Western New York has a strong history when it comes to producing players who are drafted by the NHL. There'll be another name added to the long list on Saturday when Dylan Blujus hears his name called out at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
Blujus, who played two seasons with the Wheatfield Blades and played with the Buffalo Regals under 18 team as well, was projected 57th in The Hockey News Draft guide and was ranked the 71st best skater in North America by the Central Scouting Bureau.
Blujus joined the WGR Morning show earlier this week and no doubt will be thrilled with whatever team selects him but his hometown team, the Sabres, is his favorite NHL club. "As a kid just growing up playing mini sticks in my living room" Blujus remembered. "Just messing around as a Buffalo Sabre player. Its always been a dream to play for the Sabres since I was a little kid, the Sabres have always been my top choice."
Listen to the entire interview with Blujus including his testing at the NHL combine and the toughest workout drill he's ever experienced.
He didn't have a favorite Sabres player growing up but he definitely has one now. Blujus plays defense and watches Tyler Myers every chance he gets. "He’s such a big guy and his skating is great. He makes it look so easy out there" Blujus said of the hulking blueliner. "He’s a shifty player and I want to base my game off of his."
Blujus has played for the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League for the last two seasons. He had four goals and 22 points two years ago and was fourth on the team in scoring last season with seven goals and 34 points. Blujus credits Battalion Coach Stan Butler for helping bring his game up to the point where NHL teams have taken notice. " I really think he’s kind of settled my game down and made me realize who I am now with a two way defensive type of game with a good heavy shot from the point" Blujus told WGR. "I get all the chances in Brampton on the power play and penalty kill. I can’t complain about anything. I’m getting great development there."
Athletics is in the blood lines of the 6 foot 3, 193 pound Blujus. His older brother Austin played in the Ontario Junior Hockey League with the Buffalo Junior Sabres. Blujus is also getting some good advice on what it takes to be a pro from his brother-in-law, Dan Gronkowski. Dan is one of three Gronkowski brothers who went from the high school fields of Western New York all the way to the NFL. Rob is now one of the top tight ends in the league. Dan Gronkowski will be among the family and friends in Pittsburgh celebrating Dylan's big moment this weekend.
Former Buffalo Bill Troy Vincent has high hopes for the 2012 team. Vincent was a guest on the WGR Morning Show on Monday and shared his opinions on the Bills in addition to discussing his role as the NFL's Director of Player Engagement.
Vincent has been creating programs aimed at helping players make a smooother transition into life after football. It covers not only the physical issues players deal with but the mental side as well.
Vincent mentioned that he talks with Bills owner Ralph Wilson every week or so and even shared his impersonation of the owner. Vincent also talked about the off season additions on defense, Stevie Johnson, Ryan Fitzpatrick and what rookie corner Stephon Gilmore will be facing as he makes the transition from college to the pros.
You can listen to the Troy Vincent interview in its entirety:
While your mind might be on summer vacation plans this week, here's a not so subtle reminder that this is a big week in the Sabres and Bills off seasons. The Sabres get their first crack at making changes to a roster that missed the playoffs last season and the Bills get in their final workout before next month's training camp.
The Sabres and the rest of the NHL will head to Pittsburgh this week for the annual Entry Draft, which will be held Friday and Saturday. There has been plenty of speculation regarding potential trades and some pretty big names have been bandied about like Rick Nash, Roberto Luongo, Jordan Staal and Tim Thomas just to name a few. This year's free agent crop is not considered deep so teams might attempt to make their significant acquisitions via the trade market. Perhaps there will be some movement with the draft as teams try to trade up or down.
As far as the Sabres are concerned, they are in a very good position to improve their roster and are expected to look for scoring help and/or size down the middle. They have assets to offer ranging from players on their current roster, prospects in the organization or draft picks, of which the Sabres have two in the first round(12 and 21) and four in the top forty four.
According to WGR's Paul Hamilton, the Sabres have tried to trade Derek Roy for the last two seasons but this weekend might finally be the moment they get a deal done. Roy struggled last season but prior to that had been a productive player and with only one year left on his contract at a very reasonable four million dollar cap hit, Roy is attractive from a financial standpoint.
