In the eyes of Brayden McNabb, the 2013-14 season is a crucial one.
After an admittedly disappointing 2012-13 season, in which he did not earn a call-up from Rochester of the American Hockey League, he’s eager to get the new season underway.
The Buffalo Sabres drafted McNabb 66th overall in the 2009 NHL Draft. In 2011-12, his first professional season, he found himself in the NHL and playing valuable minutes for the Sabres. He hasn’t been back in the NHL since.
“This is a big year for me. I’ve got to earn a spot,” he said during the team’s development camp in July. “I need to come into camp in great shape and just be ready to go right off the hop.”
McNabb, 22, is in the last year of a three-year, entry-level contract he signed in 2011 and feels that he needs to make a lasting impact soon.
“Once your entry level deal ends and you’re not consistently in the NHL, it becomes that much harder,” he said.
A physical presence, McNabb has used his 6-foot-4, 205-pound body to outmuscle the opposition and dish out some big hits along the way.
“I like to be physical, but you have to pick your times. You don’t want to pinch at the wrong time to give up odd-man rushes,” McNabb explained. “I think that’s another big thing I need to work on. The hitting will be there, but you just have to be careful on when you do it.”
It’s a huge motivation for me. I had a taste and I want to be [with the Sabres]. I just need to work that much harder to get here. - Brayden McNabb
McNabb had a successful junior career with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League. On Jan. 2, 2011 he scored his 136th career point to become the highest-scoring defenseman in Kootenay’s history and set single-season franchise records for goals (21), assists (51) and points (72) by a defenseman. He finished at Kootenay with 50 goals and 126 assists in 258 games over five seasons spanning 2006-11.
He also had a 12-game playoff point streak from April 3-May 10, 2011, recording two goals and 19 assists during that stretch.
Prior to joining Kootenay, he played for one season at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Saskatchewan with future Sabres teammate Tyler Myers.
When he was up with Buffalo in 2011-12, he found himself once again alongside Myers. McNabb scored his first goal on Dec. 26, 2011 against the Capitals in his 12th NHL game.
He played in 25 games for the Sabres that season, including the last four of the year. He logged a career-high 25:19 in the final game.
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McNabb started the season with Rochester and struggled early on. Eventually he regained his form and was named an AHL All-Star. He finished the year with five goals and 25 assists in 45 games.
“Last year wasn’t my best season, but I had good parts of it. I just had a rough patch there for a bit and kind of turned things around after that,” McNabb said. “The points were there, but it’s not all about points. I think defensively, I was a lot better; more sound positionally. I was using my stick, which is one of my greater attributes.”
He missed out on the chance to claim a roster spot with the Sabres toward the end of last season after the team traded away veteran defensemen Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold. McNabb’s season ended abruptly when he injured his knee on March 23 in Houston. He’s been itching for another chance ever since.
“It’s a huge motivation for me. I had a taste and I want to be [with the Sabres],” McNabb said. “I didn’t have the chance last year. It was frustrating, but it’s a learning experience. I just need to work that much harder to get here.”
Despite some injuries and other setbacks he’s faced over the last few years, McNabb still believes he can be a key component in the Sabres organization moving forward.
“I’m confident in myself that I can play in the NHL. I just have to get the opportunity and when or if I do, I just have to take full advantage of it,” he said. “It’s a tough sport and a tough job to get, so you just have to be ready whenever you get your opportunity.”