It's only a matter of time before the Buffalo Sabres' top prospects make an impact in the NHL. That time may come this season.
The past two seasons were the worst in Sabres history. A byproduct has been the ability to stockpile young talent, including forward Zemgus Girgensons, who was voted to the NHL All-Star Game last season, and Rasmus Ristolainen, who became one of Buffalo's top four defensemen.
Three prospects might be in the opening night lineup Oct. 8 against the Ottawa Senators, and two others are set to play their first season of pro hockey coming out of the Ontario Hockey League.
Here are the Sabres' top five prospects, according to NHL.com:
Last season: Boston University, H-East: 40 GP, 26-45-71
During his freshman season at Boston University, Eichel (6-foot-2, 196 pounds) helped the Terriers reach the national championship game and won the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey. He signed his professional contract with the Sabres on July 1.
Eichel, 18, is expected to step into the Sabres lineup right away and join Ryan O'Reilly as one of their two scoring centers. Eichel excelled last season, but the jump from college to the NHL will be his biggest test. After he performed well for the United States at the 2015 IIHF World Championship, he should be ready for the challenge.
"Playing at that level, I was able to get some confidence," Eichel said after signing his contract. "It's not the NHL, but there were a lot of great players over there, and being able to compete with them, I gained confidence in myself and my own abilities. With the right attitude and good work ethic this summer, I can make an impact next year."
Reinhart, 19, got a taste of NHL life last season when he played nine games for the Sabres before he was sent back to Kootenay of the Western Hockey League. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound center helped Canada win the gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship before he finished the season with Rochester in the American Hockey League.
The Sabres are hoping that experience will allow him to start the season in the NHL. There will be quite a bit of competition at center; Buffalo has O'Reilly, Eichel, Girgensons, Johan Larsson, David Legwand andCody McCormick at that position. If Reinhart is going to make the Sabres, it might be on the wing. He is eligible to go to the AHL instead of junior hockey.
"I'd be open to anything," Reinhart said at development camp. "I've played everywhere, including defense, in my career, so I'm comfortable at any position. I'm not saying that's going to happen. I've played wing a lot. … It's not a strange thing for a young guy to come into the League and have to play wing. I'm prepared for whatever's thrown at me, and I'm excited for the challenge."
If there was a player who helped make a good first impression at development camp in July, it was McCabe. The 6-foot, 195-pound defenseman spent most of last season with Rochester, where he had 29 points in 57 games. Even though he missed time because of a concussion, he drew the attention of Sabres coach Dan Bylsma during the camp scrimmage.
"We look at them all week and you try to get evaluations of speed and skill and what they can do, but this was a game situation and I thought [McCabe] showed really well, I thought he played really well defensively," Bylsma said at the time. "He showed some physicality, stepped up on a rush, was good defensively, but was also really good offensively and in the offensive zone controlling the play."
If McCabe, who turns 22 on Oct. 12, can that against NHL competition in training camp, he could play more in Buffalo than Rochester this season.
Baptiste's junior career got the attention of the Sabres coaching staff. Two seasons ago, the 6-foot, 196-pound forward had 45 goals and 89 points for the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL. Last season, he had 32 goals and 64 points with the Wolves and Erie Otters.
Baptiste turns 20 on Aug. 4 and will play his first professional season in 2015-16. Making the adjustment means facing more experienced players, and how Baptiste adapts will be watched closely.
At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Bailey has the size to be a power forward. During the scrimmage, the Buffalo native used his size and speed to make the coaches notice him, and at 20 years old, he's learning how to best put it all together.
Bailey turns pro this season coming off his best junior season with Kitchener and Sault Ste. Marie, when he had 34 goals and 69 points. He improved each season in junior, and the Sabres hope that trend continues.