BUFFALO -- Not only did the Buffalo Sabres go through a culture change off the ice last week, they're now experiencing it on the ice as well.
The Sabres announced prior to facing the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday that they had assigned defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen and left wing Johan Larsson to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League. Center Mikhail Grigorenko was sent to the AHL, on a 14-day conditioning assignment. The team also sent defenseman Nikita Zadorov to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.
Only 19-year-old center Zemgus Girgensons, the 14th pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, survived the youth purge.
The oldest of the four players is Larsson, who is 21. The others are teenagers [Ristolainen and Grigorenko are 19 and Zadorov is 18]. The message from interim coach Ted Nolan was simple: The Sabres are too young to compete at the highest level in the NHL and they need more of a seasoned, veteran group.
"There's not too many 18-year-olds that stepped into this League and can be a contributing player," said Nolan, who also indicated Grigorenko has also been experiencing some flu-like symptoms. "There's only a few of those guys around where you have to develop them coming from a junior background, and even in college. Players take some time to develop and it's a great place for them to develop, not only physically but more so mentally.
"… Whether I saw them [play] or not really didn't make much of a difference. We look at where we are with this organization and where we have to go to, and proper development is so vital, so important."
As of early Tuesday afternoon there were no developments as to who the Sabres would recall from Rochester to fill out the 23-man roster. Nolan said there would be players recalled but none of them would arrive in time for the game Tuesday.
"Pat LaFontaine knows, but we'll announce that later," Nolan said, referring to the Sabres' new president of hockey operations.
Ristolainen, the eighth pick of the 2013 draft, played 19 games and scored one goal; Larsson, a 2010 second-round pick (No. 56) acquired from the Minnesota Wild in the Jason Pominville trade, had one assist in 17 games; Grigorenko, the 12th pick in the 2012 draft, had two goals and one assist in 15 games. Zadorov, the 16th pick in the 2013 draft, scored one goal in seven games.
"I can't speak for them but just by the expression and the emotion … it was almost like a relief," Nolan said when describing the players' attitudes when informed of the moves. "When you talk to players that went through junior hockey, they all said it was, 'The best three years I've spent in my life,' playing junior hockey. They get to play with their own peers, they get to go to a movie, they get to go on dates on a certain night off. That's what kids do. These guys have to be kids and mature at the right time. You don't want to force-feed them.
"They're all good players and they'll all be great contributors down here at the right time."
The Sabres (5-16-1) also activated defenseman Mike Weber from injured reserve after the 25-year-old missed the previous 10 games with a thumb injury. He will return to play against the Blues.
"Always good to get back in the lineup, especially with the mood of the team in recent weeks," said Weber, who is without a point in 11 games. "It's an exciting time.
"… I'm just trying to go back in there and do my job, work hard, be consistent in my effort and what I'm doing every night. Hopefully that pans out."
The Blues (13-3-3) skated Tuesday without right wing Chris Stewart, who was experiencing flu-like symptoms. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said it's been going around the locker room with players but expected Stewart to play. If he can't, Adam Cracknell will step into the lineup.
Defenseman Barret Jackman will skate in his 663rd NHL game, all with the Blues. He'll move into fourth place on the all-time franchise games-played list ahead of Garry Unger. Jackman trails Bernie Federko (927), Brian Sutter (779) and Brett Hull (744).
Also, center Derek Roy returns to Buffalo to face his former teammates for the first time since being traded in 2012 to the Dallas Stars for right wing Steve Ott and defenseman Adam Pardy. Roy spent eight seasons in Buffalo after being drafted by the Sabres in the second round (No. 32) in 2001.
The projected lineups for the Blues and Sabres: