Thirteen forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies took the ice for a practice session on Tuesday morning that was long enough to allow even the worst mathematician to perform some simple addition.
Just in case, though, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma was willing to lend a bit of help afterward.
“Yes, 23, right there,” he said, confirming that he had set his 23-man roster, which has to be submitted to the League by 5 p.m.
Buffalo still has 27 men listed on its camp roster, but four of those players have been out of practice due to injuries and could begin the season on injured reserve. Of the players on that list, defenseman Zach Bogosian was expected to contribute the most ice time at the NHL level.
Bogosian is currently week-to-week with a lower-body injury that he sustained earlier in camp.
“I don’t think I’ve ever left a training camp without having some injury or some bruise or some situation so, you know, starting before training camp you know you’re gonna deal with some situation, you know you’re going to have an injury at some point in time and at some point in time someone’s going to tell you that you have a lot of injuries,” Bylsma said. “That’s the way it’s going to be and so you deal with it accordingly.”
So, who makes up the 23? At forward for the Sabres were Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, Brian Gionta, Marcus Foligno, David Legwand, Nicolas Deslauriers, Jamie McGinn, Sam Reinhart, Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons.
Buffalo’s defensemen included Josh Gorges, Rasmus Ristolainen, Mike Weber, Cody Franson, Carlo Colaiacovo, Mark Pysyk, Jake McCabe and Matt Donovan. The team will start the season with Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson as their goaltenders.
Eichel, meanwhile, was still wearing 41 on his helmet at Tuesday’s practice. Both he and Bylsma have said that he would begin wearing his number 15 once he officially earns his spot on the NHL roster.
To this point, Bylsma has had no such conversation with Eichel or with any of his players.
“I talked to the guys today: tomorrow is the first day,” Bylsma said. “Opening day is tomorrow, first day of the season is tomorrow and we’ll make our roster tomorrow.”
While it may not yet be official, Eichel’s performance in the preseason would seemingly make him a safe bet to be in the lineup against Ottawa on Thursday. With that in mind, the 18-year-old is still trying to process the moment that awaits him.
“I’m excited about it. A lot of family and friends are coming in so that’s going to be a special moment for me. It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice,” he said. “You’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done in your life is to get to this point so it’s pretty special.”
PLENTY OF OPTIONS FOR ALTERNATE CAPTAINS
While Brian Gionta will retain his status as the captain of the Sabres, Bylsma said Tuesday that alternate captains had not yet been decided. Gorges and Moulson both wore the ‘A’ for Buffalo last season.
Several players have worn letters over the course of the preseason, which Bylsma said is a testament to the depth of the team’s leadership.
“I think that’s a big part of it,” he said. “We have some, I think, really good leadership in place that was here previously. But we also are bringing in guys to the group that are showing they’re leaders in how they’ve been in training camp, how they’re playing, how they’re practicing. So I think you’ve seen that from a number of the new guys coming into our team.”
Bylsma said that he was immediately impressed with the presence and demeanor of Gionta, which makes him a good fit to be a captain in the League.
“In looking at him, in terms of the leadership both in how you work and how you act and what you’re able to say, Brian is an excellent – one of the best choices for a captaincy, whether that’s the Buffalo Sabres or another team,” Bylsma said. “He’s that type of person and that type of player, that type of veteran for our team.”
LEARNING THE ROPES
The Sabres had some time to regroup after a long camp on Monday, taking the day off from practice for a team-bonding retreat. The time off not only gave them an opportunity to relax a bit, but also to continue to build the chemistry that they’ve been forming since the start of camp.
“It’s good to do other things other than hockey, you know play some golf, so some ropes courses, things like that and have some fun,” defenseman Mike Weber said. “It’s good to get us away before everything starts to kind of get to know each other off the ice more so you can bring that into the season.”
Those rope courses may have not been the most relaxing part of the trip. Moulson said a fear of heights was an issue for some of the players.
So, was he afraid himself?
“I thought I was at the start but I quickly got over it,” he said. “I think it was more the dangling in the sky thing that got me so I got over that pretty quickly and it was a lot of fun once I mastered that fear.”