From playing their college hockey in Minnesota to making their NHL debuts for the Sabres on the same March night last season and sticking on the roster of out of training camp this September, the career paths for Hudson Fasching and Casey Nelson have run parallel early on.
You can add another chapter to that story after this weekend, when both players were sent down for their first games in the American Hockey League with Rochester. Fasching and Nelson played two games each, both wins for the Amerks, and both scored goals in their first game on Friday.
The two rookies were recalled and back on the ice with the Sabres for practice on Sunday.
"You can tell it's a little different game," Nelson said of his experience in the AHL. "I mean just totally different. I'd say it's a little sloppier but I feel like guys are still moving at a pretty good pace. Some really good players out there and I'm glad we could just put some minutes in there. I definitely felt the game there."
Both Fasching and Nelson had been healthy scratches for the Sabres prior to being sent down. Nelson played the opener against Montreal and then sat for three-straight games once Dmitry Kulikov returned to the lineup; Fasching played the first two games and then sat in favor of Nicholas Baptiste.
Video: BYLSMA: After Practice
Watching from the press box was a fairly new experience for both players, but they put the time to good use. Nelson said it reminded him of his freshman year, when he cracked the lineup early as a walk-on but missed several games after due to injury. When he returned, he was a better player for the time spent observing.
"I think for me it's a lot of just taking it all in," Fasching said. "Trying to learn even if I am in the press box for a game. Watching the game, watching the wingers, looking at the things I need to work on that they're doing, just looking at little details from a different angle and trying to understand what I need to do to get better even if I'm not on the ice."
Nelson said he felt he was lacking confidence in his first game with the Sabres this season; Fasching said he needed to add some physicality. They worked to address both of those issues in Rochester. Nelson scored late on Friday with a one-time shot from the point; Fasching outskated a defender after retrieving the puck in the neutral zone and went top shelf for his goal on Friday and was a force on the ice Saturday with 10 hits, according to Sabres coach Dan Bylsma.
"I feel like I got a little more confidence back, a little more jump in my step, a little more calm," Nelson said. "Even today, as tired as we are you just feel more comfortable and a little more confident."
If the lines at practice are any indication, the Sabres' lineup will have a new look in Philadelphia on Tuesday. Sam Reinhart has played the wing on the top line with Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo in all four games so far this season, but practiced as the center between Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons on Sunday.
Bylsma said the move was made to help balance the Sabres' top three lines in the absence of Jack Eichel (high-ankle sprain) and Evander Kane (cracked ribs). Reinhart registered two shots and six shot attempts against Vancouver on Thursday and has two assists this season.
Matt Moulson replaced Reinhart on the line with O'Reilly and Okposo. Bylsma said after the loss in Vancouver on Thursday that Moulson's performance was his best of the young season, when he tallied four shots in 13:42.
Video: Sabres in :90 (10/23/16)
Moulson also has good rapport with Okposo, his former teammate with the New York Islanders. They shared 1,102:04 of ice time at 5-on-5 from 2009-14, Okposo's most amount of time alongside any teammate in that span other than John Tavares or Frans Nielsen.
Here's how the lineup as a whole looked on Sunday.
26 Matt Moulson - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
63 Tyler Ennis - 23 Sam Reinhart - 28 Zemgus Girgensons
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 27 Derek Grant - 52 Hudson Fasching
Defensemen: 4 Josh Gorges, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 29 Jake McCabe, 47 Zach Bogosian, 77 Dmitry Kulikov, 6 Cody Franson, 34 Casey Nelson
40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson