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NHL debut for Canucks' Kenins special vs. Sabres

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com

SABRES (14-32-3) at CANUCKS (26-17-3)

TV: NHLN-US, MSG-B, BELL TV, SNP

VANCOUVER -- As if making his NHL debut on Friday wasn't nerve wracking enough for Vancouver Canucks forward Ronalds Kenins, the Latvian left wing is making it against his national team coach and a national hero.

Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan coached Kenins at the 2012 and 2013 World Championships, and the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Sabres center Zemgus Girgensons was a teammate at all three events, and something of a folk hero back in Latvia after the country helped get him to last weekend's NHL All-Star Game with 1,574,896 votes.

Kenins admitted playing against them added pressure.

"It's a little more nervous for me because I want to show them I can play in this level," said Kenins, adding it also made his debut a bigger deal back in Latvia. "Everybody got excited, they were calling and my phone was ringing all the time. They're expecting a great game so they are pretty excited I am playing against Girgensons and Ted Nolan."

Kenins will be the 21st Latvian to play in the NHL, and Nolan knows it will be a big deal back in a country with less than 2,000,000 people.

"It's going to be a big day for Latvia for sure," Nolan said.

It may also be one of the few times the opposition knows more about a new player than his own coach. Canucks coach Willie Desjardins noticed Kenins right away at training camp because of his "compete level and just how smart he is," which also fit Nolan's description.

"I have been telling everybody the last three years this guy can play," Nolan said. "He's a very entertaining soul, he's as competitive as heck. He hits a lot. He's enthusiastic. He's one of those guys you are just glad to have on your team."

Desjardins wasn't sure where Kenins would play, but a bottom-six role seems likely. He could swap in for Derek Dorsett, who is out after being hit in the head during a collision with Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler on Tuesday, on the left wing of the fourth line.

Hearing Kenins describe his game, it may be a good fit.

"I am a power forward so I go hard forecheck, I shoot the puck, I do all greasy stuff," said Kenins, who turns 24 on Feb. 28. "It's great for our hockey future in Latvia. Not many players are there, so it will be great when somebody sees I am playing in the NHL."

The Sabres are trying to end a regulation losing streak that reached 13 games with a 3-2 loss against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday, and will do so against their former goaltender Ryan Miller.

It will be Miller's first game against the team he played 11 seasons with before being traded to the St. Louis Blues late last season and signing in Vancouver as a free agent in the summer. Miller, who wasn’t ready to face his old team five weeks after the trade, admitted Thursday it will be strange, but Nolan said the goaltender still has the edge over the players who used to shoot on him in practice.

"The better player has the advantage and he's a world-class goalie," Nolan said. "If there's a team that knows his tendencies it's our team, but even knowing those it's still hard to put it by him."

Here are the projected lineups:

SABRES

Matt Moulson - Zemgus Girgensons - Tyler Ennis

Brian Flynn - Torrey Mitchell - Brian Gionta

Drew Stafford - Cody Hodgson - Chris Stewart

Nicolas Deslauriers - Matt Ellis - Patrick Kaleta

Josh Gorges - Tyler Myers

Nikita Zadorov - Tyson Strachan

Mike Weber - Rasmus Ristolainen

Jhonas Enroth

Matt Hackett

Scratched: Andrej Meszaros, Andre Benoit

Injured: Michal Neuvirth (lower body), Cody McCormick (leg), Marcus Foligno (hand)

CANUCKS

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Radim Vrbata

Chris Higgins - Linden Vey - Alexandre Burrows

Shawn Matthias - Nick Bonino - Zack Kassian

Ronalds Kenins - Bo Horvat - Jannik Hansen

Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev

Dan HamhuisFrank Corrado

Luca Sbisa - Yannick Weber

Ryan Miller

Eddie Lack

Scratched: Ryan Stanton, Adam Clendening

Injured: Kevin Bieksa (broken hand), Brad Richardson (lower body), Derek Dorsett (upper body)

Status update: The Canucks brought Clendening up from the American Hockey League after acquiring him in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday, but the 22-year-old wasn't expected to arrive until the late afternoon and won't play against the Sabres. … Myers said he will play against the Canucks despite missing the final five minutes against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday after being hit on the left ankle by a shot. Nolan said Zadorov will return the lineup after coming back from the All-Star break a day late and sitting out against the Oilers, but wouldn't reveal who would sit in his place. The two most likely candidates are Benoit, who was also scratched on Thursday, and Meszaros, who played his junior hockey in Vancouver. Nolan wouldn’t reveal his starting goaltender, leaving open the possibility Hackett could play his first NHL game since blowing out his knee in the second-to-last game of last season and needing reconstructive knee surgery. Hackett, who was called up from the AHL because Neuvirth suffered a minor lower body injury during the All-Star break, went through seven months of rehabilitation before returning to play his first AHL game on Jan. 10. The game against Vancouver would be three in four nights for Enroth, who has lost eight straight.

Who's hot: Myers has a goal and an assist in his two-game point streak.

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