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Sabres' Evander Kane excited for return to Winnipeg

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- It's been nearly a calendar year since Evander Kane was traded by the Winnipeg Jets to the Buffalo Sabres, and on Sunday he will play his first game at MTS Centre (3 p.m. ET; TSN3, MSG-B, Bell TV) since then.

"I talked to Evander I think it was June 5 and 6 this summer and he had this day circled on the calendar already, so I know it's going to be … after the Chicago game and going into Winnipeg, it's going to be a big game for him," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday.

Kane was part of a trade made on Feb. 11, 2015 that also sent defenseman Zach Bogosian to Buffalo for defenseman Tyler Myers; forwards Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, and Brendan Lemieux; and a first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft the Jets used to select forward Jack Roslovic.

"It's my first time ever being traded, so it'll be kind of a new experience for me going back and playing against a team I used to play for, so I'm sure it'll be interesting and entertaining," Kane said Tuesday in Buffalo.

Kane's departure from Winnipeg came after he played six seasons in the Jets organization. He was the fourth pick in the 2009 NHL Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers.

The trade happened after Kane had surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder and amid reported chemistry issues with Jets teammates.

"Sometimes situations don't fit perfectly, and that happens throughout the League with many different types of players," Kane said in Chicago on Friday. "I think you saw Seth Jones and Ryan [Johansen] get flip-flopped for one another, and that stuff happens all the time. I think the only real unusual part was that I was out for the season and I was just coming off surgery. That was probably a little different for everybody. Like I said, I was excited to be a part of Buffalo and that's kind of how it was going."

Kane said he has been beyond pleased with how he's been received in Buffalo.

"It's been great right from the top down just right when I got traded," Kane said Friday. "Just the excitement, the welcome right from [Sabres owners] Terry Pegula and his wife Kim was great to see. The people in the community have been outstanding throughout this first half even though things haven't gone the way we as a team have wanted to, they've been supportive, real great, easy to talk to, and it makes you want to play hard for those fans and be the best team we possibly can for that community."

The left wing also has enjoyed his time with his new teammates.

"I think I've seen it from, and surprisingly so, from Day One almost with this group," Bylsma said. "In talking with the players, talking with individual players, they enjoy being a part of this team and a part of this group. It has developed and it is a part of what we are and, I'll not say I'm surprised, but it's a calling card of our team."

Kane's return this season from shoulder surgery started off well with a goal and two assists in his first eight games, but he sustained a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 24 and missed 10 games. Through 30 games, he has eight goals and five assists.

"The numbers have not been very good, or in his favor, in terms of goal production, and I have still photos of the opportunities he had in the first seven, eight games," Bylsma said. "I think as he's come back from the lower-body injury, it's taken him a handful of games for him to get back up to speed, but I think every one of us would like to see him score more than he has. And so that's a part of the evaluation, but I also think he has got to continue to be one of our hardest workers every night, a power forward, a power guy, which he has been for us, and I think it'll pay off for him and you'll see that and pay off for him in scoring goals."

Those factors of Kane's game, his speed and physical play, have been apparent even though the offensive production hasn't. Despite missing 10 games, he's third on the Sabres in hits behind forwards Nicolas Deslauriers and Jamie McGinn. Kane is second on the Sabres in shots behind rookie Jack Eichel, but is shooting 7.7 percent.

"He brings a lot to the table; a guy who skate like he does, finishes checks like he does, he's got a great shot," center Ryan O'Reilly said. "He's one of those few guys that can create something out of nothing. He brings those other elements to the game, he really helps us out, and he's tough to play against. I don't think other teams like seeing him in the lineup and trying to go against him, so he's been a big piece for us."

If the shots start going in, the Sabres may start to climb up the standings. Even though they're in last place in the Atlantic Division, there's half a season left to play.

"Obviously we have some good young pieces and we have a lot of new faces this year, but our focus right now is we have a full half a season and a lot can happen in that time," Kane said Friday. "For us, I think, we kind of want to put these last five games in the past and have kind of a fresh outlook on these next 42 and try to make a push to get ourselves back in the race."

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