Many players came into training camp leaner and in better shape. Buffalo Sabres forward Nicolas Deslauriers spent the summer in Buffalo working with strength and conditioning coach Doug McKenney.
The result? He said he’s lost about 20 pounds and feels more comfortable with the organization as a whole.
The Sabres acquired Deslauriers from the Kings at the NHL Trade Deadline in March. A third-round pick in 2009, Deslauriers never had the chance to play in the NHL in his time with the Kings, but he was thrust into Buffalo’s lineup almost immediately. He made his NHL debut on March 7 and scored his first goal on April 4. He’s relishing his time with the Sabres.
“It’s kind of weird. I was there for five years with the rookie camps and everything. But I feel so much more comfortable here,” he said after practice Saturday morning.
Buffalo used him a little last season on the point on the power play when injuries forced players to take on larger roles. He’s skated next to 2014 first-round pick Sam Reinhart in preseason action and has worked with Cody McCormick and Patrick Kaleta on a checking line during practice.
WATCH: TED NOLAN'S PRESS CONFERENCE
Last season was his first as a forward after spending his junior career and two seasons in the American Hockey League as a defenseman. His versatility is a plus, but Sabres coach Ted Nolan said it’s important to remember that he’s still just 23 years old and has only 17 NHL games under his belt.
“He’s like any of our younger players. He has some growing to do and some maturing to do. But he has the right attitude and the right approach to it,” Nolan said. “It’ll just be a smooth transition whether he gets on the third line consistently or whether he gets on the second line. That’s yet to be determined, but all indications right now, he’s moving in the right direction.”
Nolan has paid attention to how the Kings do things pretty closely since his son Jordan is in their organization. Nolan said there certain things the Sabres are trying to emulate from the two-time Stanley Cup-winning franchise.
“I don’t care what organization you come from, I think the point of feeling comfortable and feeling wanted is really important,” he said. “We want to make sure we have players here who know what we have to offer with the organization, how we’re going to treat our players and how they’re going to get treated in the city and how hard our fans want us to work. We’ll implement all of those things.”
What’s also helped Deslauriers is working with the new assistant coaching staff. Bryan Trottier, Danny Flynn, Tom Coolen and Arturs Irbe are very vocal in practice and have encouraged the players to be the same way.
“They’re always positive. I think that’s the main thing,” Deslauriers said. “On the ice, there’s always something they want to touch up, but they’re always positive. I know they’re preseason games, but it gets your mindset into a better place and it’s been awesome.”
THE BATTLES CONTINUE
Deslauriers, Zac Dalpe, Torrey Mitchell, Brian Flynn and Patrick Kaleta are among the forwards trying to leave their marks and make a positive impression every day in order to make the team.
For Deslauriers, coming in every day with a fresh mindset to work hard has helped him thus far.
“I just need to finish my hits and then if an opportunity comes to put the puck in, I’ll do my best to put it in,” he said. “…We’ll keep the foot on the pedal. I’m still battling for a spot and I just want to make the team and have the best spot as possible.”
On defense, Mark Pysyk is out for at least a week with an upper-body he sustained Tuesday against Carolina and that’s created more competition for the few available spots on the blue line.
Pysyk has not yet practiced since leaving that game. With the way things are going, the decisions by the coaches and the front office as to who will make the opening night roster will likely go down to the wire. Nolan wouldn’t have it any other way.
He’s been pleasantly surprised by the way players on the proverbial bubble have responded to the coaching staff’s challenges and the battles have been tougher than he expected.
“It’s been good and probably a little bit better than I thought. There are some guys who are really taking it game by game,” he said. “You look at [Jake] McCabe. He wants one of those spots and all of a sudden, the last couple games, he’s really turned it up a notch. Unfortunately for Pysyk, as soon as he went down, instead of three or four guys battling for it, you’ve got two or three. All of a sudden, you seize that opportunity.”
While not set in stone, Nolan hinted that Buffalo will probably go with a younger lineup against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday at Air Canada Centre. He said that while Brian Gionta, Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford will not play, recent high draft picks like Joel Armia and Mikhail Grigorenko will.
Nolan said it’s unlikely that Sam Reinhart will play. He’s the only Sabre to have played in all three preseason games.
Faceoff from Toronto is set for 7 p.m.
THE RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES
Before Buffalo’s preseason game on Friday, Nolan talked about fighting in hockey and how there’s a right time and place for it to happen. Three fights broke out during the game and Tyler Myers came close to making it a fourth.
No fan of staged bouts off a face off, Nolan thought his players handled those situations the right way. The fights against the Maple Leafs – in which Stafford, Chris Stewart and Cody McCormick received major penalties – were the result of built-up frustration in the heat of the moment.
“Every one of them were [because players were] battling. I guess that’s why there’s fighting in our game,” Nolan said.
In an interesting comparison, Nolan said shutting down a player only known to fight can be similar to making a 50-goal scorer like Alexander Ovechkin a non-factor during a game.
“Ovechkin likes to score. We want to take that strength away because he’s one of the best,” Nolan said.
“So some of the best fighters in the League, we want to take away their arsenal and not try to go toe-to-toe with those guys.”