Ralph Krueger smiled as he walked into the KeyBank Center press conference room on Monday morning.
"Good morning," the coach said. "Let's play."
It will be an evening of debuts as the Sabres open their preseason schedule tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Pegula Ice Arena on the campus of Penn State University. The game will be streamed within the Buffalo broadcast market right here on Sabres.com, with puck drop set for 7.
In addition to it being the first game for Krueger and his coaching staff, six players will make their exhibition debuts with the Sabres: forwards Dylan Cozens, Curtis Lazar, and Jimmy Vesey; and defensemen John Gilmour, Henri Jokiharju, and Colin Miller.
Of that group, Cozens is unique in the sense that this will be his first taste of NHL competition. The 18-year-old has practiced for three days in the same group as veterans like Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, and Rasmus Ristolainen, taking note of the increase in strength and speed from his three-game stint at the Prospects Challenge.
Cozens and Krueger agreed that simplicity will be a focus for his first preseason game.
"I can't be out there trying to dangle everyone and turning pucks over," Cozens said. "I've got to simplify it, especially at this level at the start of the season. You've just got to simplify things and just play more of a simple game and get things done."
"I think this is a lot different than the rookie games," Krueger added. "What we're looking for is simplicity. I thought in the rookie camp at times he was trying to be a difference maker every time on the ice, and he doesn't have that pressure here. We'd like to see him execute within the principles, keep it nice and simple and just have fun."
Video: PREGAME: Krueger
Cozens will center a line with Remi Elie and Tage Thompson and see time on a power-play unit with Gilmour, Miller, Conor Sheary, and Evan Rodrigues.
Cozens and Thompson have spent time together away from the rink after forming a friendship as roommates at development camp, chemistry they hope will translate to the ice.
"On the ice, he's so explosive," Thompson said. "He's a really fast player. He's got great skill. I think he's kind of a playmaker, past-first kind of guy so for me I've just got to get open. He's so dynamic with his speed that he creates chances just by himself.
"For me, it's just getting open into those shooting areas. I think he's got great enough vision that he'll find me."
Behind the bench
Krueger admitted the game will be a learning experience as he and his staff manage the bench for the first time. Considerations he'll need to address in the coming weeks include how much teaching will be done in-game, how technology will be used on the bench, and how new rule changes will impact the game.
One change that coaches will be feeling out this preseason is a new rule allowing offensive teams to choose the circle where a faceoff is held after icings and at the start of power plays.
"We're going to be playing with that a little bit in the beginning today," Krueger said. "It's definitely a factor, let's be honest. Also, watching what the opposition power play does - who you're going to have on your PK on the draws and how much sticks are going to make a difference.
"We're going to track the right versus right, left versus left and so on and so forth on the players a lot now versus in the old days when you might not have, you just looked at plain percentages. Now, I think it gets a little more baseball-like where you're looking at the right-handed hitter and the left-handed hitter. That's another dimension that's new for all coaches that we need to get very good at."
13 Jimmy Vesey - 9 Jack Eichel - 43 Conor Sheary
53 Jeff Skinner - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 27 Curtis Lazar
81 Remi Elie - 42 Dylan Cozens - 72 Tage Thompson
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 52 Andrew Oglevie
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 10 Henri Jokiharju
6 Marco Scandella - 33 Colin Miller
58 John Gilmour - 8 Casey Nelson
40 Carter Hutton
34 Jonas Johansson