It's a 370-mile drive from Buffalo to Benoit Pouliot's hometown of Alfred, Ont., which seems like a lot until you compare it to the 3,500-plus miles that separated him from home during his past three seasons in Edmonton.
The opportunity to be closer to home was one of the reasons Pouliot signed a one-year deal with the Sabres this past summer. Another is the strong endorsements the city received from those Pouliot spoke with, including former Sabres defenseman and current Oiler Andrej Sekera.
The other major reason, Pouliot said Saturday, was how closely the situation in Buffalo seemed to compare to when he first arrived in Edmonton.
"The past few years haven't been very good here," he said. "It's the same situation as it was in Edmonton when I first signed there, and things got better and better every year that I was there. It's just fun to see the turn around."
Pouliot's first season in Edmonton was 2014-15, when the Oilers finished with 62 points and fired coach Dallas Eakins midseason. They drafted Connor McDavid the following that offseason and improved under new coach Todd McLellan in2015-16, and then made the jump to a 103-point campaign last season.
"I think the situation here is the same," he said. "You've got a great player in [Jack] Eichel who's going to come up just like Connor did in Edmonton. Things can turn around quickly, especially when you get new management, new coaches and everything. It's a fresh, new start for everyone and I think it's good."
Pouliot has spent the beginning of camp skating alongside another one of Buffalo's young stars in Sam Reinhart, a situation he compared to playing with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle in Edmonton. It was Pouliot's job to retrieve pucks on the forecheck and get the puck to one of his young, playmaking centers.
"They're the guys who are going to make the plays," he said. "But you need that guy who's going to go get it and create some havoc down low and then we'll figure it out from there."
"Ben's got terrific speed. He can be first on the forecheck for sure," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "He's trying to understand the way we're trying to play in the offensive zone and off the rush. That's going to take a little time, but definitely he has the speed to do that."
Pouliot will be looking to rebound from a season he described as the most difficult of his career. His average ice time was cut to 14:03, down two minutes from the previous season, and he scored just 14 points after scoring 30-plus for three straight seasons.
Two practices into camp, he seemed happy with the choice he made in coming to Buffalo.
"It's a good mix of young and old," he said. "The guys have been having fun ever since I got here. It's been real easy for me to fit in and talk to the guys. They made me feel comfortable and I think it just make it's easy for everyone."
Now, onto some more notes from Saturday's practice.
Guhle, Risto skate together
Brendan Guhle skated on a pair with Rasmus Ristolainen for the second straight practice on Saturday, providing a look at what could one day be a dynamic offensive pairing for the Sabres. Both are gifted offensively, but Housley said it will take chemistry for the duo to be successful.
"They just have to read off each other," Housley said. "There's going to be a time where one guy's going to be digging a puck out of the corner and the other guy will be free and he'll be able to join the rush. Certainly we don't want them to both join the rush, but that's great. I like their offensive instincts, I liked the way they passed the puck today so that's something to look at as we move forward."
It's early in camp, and Guhle will have to impress to make the Sabres roster, let alone the top pair alongside Ristolainen. The fact that the Sabres are getting a look at him in that spot likely reinforces what we already know, which is that they have high expectations for his future.
Housley said he liked the pace and execution at practice. The players, it seems, are already showing enthusiasm about their new system.
"It's what we asked of them as an expectation heading into camp, and I think they're having fun out there," Housley said. "It's a new style of game that I think they're going to enjoy … Today a big step for both groups today. I really liked the speed that they brought."
Cliff Pu joined Alexander Nylander and Sean Malone as absentees from practice, although Housley said it was for personal reasons and that he'll be back on the ice tomorrow. In Pu's absence, Vasily Glotov switched practice groups and skated on a line with Kyle Criscuolo and Eric Cornel.
Here are Saturday's lines in full:
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
26 Matt Moulson - 22 Johan Larsson - 24 Hudson Fasching
64 Vaclav Karabacek - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 49 C.J. Smith
83 Vasily Glotov - 51 Kyle Criscuolo - 46 Eric Cornel
45 Brendan Guhle - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
19 Jake McCabe - 27 Taylor Fedun
8 Casey Nelson - 38 Cody Goloubef
58 Austin Osmanski - 53 Devante Stephens
40 Robin Lehner
35 Linus Ullmark
34 Jonas Johansson
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
67 Benoit Pouliot - 23 Sam Reinhart - 52 Stevie Moses
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 12 Kevin Porter - 95 Justin Bailey
25 Seth Griffith - 10 Jacob Josefson - 13 Nicholas Baptiste
62 Brandon Hagel
Defensemen: 6 Marco Scandella, 47 Zach Bogosian, 41 Justin Falk, 4 Josh Gorges, 93 Victor Antipin, 82 Nathan Beaulieu, 5 Matt Tennyson, 79 Vojtech Budik, 54 Brycen Martin
31 Chad Johnson
32 Adam Wilcox
33 Jason Kasdorf