puck and how he wants to participate in our team concept on the defense and how we need to keep the chances to a minimum to have a chance to win every night. We’re excited about how hard he’s working there. For the fans, they love to see the puck time on a Rasmus, that’s why we’re here as coaches to work on that time when we don’t have the puck and how can get it back. On both sides he’s been just a pleasure to work with. What an exciting future he has.

Jeremy White: [Dahlin’s] also got pretty big games coming up. The return to Sweden, I would imagine, he would be really excited for that, for the Global Series coming up.

RK: Yeah, we have five Swedes in our lineup and they’re all really excited about our two games against Tamp Bay at the beginning of November. We haven’t spoken about it that much because, as I’ve already mentioned, I don’t want to repeat it too often, but we’re trying to keep everything really really tight and small and just take care of today, whatever it’s asking. Sweden is hanging in the air. We had organizational and management meetings about that for a few hours yesterday. Jason Botterill called us all together. That’s going to be a wonderful trip, and any Sabres fans that can participate in that or experience Stockholm that time of year against Tamp Bay. Our Swedes, especially, will certainly be flying. Lots of tickets needed there.

JW: Having spent a lot of time internationally, Ralph, with regard to American sports fans have watched the NFL go abroad for a little bit, Mexico City, London, the NBA embroiled in the China thing currently. We’ve seen American sports kind of go outside of the continental U.S. When it comes to the NHL and its reception over there, what have you seen or what do you know about it? How much it means to whether it’s Swedish fans or Germany, the Sabres played in Germany a couple years back. We’ve just seen on and on the leagues continue to seem to want to do this. How much does it mean to people of those countries when the NHL comes in?

RK: It’s like the World Cup of Hockey, World Cup of Football, if you look at how fans look up to that, or the European Championships. The NHL in Europe at any time is the maximum for a hockey fan. They all plan their trips over here to see teams play. The NHL’s followed on a daily basis by all hockey fans in Europe. During the international break, all the leagues break in that exact weekend when we’re there. We will be the spotlight of all of European hockey on the television over there, and/or the people that can come live. It’s a very big event. And again, it’s Super Bowl-like for the actual hockey fans that are able to be a part of it.

HS: I’m trying to help you out here Ralph, for the first game in Sweden, to start an all-Swedish unit, but that means one of your forwards has to be on defense, right?

RK: Yeah, we would need to do that. We will have some fun around that to try to get the Swedes into a good position. Once again, also let’s remember we’ve got Fins we’ve got a Latvian, we’ve got a Czech, and all of them will have followers coming. It’s only an hour flight for all those countries to come into Stockholm. For all of the Europeans, the 10 that we have in the lineup, they’re all quite excited to be going over for that trip.

HS: The other thing I wanted to ask you about before we let you go is Casey Mittelstadt. A young center, trying to find his way coming off of his first full season, which had its ups and downs. What was your message or is your message to a young guy like that? You’ve talked about how in your system, it puts a lot of pressure on the player at center, the man in the middle. So what have you told Casey to try and help his development this season?

RK: Well that’s where Don Granato and now Chris Taylor at the moment filling in are working hard with him on the individual tactics that we need and the technique. To be able to defend in your own end at the speed and the pace of the National Hockey League today is a lot of hard work for the centerman. It sounds like a broken record, but very coachable young man who wants to get better every day. We all know how exciting his offensive upside is. We’re going to continue to let that grow and we’re going to find spaces where he can use it. Without the puck is where you need to be able to play, if we go on the road and you’re up against the top line of the other team, how can you defend? He’s doing really well in his development there. It’s more about our defensive concept. If we want a chance to win every night here in the National Hockey League. As the top teams develop and get warmed up into the season, we’re going to have to be able to defend every night to give ourselves a real chance. we aren’t a team that wants to get into run-and-gun shootouts. We want to have some control over things, and that’s where young players like Casey totally understand that need and are working hard at getting better. It’s the defensive side of the team that I’m so proud about so far. After three games this season and how little we’ve allowed in Pittsburgh, against New Jersey and even in Columbus the other day, they only had 11 or 12 five-on-five really good scoring chances against us in a game where we weren’t happy. Players like Casey are chipping in and working at that. I believe we have the offense to ignite up front if we can take care of our end first.

JW: We’ve got to let you go, it’s a game day. One of these weeks I want to talk to you about the Premier League. Going to want to talk some soccer at some point.

RK: We can have a soccer talk. It’s sure good to be back in hockey.

JW: Any truth to my theory that there are no morning skates because soccer is on early in the morning and it gives you a chance to maybe watch some games. Just saying, it fits into the schedule nicely for you.

RK: I have to tell you, honestly, the Premier League players don’t move the whole day and it was something I really looked with our sports science department at. And also, when I was over in the UK, about how the players prepared for their evening games and how little energy the exerted on game days. You make a joke out of it, but it’s not about watching the football.

JW: That is interesting. I know they do so much with player tracking over there, 90-minute games when you don’t have any substitutions or line changes, the tracking of how far you run. Just the lengths that that’s gone to is really fascinating. 