The Sabres are very deep on defense and have young assets like Andrej Sekera, who has certainly shown ability but lacked consistency, and Braydon McNabb. His play last season appeared to show he could be counted on as a top four defenseman for many years to come but it also increased his value on the market should the Sabres opt to move him.
If a team is looking for more of a veteran blue liner with playoff experience, Buffalo could offer Jordan Leopold who will be entering the final year of a deal with a three million dollar cap number. The Sabres could also look deeper into the system and make one of their top prospects, Mark Pysyk, available for the right price. Pysyk is coming off a very strong season with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League as he captained them into the Memorial Cup.
Maybe the Sabres will surprise many and try to move one of their big name, big ticket items like Thomas Vanek or Ryan Miller. Its doubtful either one will be shipped out, but if it came to it, my guess is Vanek would go before Miller since a trade of Miller would open a major hole in goaltending.
As I mentioned, the free agency crop isn't particularly deep and I don't think the Sabres will get into a bidding war for the top forward, Zach Parise. That means significant moves will come via a trade or trades for rostered players or a major move up in the draft so Buffalo can select a player who can impact the club as a rookie. The track record of Darcy Regier shows he is much more comfortable making changes to the roster this time of year than at any point in season, including the trade deadline. Regier has cap room, various assets and financial resources to do whatever he deems to be in the best interests of a franchise that is supposed to be on the fast track to a Stanley Cup.
WGR will have extensive coverage of the draft before, during and after the event on all of our shows including the new Sabres Hockey Hotline which will be hosted by Kevin Sylvester and will debut on Monday. WGR's Paul Hamilton will be in Pittsburgh covering the draft as well.
As for the Bills, the voluntary OTA's are finished and all that remains before training camp is this week's mandatory three day minicamp. The workouts are still non contact so don't expect big things coming out of Orchard Park but its the last chance for the coaches to work on installation and even do some evaluating before everyone gets a few weeks off in preparation for July 26th and the start of training camp at St. John Fisher.
This has been one of the biggest off seasons in recent Bills history. The off season moves coupled with the national buzz about the team, will make this the most anticipated training camp in twenty years. In addition to seeing how Mario Williams and Mark Anderson will turn around what was a woeful pass rush last season, camp will also feature some interesting battles for key positions.
Who will be the number two receiver? What kind of contributions will the Bills get from rookie receiver T.J Graham. What about the guy throwing them the football? Much has been made about Ryan Fitzpatrick's work with new quarterbacks coach David Lee on mechanics. Next month we'll begin to see if it is making a difference.
Can rookie Cordy Glenn secure the starting left tackle spot? How will the Bills utilize both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller?
On defense the Bills will be watching the progress of second year man Kelvin Sheppard who is the starting middle linebacker at this point. We'll all be wondering if they'll get anything from Shawne Merriman who looked tremendous last summer only to break down again and have his season cut short. There will be some very interesting battles at cornerback with Terrence McGee hoping to prove he can stay healthy and still start. Leodis Mcklevin has one more season to prove his first round selection wasn't a mistake. Big things are expected from second year pro Aaron Williams and this year's first round pick, Stephon Gilmore.
WGR's Joe Buscaglia will be out at One Bills Drive to cover the minicamp and will have numerous articles available for you to check out this week.
So don't put your feet up and relax, there's plenty going on in Buffalo this week and we'll have it covered on WGR550 and at WGR550.com.
Kevin Devine has been involved in numerous NHL Entry Drafts but the Buffalo Sabres Director of Scouting calls this year’s draft the most challenging of them all.
“With having four picks in the top 44 for one thing, which we’ve never had since I’ve been head scout, and also the uncertainty with the injured guys, the Russians. It’s a very challenging draft so far but we’ll get it all sorted out by the 22nd,” Devine told WGR during a segment on Monday’s morning show.
As far as the picks for Buffalo, the Sabres have two selections in round one (12, 21) and two more in round two. That has sparked talk perhaps the team would like to move up to the very top or near the top of the draft and grab a player who can make an impact as a rookie. The price of making that move is one of many factors the Sabres will take into account.
“With all the players really not distinguishing themselves, is it the year to move up? That’s a question we’re still asking ourselves, said Devine.
“There’s not much difference between 21 and 12. If you want to get up in the top 5, there are a lot of risky players. It’s a very deep draft in defensemen which we currently have a number of prospects and some of the risky players up there are the Russians and they’re risky guys right now.”
