Tyler Ennis has been forewarned; there are no guarantees in the NHL.
So while success has come early - and often - for the young forward, the Buffalo Sabres want him to know that he can’t take it for granted. And while scoring nine points in 10 regular season games earns praise, earning a roster spot is an entirely different obstacle.
“We do have a policy of you have to earn it before you get it,” said General Manager Darcy Regier. “We do not have a policy of here you go, we think you can do it… Psychologically for kids to come into this organization, it’s very necessary for them to earn their way.
Because if they don’t earn it, and stumble, it will quickly be taken away.
“That mindset is enormous, Regier said of a young player’s development.
He wants to make sure Ennis understands that.
“I warned him on not being sure that he’s going to play here on the start of next season... Don’t assume that,” he said. “It’s not in a demeaning and condescending way; it’s in a hopeful, optimistic way because there are five months between now and then.”
In just seven months of professional hockey, Ennis has learned a lot already.
Making his NHL debut on Nov. 14, the winger found he could make an immediate impact, scoring a goal in his first career game. And after being reassigned to the Portland Pirates the following game, Ennis didn’t let up.
He went on to lead the American Hockey League in rookie scoring, notching 23 goals and 65 points in just 69 games, and was subsequently named Rookie of the Year.
Ennis then learned that his hard work would pay off, earning a second recall with the Buffalo Sabres through the post-season, in which he scored four points (1+3) in six games against the Boston Bruins.
“He’s a unique kid, where he learns fast,” said Head Coach Lindy Ruff. “You do have to keep your feet moving, you do have to finish your whole shift. Little plays that he said were easy in the American League, aren’t easy up here. But he made adjustments to his game quickly. It’s a tough league; he knows that.”
Ennis was also conscious of his own progression and admits at 5-foot-9 he wants to work on his strength in the coming months.
“I think my first few games I got caught up in everything,” he said. “Playing in the NHL for the first time; it was pretty exciting… but as time went on I got a little more confident, carried the puck a little bit.
“I learned a lot. Every day, every game I’m learning something new so I can take that into next year and build on that experience and just come ready.”
And while a permanent roster spot may not immediately be given to him, Ennis wants to do everything he can to take it in the fall.
“I definitely want to be [on the team], that’s a goal of mine,” he said. “I think the experience has helped me, gave me confidence. It’s a big summer for me to train and get stronger and just come back ready and focused next year."