Tyler Ennis, taken by the Buffalo Sabres at No. 26, was the shortest and lightest player selected in the first round of the 2008 Entry Draft. But Ennis, a 5-foot-9, 146-pound center, has considerable skill.
The Sabres, who also drafted the tallest player in the first round, 6-foot-7 defenseman Tyler Myers at No. 12, are excited about their top two picks.
"They're really different, but they're exciting," Buffalo General Manager Darcy Regier told The Buffalo News.
The diminutive Ennis has had to prove to critics that he could make it in hockey because of his size. While other smaller players get disrupted by this type of talk, it lights a fire in Ennis.
"You hear that (I'm too small) a lot," he said. "Growing up, I've never been a big guy. I've always been small. So I've kind of used that as motivation. Every time I hear it, I get a little angry and a little motivated. So it's good to hear sometimes."
Like many smaller players who manage to carve out NHL careers, Ennis is a speedy player that tall, slow defensemen have trouble catching up to. In addition to having fantastic speed, Ennis has some of the best offensive vision in the draft.
"Tyler is a quick, water bug-type player," said NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire. "He scoots up and down the ice and can turn on a dime. He can drive wide on a defenseman who is unaware or a little slow. Tyler may be one of the best pure offensive players in the entire draft."
Ennis, who has spent the last three seasons with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League, has improved each season. After posting 10 points in 43 games as a 16-year-old rookie, he boosted those totals to 26 goals and 50 points in 71 games in his second season. Last season, he led the Tigers and was fourth in the WHL with 91 points. He also had four points in five playoff games.
His improvement was derived from his desire to succeed, and Medicine Hat coach/GM Willie Desjardins notes Ennis' quickness and how difficult he is to handle for the opposition's defensemen.
2007-08 SEASON STATS
(10TH eAst/18TH NHL)
|Change from 2006-07
(10th eAst/23RD NHL)
(8tH eAst/12 NHL)
"He's so, so fast," said Desjardins. "I think he's one of the toughest guys in the league to handle. He wants to score so bad on every shift, and Tyler's quickness down low in the corner is why he's so hard to handle."
Like the Sabres, who went from appearing in back-to-back conference finals to missing the playoffs last season, the Tigers also have regressed. Medicine Hat, which won the Ed Chynoweth Cup as the WHL champion and made it to the Memorial Cup title game in 2007, went out in first round of the WHL playoffs last spring.
For Ennis and the Tigers, the 2007 Memorial Cup was a learning experience, despite losing to the Vancouver Giants, another WHL club, in the championship game.
"It was intense," Ennis said. "It's such a big stage. Every game is so important. I think us and Vancouver had a great rivalry. It was really tough to lose that (final) game. Our goal from the beginning of the season was to win the Memorial Cup, and to have it slip in one game was pretty devastating, but it was a good experience."
While Ennis can be slippery, he isn't a dirty player by any stretch of the imagination. Even though he had 42 penalty minutes in 70 games last season for the Tigers, he was still able to win the Brad Hornung Trophy as the most sportsmanlike player in the WHL.
The Sabres play a speedy style that relies on skill ahead of brute force, which could be the perfect fit for Ennis.
"I was hoping to go to a team like Buffalo, and I just can't believe it happened," Ennis told The Buffalo News. "I just like the way they play. They're fast, they're skilled and they're an exciting team."