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Takeaways from media day as Sabres report to camp

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Phil Housley (9/14/17)


Phil Housley speaks with the media on the first day of training camp

  • 11:44 •

When it comes to describing the system that Phil Housley will employ as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, "aggressive" has been the operative word. The Sabres will be aggressive in their five-man attack on offense, and they'll be aggressive closing gaps and pressuring attackers on defense.

But while players seemed plenty excited about Housley and his new system as they reported for the beginning of training camp on Thursday morning, Housley's message off the ice may be of equal importance.

In that sense, the operative phrase is "fresh start."

"I'm not going to judge people on what they did in the past," Housley said. "Certainly I know where they are in their career and things like this, but I think it's more about what they do tomorrow, what they do the next day. How are they going to keep improving? How are they going to push their teammates? How are we going to get better as a team and build as a group as we move forward through training camp?"

Video: Sabres Now (9/14/17)

Housley said he'll stress that point to his players in their intro meeting as he looks to provide further separation from the bitter end to last season, which saw the Sabres miss the playoffs for a sixth straight year and resulted in the dismissal of Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma.

So far, the impressions that the players have had of Housley have been overwhelmingly positive. Take it from Kyle Okposo, who played for Housley on Team USA.

"I think he's a really good person," Okposo said. "I just think he has the right intentions, and that's something that's really important to have in somebody at the helm."

Jack Eichel seemed enthusiastic as well, based both on his own interactions with Housley and on those he's spoken to who know him.

"He's had quite the career as a player and as a coach," Eichel said. "Whether it's past coaches that know him or buddies of mine that have played for him, people that know him from Nashville, everyone seems to say really good things about him. I'm just excited to have a guy like that here."

Tomorrow, we'll see those words turn into action as the Sabres take the ice for the first time. In the meantime, here are five more takeaways from media day.


Eichel is gearing up for a big season


Perhaps the most telling statement of the day came from Eichel, who gave an honest self-assessment when asked if he had anything to prove this season.

"I think I have a lot to prove," Eichel said. "Actually, I think I've proven nothing. It's a huge year for me personally and as a team. We want to take the next step as a team. I think for us to do that, we need some guys to take the next step as players and I need to be one of them."

To say he's proven nothing is an overstatement. Eichel's scored 50-plus points in each of his first two seasons and has proven himself as one of the most dynamic young players in the NHL. What his statement says is two-fold: He expects to be a leader on a winning team, and as he said to end last season, he believes he's only begun to tap his potential.

Eichel said the time for him to step up from a leadership standpoint is now, and his handling of his ongoing contract negotiations with the Sabres is a good start. Eichel reiterated his stance on the matter on Thursday.

"It's not really something that is too much on my mind," he said. "I've kind of let my agents deal with it. I told them if we get a deal done before the season we get a deal done. If we don't, it's not something I'm worried about. I'm pretty open to just playing and seeing what happens.

"I'm here and I just want to try and help this team win games. I want to be the best player and teammate that I can be and do as much as I can. I think at the end of the day, if you do the right things, that sort of thing will take care of itself."


 The Sabres will be aggressive on both ends of the ice

Okposo said Thursday that playing against Phil Housley's Nashville teams felt like playing against six opposing skaters at all time. Housley hopes to recreate that style of play in Buffalo by playing aggressively all over the ice.

"We've talked about playing aggressive offensively, but we need to play aggressive defensively. Defense gives you a chance to win every night," he said. "They'll understand, but we want to be fast and aggressive. The days are gone where a guy makes a breakout pass and the D just watches the rush go up and play.

"They have to get up in the play, not only to maybe join the rush and attack but be in the offensive zone, be able to keep pucks in or else you're going to start playing defense. But when the puck gets turned over, our mindset and our back pressure is going to be aggressive. We're going to try and take time and space away so teams can't make plays. That requires playing without the puck."

The Sabres have plenty of players who fit that mold on the front end, beginning with two premier skaters in Eichel and Evander Kane. Eichel said that Housley's style of play should come naturally.


"That's my game," he said. "Obviously the way that Phil wants to play is right up my alley. I'm excited for it. D down the wall, D on the rush, that's me."

On the backend, Housley spoke with excitement about the acquisitions of Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu and Victor Antipin.

"The acquisitions that Jason Botterill made over the summer really gave our D core depth right out of the gate," he said. "You add a player like Marco Scandella, who's been a proven NHL player, had a great playoff against St. Louis. Nathan Beaulieu is an up-and-coming player, he's a first-round pick. That right there we've secured depth at our blue line which is really important in today's game."


Okposo is healthy, confident heading into the season


Okposo was blunt when asked if he was worried about potential repercussions of his season-ending concussion.

 "No," he said, smiling. "It feels good. It was a long road and definitely some scary times, but I'm just happy to be here and happy that I don't have any worries at all, any concerns and I'm looking forward to hopefully being better than I ever have been."

Okposo also took the time to thank fans once again for their support at the end of last season, when complications with his medication landed him in intensive care.

"It feels good," he said. "It was a long road and definitely some scary times, but I'm just happy to be here and happy that I don't have any worries at all, any concerns and I'm looking forward to hopefully being better than I ever have been."


The Sabres will test Sam Reinhart at center

Reinhart has been successful for stretches both at center, his natural position coming into the NHL, and on the right wing alongside either Eichel or Ryan O'Reilly. It sounds as though we'll see him at both positions in the preseason as Housley determines his fit in the Sabres lineup.


"We are going to play guys that played wing and put them at center and guys that player center, put them at wing," Housley said. "We're going to try different combinations, try to find the right mix and yeah, I would say Sam is probably going to play some center. The center position is so important, especially in our system. It's going to be important to have four guys who can play and be trustworthy."


Robin Lehner is confident in his abilities


Lehner addressed offseason speculation about what the dismissal of Tim Murray might mean for his standing with the Sabres. Murray helped draft Lehner in Ottawa and traded a first-round pick to bring him to Buffalo prior to the 2015-16 season.

"Me and Tim, we knew each other but it's not like we were hanging out at home," Lehner said. I'm here because I can play, and he brought me here because he knew I could play. Everyone needs to prove themselves year in and year out, but I'm done. I'm done coming in trying to impress people. I am who I am, I know what I can do when I'm healthy and I know that if we put this team together and everyone plays to their capabilities then I think we can have a good season and a good future." 

Lehner posted a .920 save percentage in a career-high 59 games last season.


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