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'It's in his DNA': Kahun made strong impression on Granato in Chicago

Winger practice alongside Johansson, Vesey in Las Vegas

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

LAS VEGAS - Don Granato's immediate thought when reflecting on his season with Dominik Kahun in Chicago is how much the forward's teammates enjoyed playing with him. 

Granato was an assistant coach with the Blackhawks last season. Kahun was an undrafted rookie who, playing his pro first season in North America at age 23, quickly earned the respect of his peers on a veteran-laden team. 

"They liked playing with him on a line, the power play, whatever," Granato said. "You could see it. He's a fun personality but a contributing personally from the standpoint of he's very serious about his performance.

"… I'm excited that I have a chance to be on the same team again. It was fun to be around him every day in Chicago. It's fun to see him here now. I think he'll fit in fast, fit in well."

Kahun participated in his first full practice with the Sabres at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday and by all accounts is adapting quickly to his new surroundings. He already has a friend on the team in defenseman Henri Jokiharju, whom he roomed with in Chicago. 


The winger practiced on a line with Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey, a look the Sabres could utilize if he makes his debut against the Golden Knights on Friday. Krueger expects Kahun's history at center, where he played most of his life prior to coming to the NHL, to allow him to adapt quickly to the team's expectations away from the puck. Offensively, he sees an opportunity for chemistry with Johansson. 

"There's a skill there that I think could connect with his," Krueger said. "We just feel that, again, we need to get the other lines going right now. We all know that Eichel and Larsson have a clear identity. We're looking for another mix in the other two lines and we've been moving those lines around for our liking, actually, a little too much. 

"But we see Dominik as a high skilled player with a lot of speed who should be able to connect with Johansson on his offensive side. We'll see how it all comes out tomorrow. We haven't decided final on the lines. We wanted to look at something today and that's definitely one of our options."

Granato describes Kahun as having an agile skillset. 

"It's quick turns and tight turns and an ability to gain a puck that's bouncing or a puck that looks like it's a broken play, but it's a small area," Granato said. "Very good small area skills, being agility, tight turns and quickness - quickness with his feet, quickness with tight turns, quickness with his hands."

More than quickness, though, Granato spoke at length about Kahun's intangibles. He managed to play all 82 games as a rookie last season, double the length of the regular season schedule he was used to with his pro team in Germany. He played more than 400 minutes alongside Jonathan Toews at 5-on-5 which, Granato explained, takes another level of demand to match the intensity of a star player. 

Granato felt Kahun earn the respect of players like Toews because of the seriousness with which he took his craft. He's known for spending long amounts of time working on skills before and after practice. He's consistent in his preparation and, by extension, in the games themselves. 

Kahun left that impression while going through the learning experiences every rookie must face, from knowledge of systems to comfort within one's role.  

"He went into each one of those situations trying to absorb it and trying to apply it, and I sense that now," Granato said. "So, I'm excited to see him and see his progress that he's made because I know he's made progress. It's in his DNA to keep getting better."


Looking ahead

Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Krueger

The Sabres' spirits were up in the wake of their 3-2 loss in Colorado on Wednesday, a game with a playoff-like intensity that they very nearly tied in the final minute. They can expect a similar atmosphere Friday against a Golden Knights team that leads the Pacific Division and has won seven straight games.

Krueger said that while the competitive nature between Colorado and Vegas is identical, their personalities are completely different. 

"You look at how dynamic Colorado is in the offense and how they attack in groups of five relentlessly and how they use the backside of the rink on the attack is unique whereas Las Vegas is a much more structured and organized team with an amazing defensive discipline, and they explode out of that."

The Sabres, meanwhile, don't change based on their opponent but rather seek to dictate the play with their own consistent identity. 

"That's the interesting thing about the way we play is we don't change our strategy Colorado to Las Vegas," Krueger said. "I think that gives our guys a comfort to just be able to continue where we left off in the Colorado game, build on it here, knowing that they're very hot and very confident but so are we. 

"We feel confident right now. We believe in our game and we're expecting another good one but as we all know, only the result in the end counts at this time of year."


Thursday's practice

Kyle Okposo took a maintenance day but is expected to play against the Golden Knights on Friday. 

The Sabres made a change on defense prior to practice, assigning John Gilmour to Rochester and recalling Lawrence Pilut. Gilmour had not appeared in a game since being recalled on Feb. 15. Krueger said the swap was made to ensure both players get ice time. 

"Definitely to keep them playing," he said. "I mean, that was the reason Pilut went down, it was not because of a lack of performance. We were really happy with him and we were really happy with Johnny Gilmour when he was here earlier in the season. So, we just want to keep them in game shape. 

"Pilut is a candidate to come in at any time and we think it was good for him to go down and have some games as it is now for Johnny. So, that was the swap."

Pilut did not make it to Las Vegas in time for practice. Here's how the team lined up. 

68 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 27 Curtis Lazar - 17 Wayne Simmonds
95 Dominik Kahun - 90 Marcus Johansson - 13 Jimmy Vesey
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 67 Michael Frolik 

62 Brandon Montour - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 33 Colin Miller 
19 Jake McCabe - 10 Henri Jokiharju 

40 Carter Hutton 
34 Jonas Johansson

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