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Sabres' Ennis feeling confident after offseason moves

by Derek Van Diest /

EDMONTON -- The past two seasons were excruciatingly long for Buffalo Sabres center Tyler Ennis. But he said when it comes to complete rebuilds, this one could be extremely short.

"It seemed like a really long two years, but in the grand scheme of things it could be pretty quick," Ennis said following a session at Vancouver Canucks assistant coach Perry Pearn's 3-on-3 Hockey Camp here. "It might not be as long as you think, but those 160 games felt like 10 years. But there is still lots to improve on. It's not just going to happen on its own. We have to have guys commit to the areas we need to improve on. We're going to be better than last year but there is still a long way to go. But I really like the pieces and where we're headed."

The Sabres went through the worst two seasons in their history with a record of 44-102-18. They were 30th in the NHL standings in 2014-15 and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

"I think it was nice that Tim [Murray, general manager] was aggressive [during the offseason]," Ennis said. "He didn't sit back; he was aggressive in a lot of moves. He knew what the plan was and he's done a lot of good things. The plan is for us to gel as a young team with a young core and to get better and improve."

Among their bigger moves was selecting Boston University center Jack Eichel with the second pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. The Hobey Baker winner as the top player in college hockey had 26 goals and an NCAA-best 71 points as a freshman.

"It definitely helps when you have a top-end center like that," Ennis said. "When you have a franchise guy. It's nice that he's a big centerman, especially with the skill that he has. With Jack, I haven't heard a bad thing about him. I hear he has Ryan Getzlaf's passing ability combined with Mike Modano's skating.

"That's pretty exciting. Then we made a trade for Ryan O'Reilly and we have [the 2014] second-overall pick coming in, in Sam Reinhart. We have Zemgus Girgensons who was in the All-Star Game last year, who also plays center."

Ennis said the Sabres' depth through the middle will be one of their strengths this season. Buffalo scored a League-low 153 non-shootout goals in 2014-15.

"Since I've been in Buffalo the biggest weakness on our team has been at center, so now we have four or five really solid centermen, which is kind of the foundation you need to move forward, and they're all young," he said. "It's really exciting. We still need some pieces, but I think we're definitely moving in the right direction fast."

Along with Eichel and O'Reilly, Buffalo's offense is expected to get a boost from forward Evander Kane, acquired in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 11. Kane has yet to play a game with the Sabres because of a shoulder injury which required season-ending surgery. The 24-year-old left wing scored 30 goals in 2011-12 and had 10 goals in 37 games before getting injured last season.

"We have high expectations, but the important thing is to get back to the basics," Ennis said. "We have a lot of young guys that haven't maybe played the best systematically, we've been sloppy in all three zones and I think a good foundation and good structure is going to be huge."

On defense Buffalo is expected to rely heavily on Zach Bogosian, acquired from Winnipeg with Kane, and Rasmus Ristolainen. Mark Pysyk, the 23rd pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, and Jake McCabe, 21, also may be ready for full-time NHL jobs.

"We have some good pieces; I think we still need a couple of more pieces," Ennis said. "Bogosian is a great player, he's competitive and is going to play a lot of minutes. I think Pysyk is going to have a really good year this year. He's pretty much dominated the AHL and he's ready to make the jump. I think Jake McCabe is in a similar situation. Then you have veterans Josh Gorges and Mike Weber, and hopefully Ristolainen can make a big jump forward because we need him to. He's a big kid and has a lot of potential too."

With a young roster, Ennis, who turns 26 on Oct. 6, is ready to take on a bigger leadership role. He led the Sabres last season, his sixth, with 20 goals and 46 points in 78 games.

"I think we have a good, young core and we have a good balance of older veterans and that mid-20 type veterans," he said. "There is competition there with guys that are going to have to play well for spots. We have a lot of depth there now. We added Jamie McGinn, who's scored 20 goals before and he's another piece that gets looked over in the O'Reilly trade. He's a very good forward, so our depth throughout the front is going to make for some good competition too."

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