RK: We’re doing a lot of that here. One of the things that really surprised me positively coming into Buffalo was how excellent the staff was put together already. I walked into a fully functioning high-performance machine here, which has really helped to launch everything in the right direction. We’re very, very advanced here in our sport science and how we use it and how we’re tracking the energy of the players, which is going to be important here as you already mentioned. I think we’ve got like 11 in the next 20 days or something where you really have to manage your energy.

HS: Again, thanks for your time with us this morning, Ralph, good luck tonight against the Canadiens.

RK: Ok, all the best to the listeners and let’s go Sabres.


BUFFALO, N.Y. (September 18, 2019) — The Buffalo Sabres today announced the team has assigned forward Matej Pekar to the Barrie Colts (OHL).

Jason Botterill Prospects Challenge Media Availability (9/9/19)

Sept. 9, 2019

Jason Botterill
Prospects Challenge
Jason Botterill Media Availability (10:37)

Just to start off with, I’ll give you a couple of injury updates on guys who would’ve been a part of the Prospects Challenge here. Lawrence Pilut is still recovering from shoulder surgery. He won’t be in main camp, but everything seems to be going very smoothly from that standpoint. We hope that he’ll look to be playing games somewhere around the middle of October. (Ukko-Pekka) Luukkonen, coming off of a hip surgery, again, things have been very positive from his rehab. He won’t be in main camp, we’re looking at a time frame of the start of November for him to be playing in games. All other injury updates we’ll give you a little more once main camp starts.


Q: What did you think of the last three days? What was your general impression of what you saw out there on the ice? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: I think it was a great tournament. I thought (it was) very balanced among all four teams. I thought, especially, Friday and Saturday, great atmosphere in the building for our players. I just think, young players especially, they work so hard in the offseason, getting ready for main camp, but there’s always an adjustment from summer scrimmages to main camp and I think our guys went out there, got in a game environment, and it’s going to help them a lot when they make the transformation into main camp now.


Q: Your objective has all along has been to build organizational depth. As you watch these three games, how far along do you think you are with that objective? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: I think we continue to improve on it every year. I think just the fact that I was very happy with some of our veteran players, that have been in our system before — (Rasmus) Asplund, (Victor) Olofsson — how they came in, but also very excited about some of our younger defensemen, a guy like (Jacob) Bryson and (Casey) Fitzgerald, coming in for their first camp, I thought they handled themselves well, too. So we’re excited now to move into NHL preseason games, having some of our young players challenge our veteran players for roster spots, but also, too, excited about what’s developing in Rochester and that next wave of players.


Q: (Rasmus) Ristolainen certainly is expected in town with the guys tomorrow, where do you think his head is at this point? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

A: In our conversations with him, it’s been positive and I think [Ristolainen] has always been someone who comes to camp in extremely good shape. I think there is going to be an adjustment for all our players with a new head coach. Trying to bring together exactly what coaches are going to want from a system standpoint, where they fit in with the group and I’m sure those conversations will go well with [Ristolainen] and our entire team.


Q: Do you have any NHL players coming in on tryouts? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: Right now, we don’t have any tryout guys. We’ll continue to sort of re-evaluate we’re we are from an injury standpoint; have discussions in the next couple days. But right now, no.


Q: Is part of that decision to bring anybody in at this point so you can give younger guys like (Tage) Thompson, (Victor) Olofsson a lot of time in training camp? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

A: No, it’s something I think we’ve added to our young guys we have coming in there. I thought some of our signings — J-S Dea, Curtis Lazar — players we want to give an opportunity to. With playing only six preseason games, we set it that way, we want to have a lot of practice time, but it’s always sort of that balance of finding enough games for your veteran players but giving enough for your young guys. We’re excited to see how they’ll materialize here and how they’re going to push some of our veteran players.


Q: Are you still having a dialogue with Jason Pominville and is he a possibility at some point? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)

A: Obviously, Jason’s still in town, we’ve obviously continued to communicate with him. We’ll continue to communicate with him in the next couple days here and make a decision on that.


Q: You’ve mentioned the competition a few times. Where in particular are you really looking forward to seeing some competition take place? (John Vogl – The Athletic)

A: I think you certainly see it on the wings and then also at the defense corps. I think those are the two main spots. I say wing, but I also think we have a lot of players that can play both center and wing. That gives Ralph (Krueger) different options with his lineup and one of the big parts of the six preseason games is going to see where players have chemistry with each other and which position fits best for them.


Q: You haven’t ruled Pominville out then, based on your previous answer at some point. Is that correct? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

A: I haven’t ruled it out, but I’ve also, like I said, we’re very excited about where we are from the depth standpoint and the competitions we’re going to have and we want to make sure we give our young players enough of an opportunity.


Q: I know you didn’t want to rush him, but was it big that you were able to get [Dylan] Cozens into this tournament? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: I think it helps him out a lot more in preparation for going out on the ice for the first time on Friday, just the speed of the game. He worked extremely hard over the last couple of months, staying in Buffalo, working with our staff. I know he really wanted to play in these games. I thought, just from a conditioning standpoint and time standpoint, getting these games will certainly help him out.

