If Marco Scandella is a man who wears his emotions on his sleeves, as Jason Pominville said on Friday, it was clear how he felt about being in Buffalo for his first practice as a Sabre. Scandella smiled throughout his post-practice comments, and after a summer of rehabbing from arthroscopic surgery on his left hip, he just seemed happy to be on the ice.
"It's extremely exciting," Scandella said. "Coming to a new team, a lot of talent up front, a new coach. How could you not be excited right now?"
Scandella and Pominville, acquired together in a trade that sent Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis to Minnesota on June 30, were part of the same practice session as the on-ice portion of training camp opened at HarborCenter on Friday.
For Scandella, it was the first practice he'd been a part of for any organization other than Minnesota. For Pominville, it was a return to the franchise he began his career with more than a decade ago.
For both players, it signaled a new beginning as they look to be driving forces in what's hoped to be a turnaround season for the Sabres.
A greater role
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When the Sabres traded for Scandella, Jason Botterill said he expected the defenseman to take on a larger role for Buffalo than the one he had in Minnesota a season ago. Scandella only averaged 18:20 of ice time after averaging 20-plus minutes for two seasons prior.
According to Pominville, the drop in ice time stemmed from Scandella's removal from a change in his defensive partner under first-year Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. Prior to last season, Scandella had spent the majority of his ice time playing alongside Jared Spurgeon.
"I think it was disappointing for him, to be honest with you," Pominville said. "I think when you wanted to create offense, him and Spurgeon were arguably our top two guys to be on the ice with. They would join the rush, they would create offense pretty much on their own and they'd be really fun to play with.
"Last year, D pairings kind of changed. He ended up bouncing around. Spurgeon ended up with [Ryan] Suter most of the time, so Scanny was kind of bouncing around. He wasn't able to find that stability with a partner and didn't play the minutes that he maybe should've."
Scandella rebounded and averaged 22:55 of ice time in the Wild's playoff series against St. Louis, standing out as one of the best defensemen in the series. The Sabres clearly took notice; in an offseason focused on bolstering defensive depth, he was their primary acquisition.
So, what kind of player did they get?
"He's a big boy," Pominville said of the 6-foot-3-inch, 208-pound defenseman. "He's got a long reach. He can shoot the puck 100 miles an hour. He's a guy who's annoying to play against and I think the people of Buffalo will definitely enjoy seeing this guy play."
Scandella practiced alongside Zach Bogosian on Friday, although it won't be a surprise if we see him on the top pair with Rasmus Ristolainen once the Sabres merge into one practice group (Ristolainen was in the opposite session on Friday and was paired with rookie Brendan Guhle).
Scandella was optimistic about the prospect of taking on a larger role, although he didn't want to define what that role may be. Echoing the comments some of his teammates made on Friday, Scandella said he'd rather let his play do the talking and earn whatever role he ends up with.
His coach, however, was a bit less reluctant to talk about Scandella's importance.
"I think he's going to be a big part of our team, that's going to be his role," Phil Housley said. "You see the way he played against St. Louis in the playoffs, he was probably one of their better D men. He got up in the play well, defended well. He's got a lot of grit to his game so he's going to fit nicely back there in our D core."
Scandella was willing to talk about his expectations for the team, and he did so optimistically.
"This team has a lot of talent," he said. "Definitely, we have the talent in here. [It's a] really tight group so it's us to build this in training camp. New coach, new system, so it's up to us to make that happen."
"A guy to look up to"
Video: Jason Pominville After Practice (9/15/17)
When Scandella was a young defenseman still looking to establish himself as a full-time NHLer, Pominville was one of the players he looked up to most.
"He's just a great person, but what a great pro," Scandella said. "Always stretching, always taking care of his body, so he's just a great role model for all the young guys. When I first got to Minnesota I looked up to him a lot."
It hasn't taken the former Sabre captain long to impart that leadership on his new teammates, who seem to already respect his place in the organization. In a session that included some of the team's young stars in Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, Pominville led the stretch to open practice on Friday.
"First off, the respect he has from the whole locker room, right when he walks in," Reinhart said when asked what's stood about Pominville.. "He's been in this locker room a lot, so guys look to follow him and guys look to follow his work ethic, his approach to the game on a daily basis. He's another guy for me and all the young guys to look up to and follow after."
Pominville is the only player left from Buffalo's last postseason team. He also made the playoffs in each of his five seasons with the Wild, an experience he said helped him grow as a professional. He and his teammates in Minnesota pushed each other to improve constantly, an element he hopes to impart on a young Sabres dressing room.
He might just be an X factor for the Sabres on the ice as well. Pominville found himself on arguably Buffalo's most dynamic offensive line on Friday, skating alongside Eichel and Evander Kane.
"We've got to set the bar higher for ourselves and keep pushing each other every day," he said. "I think it's time for this team to make a step. Obviously this city deserves a little more than what they've got lately and hopefully we can do that starting this year."