I've said it before, but as a visiting player, I never truly understood what the Sabres meant to the community of Buffalo. It's something I had to learn as last season went on.
There was no single, eye-opening moment. It was more like a series of memories that added up over time.
The way the building felt during our winning streak. Being voted by the fans to represent the Sabres at the All-Star Game. The small-town feel and daily interactions with people away from the rink.
Eventually, it all sinks in, and you realize what it is that you're a part of. It's a feeling that's tough to really explain or understand unless you get to experience it. Playing in Buffalo, you mean so much to the community. As a player, you really have to take pride in that.
It's something I'm going to continue to take pride in for the next eight years.
When I began this process, there were a lot of priorities I needed to weigh.
I wanted to be in a place where I believed the team would be competitive. It's a long commitment, so being comfortable in the community was important. And, of course, I thought about my family and considered their opinions.
Once the season ended and I had time to step away and reflect, I felt that the Sabres checked all those boxes.
We didn't reach our goals as a team last season. That was disappointing. But, coming into a new locker room, a new community, a new organization - all those adjustments felt positive.
Going into last season, I knew Kyle Okposo a bit from summer workouts. Other than that, I came into Buffalo with no personal relationships. I got to know a group of people who left me feeling confident about the direction of the organization.
It starts with our captain. I'm excited to be able to play with Jack for a long time. He's one of the top centermen in the league, which is a nice thing to have as a winger.
But what's amazing is that Jack is still so young. He's only going to get better. That goes without saying, in my opinion.
I think that way about a lot of the young players on our team. With the pieces that we have now and the development of some of our younger players, I believe we have a chance to be consistently competitive for a long time.
It will be fun to see how Ralph Krueger helps us reach the next level. Before I even had the chance to speak with him, I had a few different people reach out and tell me about their positive experiences with him. Our conversation on the phone seemed to confirm all those things.
He's obviously a great leader, and his resume speaks for itself. What stood out from our conversation was how excited he was to be in Buffalo. I think his excitement is genuine and reflects the feeling we have as players.
When I played in Carolina, it took a lot of planning for my parents and family to be able to watch me play. They needed to arrange days off from work and make a weekend out of it. Last season, they were able to drive up for the game and drive home after.
So, yeah, I think it's safe to say they were pretty happy I landed in Buffalo.
I leaned on them a lot throughout this process. Those are the people in my life whose opinions mean the most to me. Sometimes just having them listen is the guidance that you need. I'm grateful that they're only a two-hour drive away going forward.
"Grateful" is the word I'd use to sum up this entire process, actually. I'm grateful for the work my agents did to help this run smoothly. I'm grateful that the Sabres believe in me, and that I get to stay and be around all the same people, from my teammates, to the staff, to the fans in Buffalo.
It all finally set in when the public announcement was made on Friday night. Seeing the texts from my teammates and the videos the team shared on social media - it made me feel excited.
We're going to work towards our ultimate goal, and that's winning. I'm excited to get to work.