Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams was waiting for Zach Benson on the bench following the team’s morning skate Friday at KeyBank Center.

“He kind of let me know I’ll be playing my 10th game tonight and, you know, just keep getting better every day, that’s the goal,” Benson said. “My main focus is on tonight and how I can play my best game to help this team try to win a hockey game.”

Benson will suit up for his 10th NHL game and will remain with the Sabres on the first year of his entry-level contract. The rookie forward was allowed to play up to nine games without counting toward his deal and would have had to return to the Wenatchee Wild of the Western Hockey League if the organization did not keep him around.

Zach Benson addresses the media

Coach Don Granato said that the decision was challenging as it is hard to predict the future, but Benson’s play warranted a spot in the lineup beyond the nine-game threshold.

The rookie forward has tallied five points (1+4) in his nine games in 2023-24 and is averaging 13:46 on ice per game while logging minutes on the Sabres’ second power-play unit.

“He’s been good from day one at camp," Granato said. "As I mentioned, if he wasn’t good and proficient without the puck and positioning and play, he wouldn’t have even been on the opening day roster. And then he shows attributes with a real capacity to grow game by game. I think he’s continued to add things to his game because he’s an intelligent player.”

Don Granato addresses the media

The 18-year-old has focused on taking things day by day and learning from the talent around him with confidence in his abilities.

“I would say I’m just kind of a hockey nerd, so I love to learn as much as I can about the game,” he said.
“That’s kind of what I’m doing, I was doing and I’m still going to continue to do.

“Obviously, I’m pretty confident in myself. You need to have confidence at this level if you want to succeed. My confidence has never really wavered. I’ve been confident kind of since day one. That goes to show how welcoming this group is and how comfortable they make you feel quickly.”

Tickets for Friday’s game are available here.

The game will be broadcast nationally on TNT with faceoff slated for 6 p.m. Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray will have the radio call on WGR 550.

Here are five things to know before the puck drops.

1. The lineup

Granato does not expect the team to play with 11 forwards and seven defensemen again Friday but it may need to depending on the group’s health up front.

The coaching staff will reassess the situation before making a decision ahead of game time.

Here’s how the group lined up for morning skate.


53 Jeff Skinner – 24 Dylan Cozens – 89 Alex Tuch

9 Zach Benson – 37 Casey Mittelstadt – 77 JJ Peterka

12 Jordan Greenway – 17 Tyson Jost – 71 Victor Olofsson

28 Zemgus Girgensons – 19 Peyton Krebs – 21 Kyle Okposo


26 Rasmus Dahlin – 23 Mattias Samuelsson

25 Owen Power – 33 Ryan Johnson

6 Erik Johnson – 75 Connor Clifton

78 Jacob Bryson – 10 Henri Jokiharju


1 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen

27 Devon Levi

31 Eric Comrie

2. In the crease

Goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was the first goalie off the ice and had his own net at morning skate while Eric Comrie and Devon Levi shared the opposite net.

Luukkonen is expected to make his eighth start of the season after posting a 4-3-1 record and a .911 save percentage in nine appearances in 2023-24.

3. Benson's consistency

Benson enters Friday’s contest on a three-game point streak, with a point in each of his last three games.

He tallied his first NHL goal in highlight-reel fashion in Wednesday’s loss to the Washington Capitals, remaining consistent in his play.

The Chilliwack, British Columbia native would like to believe his consistency is what allowed him to stick around in Buffalo as it is an attribute he works hard to maintain.

“That’s kind of one of my main things is I love to be consistent," he said. "I try to be as consistent as possible."

Granato echoed Benson's thoughts following the skate.

"He was consistent and consistently effective from day one," Granato said. "So in that respect, yes, very easy decision that he’s earned the right to be here. You can’t forecast the future and you got a young guy in his first  (season). He’s gonna go through ups and downs.

"But he’s shown the attributes that the down times can be shortened through his high compete, through his intelligence and awareness, self-awareness, situational awareness. We feel that even in times of the downs that every player in the NHL has, he has components that can get himself back up quicker. So, in that respect there’s comfort moving forward here.”

4. Peterka's performance

JJ Peterka has recorded 13 points (6+7) in his last 12 games, including at least a point in 10 of those contests.

The 21-year-old is riding a four-game point streak with two goals and three assists in that span and looks to extend his streak against the Penguins.

5. Scouting the Penguins

Friday serves as the second meeting between Buffalo and Pittsburgh this season. In their first meeting in Pittsburgh on Nov. 11, the Penguins defeated the Sabres 4-0 behind a pair of goals from Erik Karlsson and tallies from Evgeni Malkin and Drew O’Connor.

At 36 years old, Sidney Crosby leads the Penguins with 22 points (12+10) in 18 games.

Granato shared how challenging it is to prevent talented, veteran players like Crosby and Malkin from making an impact.

“They’re very, very competitive people. It’s hard to hold those guys down and hold those guys back," Granato said. "They are off to an incredible start, and it’s a grind. It’ll be a grind for everybody. But those are guys that their compete level drives them through that. And it has to this point in their career. They wouldn’t be around at that age if they weren’t ultra-competitive.”

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan announced goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic will start in goal. He has a .944 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average in three games so far this season.