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EARNING HIS KEEP

by Joe Ray / Buffalo Sabres

After spending parts of eight seasons in four different professional leagues, defenseman Andre Benoit finally earned a full-time position in the NHL last season. The amount of work required to get to this point is a point of pride for the 30-year-old defenseman.

“It was nice to have a year to adjust and get comfortable and play a bigger role on a team,” Benoit said. “Going through the places we’ve been through, me and my family, we appreciate it a lot and it gives me a reason to work hard every day because I want to stay.”

Benoit’s playing career includes three seasons of European experience, including one year in each of the Swedish Elite League, Finland’s SM-Liiga, and the KHL.

The extensive experience of playing on the European ice surface and being able to adjust between that and North American ice consistently, has helped Benoit mold an offensive game fit for the NHL.

We all know there’s a lot of young guys. I don’t know that any of us are big rah-rah guys, but I think we can lead by example and show the way.Andre Benoit

Benoit appeared in 33 games for the Ottawa Senators at the end of the 2012-13 season, posting three goals and seven assists.

Ottawa did not retain Benoit, and he signed with the Colorado Avalanche in hopes of staying in the NHL for a full season. Benoit did just that, finishing with seven goals and 21 assists in 79 games, while playing over 20 minutes per game for the Avs.

Benoit was a part of last season’s monumental turnaround for Colorado. After finishing dead last in the Western Conference during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Colorado jumped all the way to second place in the conference with 112 points.

“Last year was fun,” Benoit said. “We accomplished what we set out to do.

“Here, it’s an exciting opportunity too. There are a lot of good young players too and the Sabres signed a lot of veteran guys, which will bring the level up right away," Benoit explained. "It’s exciting to be a part of it, and I can’t wait to see how it shapes up.”

Benoit made his preseason debut with the Sabres in Washington on Sunday, playing 23:11 on a pairing with 2013 first-round pick Rasmus Ristolainen. He also served as an alternate captain.

Sabres coach Ted Nolan said Benoit has been as good as advertised so far through camp and expects him to mentor the younger players on the team the same way new additions Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges are.

“He fits that same type of mold. He’s a veteran presence and he’s got some maturity, especially with some of the young kids we have on our team,” Nolan said. “He’s a real good character guy that is coming here looking for a fresh start. I see him as one of those guys that’s just going to have an impact on some of our young players.”

Along with Gorges and Andrej Meszaros, the Sabres’ veteran acquisitions along the blueline will collectively serve as a beneficial learning asset to the younger players in the organization.

“We all know there’s a lot of young guys, and it’s a question of showing the way by example. I don’t know that any of us are big rah-rah guys, but I think we can lead by example and show the way.”

Benoit is a familiar face for Sabres general manager Tim Murray, who made Benoit part of the Calder Cup-winning Binghamton Senators team back in 2010-11. That organizational familiarity was a large consideration for Benoit when he chose to sign with Buffalo as an unrestricted free agent back in July.

Nolan’s new coaching staff -- Bryan Trottier, Danny Flynn, Tom Coolen and Arturs Irbe -- has been working diligently the past two days to instill a strong culture with this young team.

Having a strong veteran presence helps that cause, and Benoit acknowledged the combination of coaching, youth, and experience on display through the start of Sabres training camp.

“We’ve had good practice days, I think the guys are working hard,” Benoit said. “Good things happen when the guys buy in. We respect Ted, how successful he’s been, and he knows what it takes. I think we’re going to buy in early, and that helps.”

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