Those top Russian players, all forwards, are: right wing Nail Yakupov who some believe is the only true, elite player in the draft along with center Mikhail Grigorenko and center Alex Galchenyuk. Even though all three have been playing in the Canadian Hockey League, teams are always worried about players being lured back home by the Kontinental Hockey League.
“If there’s not an Ovechkin or Kovalchuk in the draft we’re very leery of taking a player there and possibly losing that pick back to the KHL,” Devine said of the Sabres philosophy with the highly rated Russians.
Even if the Sabres don’t get Grigorenko or Galchenyuk, it is considered a good draft for centers and that is a position of need for the organization. Devine believes 6-3, 203 pound Czech Republic native Radek Faksa could be in their range.
As far as the overall talent level in the draft, Devine has mixed feelings. “It’s a little bit of a different draft this year. I think it’s the first year that I can remember as the head scout having a tough time coming up with a top five,” Devine said. “It’s a balanced draft, it’s a deep draft. Whether it’s a great draft up at the top, I’m not sure. You should get two really good players at 12 and 21 if you stay there.”
No matter who the Sabres do select, if they stay at 12 and 21 in the first round, don’t expect either player to stick around as rookies because that typically is not the Sabres method of operation with young players.
“It’s a very slight chance, Devine told WGR. “I think over the last few years some of those guys have come around and played but in the past we’ve really given those kinds of kids a chance to play in the minors and unless a guy really blows our socks off at training camp that will probably be the case again.”
The Sabres brain trust will gather at Terry Pegula’s home on Wednesday to get a better idea of their approach to the draft, which will be held June 22 and 23 in Pittsburgh. WGR 550 will provide extensive coverage before, during and after the draft.
That is the best way I can describe what I saw from LeBron James in his season saving victory over the Boston Celtics in game 6 of the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals. Notice I said "his" season saving victory and not "Miami's". LeBron's Heat teammates had very little to do with the outcome of the win or call it a season affair.
From the opening tip, James carried Miami on his back as he put together one of the greatest single game performances in the history of sports. More on that statement in a moment.
James missed his first field goal attempt but then hit 12 straight. He was 12-14 from the field in the first quarter, had 30 points at halftime and ended up with 45 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists. I'm surprised he had 5 assists because I didn't think his teammates hit that many shots.
It didn't matter who guarded him. It didn't matter where he was in the front court. It seemed like whatever LeBron put up, on this night, was destined to go through the hoop.
He scored some points by driving to the basket but the majority came from jump shots. In and around the paint, mid range, even three pointers, James had the red hot hand.
It wasn't as if he was wide open either. LeBron hit numerous shots with a Celts defender right on him and a hand in his face.
Boston had gotten the deficit to 10 points in the third quarter and the decibel level was on the rise in the Garden as Celtics fans sensed their team was about to make a run. But there was James hitting a momentum crushing three over Mickael Pietrus.
There was a thunderous, flying through the air, down the middle of the lane, slam home an offensive rebound off a Chris Bosh miss.
There was a fall back jumper over the long arm of an elevated Kevin Garnett. King James was ruling the NBA land on this night. Even if you despise James, for whatever reason, you had to marvel at this amazing performance.
I think it’s one of the greatest single game showings because of everything that was involved.
It was a playoff game, not regular season.
It came in the Conference Finals, in a game the Heat had to win or else they were eliminated.
It came on the road, in a building where Miami had lost 15 of its 16 previous games.
It came against a team that handed LeBron two of his more devastating playoff losses, both elimination defeats when he was with Cleveland.
It came with all of the pressure squarely on a Heat team that most of the country wants to see fail, badly.
It came amidst speculation the coach would be fired and the team broken up if they lose.
It came at a time when James' playoff reputation as a clutch performer was being questioned.
And it came on a night when Dwayne Wade was invisible in the first half. It was clearly LeBron or bust.
We’re all wondering what moves the Buffalo Sabres will make during the off season. There is one announcement we can tell you to expect with 100% certainty. Rick Jeanneret will be back for his 41st season calling Sabres games.
Jeanneret was a guest during the WGR Morning show on Thursday and said he will be back but is waiting for the NHL schedule to come out to determine how many games he will work.