Q: Ralph has done a lot of camps in his career for different events. He’s never done a full NHL camp as a head coach before. What’s it been like last few weeks prepare for this and what do you want see from your coach here in the next week or so? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

A: Well, I think everything’s been extremely well organized and I think you see Ralph’s communication with myself and his assistants. I think it’s great having guys that have been on the staff before. Bringing in guys, like Mike Bales from Carolina, also Don Granato from Chicago, you get the best of all worlds. I think you’ll come to realize with Ralph, some of his connections throughout the league, over the last few years, he’s sort of picking best practices from all these guys. So, what I’m looking for is just, from the entire group, there’s a lot of enthusiasm come Friday. Understanding that, yeah, we’re going to be implementing a new system, there needs to be teaching and learning from that, but also we want to see pace, we want to see work ethic from day one.


Q: Is there a challenge, maybe, not that Ralph is an unknown — he’s just a different entity in the sense that he’s not a retread. Is there a different challenge that he faces, unlike say (Joel) Quenneville going to Florida, where players know him, that he needs to get across to players to earn their respect? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: I think he earns his respect by how he communicates with guys and I think he’s done that already. I think our players are going to realize very quickly his knowledge of the game. Where my communication’s gone really well is look, it’s about winning, but it’s also about our continuing, especially with the young team that we have, about developing every day. I think once players buy in that this guy is going to help them and their careesr and help them win games that’s where respect comes.


Q: Did the injury maybe put Dylan a little it behind schedule to the point where it really hurt his chances of making the team or does he still have a really legit shot here to push for a roster spot in camp? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

A: Look, Lance, I think it’s always difficult for an 18-year-old to make it in the National Hockey League right off the bat. I think the good thing with this type of injury, yeah, it’s certainly disappointing that he couldn’t work on some of his skills, but from the standpoint of working with our strength staff, improving his leg strength, I think he did a great job with that over the last couple of months. I don’t think that will hurt his ability, I just think it’s a big jump for an 18-year-old to step in to the National Hockey League and really contribute. But we’ll certainly give him an opportunity over the next couple weeks here and see what materializes.


Q: You get nine games if you want to give him a chance. Do you believe in that or is that something you don’t really believe in for a young player? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: I think the bigger thing is the accrued season versus the nine games on the contract. We’ll continue to have dialogue with Dylan and see what’s best for not only our team but also for his development over the next week, or, if that continues to go well, the next couple months.


Q: Do you expect that the Werenski thing today with Columbus may be the start of opening the log jam and the for phones to really start heating up around the league this week? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

A: Tough for me to predict that one. I’m just glad that right now, we don’t have restricted free agents that we have to sign. I think I mentioned it to you before, I think salary arbitration is a tough process, but it gets all the guys signed up and there’s no distractions. Our team’s all signed up, they’re all going to be here on Thursday and we’ll get going from that standpoint. It won’t surprise me, these players are going to eventually get signed here, and I think it will start to come. What that time frame, whether it’s this week or the next month, I couldn’t tell you.


Q: Would you categorize your phone as being busy at all in the last few days? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

A: I think it’s always busy, It’s been good with just interacting with our staff here because they’re all here, and I think there’s excitement around the league just because you’re back in arenas, you’re back watching games, so it’s not all these fictitious conversations, you’re actually seeing players and you’re starting to evaluate players again.


Q: From Ralph’s perspective, as he said, it’s open competition, players will decide things. But as you help with that roster building, how much does past experiences, how much do contracts come in to who stays and who goes once this season gets underway? (John Vogl – The Athletic)

A: Well I think we’ve shown in the past, it hasn’t been lip service, it’s been with our actions, that if players knock out veteran players, they’re going to have the opportunity to be here and that’s what we’re going to be looking for. We talked a lot to that about players coming into our organization, giving them an opportunity. We’ve talked a lot about our returning players, challenging them to be ready to go right away, because we want to bring more players in to have more success as an organization. I think the competition is going to be great in the next couple weeks and I think you probably hear it in Ralph’s voice, he’s excited about getting things going. I think a lot of our players, whether you saw in Chicago with Jack and Rasmus, they want to get things going. They’ve worked hard in the offseason, now it’s getting ready to go out there and start performing.


 Q: Your vision for this team has been to have it be more speed, better on the attack, better on the pressure. It’s only three games with prospects, but do you get more of an idea that you’re going to see more of that from this team going ahead? (Joe Yerdon – The Athletic)

A: Well I thought  a lot of guys competed hard, guys played with pace, and I especially really like it in our back end. I thought our defense did a really good job. Whether it was Jokiharju, Bryson, Fitzgerald, getting up with the play. You can see the development from a year’s time for a player like Will Borgen., I thought he played very physical in his two games and that’s sort of probably what most of the crowd is drawn to. What I really liked was his gap. he was up in the play a lot, didn’t give the opponents very much space at all. That’s just a small sample size, but hopefully that carries over to our group and it’s simple. It’s a speed game. We’re trying to get faster, we’re trying to obviously get players that can skate faster, but also move the puck faster and play a faster game.