Jason Zucker and Sam Lafferty were excited about the opportunity to compete with a young and talented Buffalo Sabres team when looking at where they wanted to sign on the opening day of free agency.

The forwards inked contracts with Buffalo on Monday as a result, with Zucker signing a one-year contract worth $5 million and Lafferty joining the Sabres on a two-year deal worth an average annual value of $2 million.

General manager Kevyn Adams targeted both players as he entered the offseason prioritizing physical, competitive forwards who could round out the Sabres’ skilled roster. The Sabres also added forwards Beck Malenstyn and Nicolas Aube-Kubel along with defenseman Dennis Gilbert.

Zucker, who comes to Buffalo with 697 career regular-season games and 52 playoff games under his belt, expressed his excitement about joining the team during his introductory press conference on Wednesday.

“I think for me, it’s an exciting opportunity to come in and play with an extremely talented group,” he said. “Playing against Buffalo over the last few years has not been a fun team to play against with the amount of talent, the D corps, and I think it’s only getting better.”

Lafferty echoed this sentiment during his own media availability.

“I’ve always been a big fan of this hockey club and the players they had,” Lafferty said. “So, it got me excited, the opportunity to play with a lot of these guys, obviously. You could just tell the conversations with Kevyn that this was going to be a good fit and a situation where I think I can see myself really helping the team.”

Sam Lafferty addresses the media

Zucker and Lafferty previously played together in Pittsburgh and shared their enthusiasm for using their skill sets to complement Buffalo’s young talent.

Zucker has had an accomplished offensive career, having surpassed 20 goals in a season six times (including a 27-goal campaign with Pittsburgh as recently as 2022-23). He generates his offense through a gritty, up-tempo style which allows him to play up and down the lineup. 

“I’ve always been impressed with his compete level and the intensity he brings every single day to the rink,” Lafferty said. “He scores a lot of goals in areas that guys don’t want to go to around the net. He’s not afraid to mix it up and just competes all over the ice.”

Lafferty, a centerman who recorded 192 hits last season with Vancouver, aims to bring versatility to the lineup with the ability to take faceoffs, bring physicality and speed, and contribute on the penalty kill.

“I love his game,” Zucker said of Lafferty. “I mean, he brings a crazy amount of speed. The physicality is a lot of fun to watch.”

The styles fit with the identity Adams and coach Lindy Ruff are looking to build this upcoming season, which is similar to what Zucker experienced playing against Ruff’s New Jersey Devils teams.

“It’s a high-tempo game, high-paced, and it’s making teams try to keep up,” Zucker said. “And it’s a high-skill game as well. But he tried to make sure that he has enough grit within his lineup to complement that skill, and I think that’s something that he does a very good job of when he’s honing his teams together.”

Jason Zucker addresses the media

Zucker and Lafferty will also bring playoff experience to Ruff’s team. The duo has played a combined 73 postseason games, with both players coming off of playoff runs with their respective teams last season.

The pair believes the key to making the playoffs is collective confidence and buy-in from the group, which they will try to help instill. 

“I’m a big advocate of confidence,” Zucker said. “For me, when you come into a season as a Buffalo Sabre, you need to say, ‘We’re going to go make the playoffs.’ … We need to just have to have that confidence and that swagger from day one and make sure that every single game we’re going into and every single night we’re playing with that swagger and that confidence, and it’s just going to build.”

Lafferty is excited to see how Buffalo will rally around the team when it takes that step.

“I can tell Buffalo is a place where I remember as a kid seeing the teams that had a lot of success in the 2000s, and you can just tell the city really gets behind the team and is really craving playoff hockey around here,” he said. “I think it's when it's most fun and that's what the goal is. That's what we're looking forward to.”