The Sabres play by play man scaled back on his work load last season and it made an immense difference. “I felt great towards the end” Jeanneret said. “I missed the playoffs because I was ready to go. Having some time off in the season helped me out in that regard, a lot of less travel.”
Jeanneret was on the show to talk about his selection for the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. He is part of the 14 member class of 2012 and will officially be inducted this fall. “It’s kind of cool to be in the same group and when you look at the roster of all the folks who have previously gone in, it makes you feel even more special” Jeanneret told WGR.
“It still amazes me but it’s still heartwarming when I receive these accolades, just to have the opportunity to stand up in front of the folks that I know have been listening to me for a long, long time. That makes me feel even a little bit better.”
Honored by the team with induction into the Sabres Hall of Fame last November, Jeanneret called his first Sabres game on October 10, 1971. We asked him what some of his top memories are over the course of his great career and while he said there are many that stand out, one that came to mind was one of the more infamous nights in franchise history. No Goal.
“When you get that close to the holy grail” Jeanneret said. “It stands out because it ended the Buffalo Sabres opportunity to carry on in that series. Unfortunately that sticks out in my mind rather than carrying up the Stanley Cup around.”
Jeanneret is convinced that magical day will come when the Sabres will be skating around the ice with Lord Stanley’s Cup finally in their possession. But he doesn’t think about it from the perspective of broadcasting that game or exactly what words he will use when that moment comes.
“No doubt in my mind its coming and its sooner rather than later. I just hope I am around to see it.”
“I think about it from a personal standpoint and not as a broadcaster because of over forty years of being involved. I’m not too sure how I will react” the longest tenured current NHL play by play man said.
“I will begin to think about it when they get to the Finals and as they continue I will think about it then but its not on my mind right now.”
Moments after the New York Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 54 years, a long suffering fan in the delirious crowd at Madison Square Garden held up a sign that read “Now I can die in peace.” I thought of that sign last Friday night.
I’m as old as the New York Mets franchise since both of us were born in 1962. Technically they have me by a couple of months since they started in April of that year and I didn’t get my first Mets diaper until June.
In my lifetime I have seen the Mets win division titles and pennants and even 2 World Championships. I’ve seen some great individual players over the years including my all-time favorite, Tom Seaver, a Hall of Famer.
I’ve seen just about everything you can see from a baseball team except a no hitter. There have been plenty of one hitters but never in the history of the franchise had a Mets pitcher thrown a no hitter.
They’ve done it after wearing the Blue and Orange. In fact, 7 former Mets have accounted for 13 no hitters with other teams.
Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Dwight Gooden and David Cone were the best of the bunch and all had their historic moments after leaving the Mets.
It all changed last Friday when Johan Santana, in the Mets 51st season and in their 8020th game, tossed the first no hitter in franchise history.
Next to the 1986 post season, this is now my next “greatest memory” in Mets history.
I found out about the no hitter as the top of the 7th game to an end. Watching the 8th and 9th innings was unbelievably nerve wracking. I even sweated through the Mets at bats in the 7th and 8th, worrying that Santana was waiting too long to get back out on the mound.
My heart skipped a beat on every ball off the bat of a Cardinals player. Every fly ball felt like a flare that was going to drop in. A little roller that went foul on the third base side seemed like a puny infield hit that would torment me and my fellow Mets fans for the rest of our lives.
I did observe the proper protocol for a situation like this. I texted my brothers and my son with the generic “Are you watching the Mets game?” message. By rule, I was not allowed to type the words “Santana no hitter through seven.”
I flashed back to near misses by Seaver in his brilliant Mets career. Some guy named Jimmy Qualls from the Chicago Cubs broke up Seaver’s bid for a perfect game back in 1969 with 1 out in the 9th. I couldn’t tell you anything about his career other than that’s the guy who broke up Seaver’s perfect game and broke the heart of a then 7 year old Mets fan.
When Santana got the final out, all those years of frustration came pouring out in the form of a primal scream. I quickly called both of my brothers to celebrate and made sure to set the DVR to record the re-broadcast of the game so I have it saved forever.
After all, it took the Mets 50 years to get their first no hitter and I’m not sure I’ll be around another 50 years to see the next one.
I have my sign ready. Now all I need is for the Bills and/or Sabres to win a Championship and then I’ll be able to “die in peace.”