When Hudson Fasching and Casey Nelson arrived for breakfast at First Niagara Center on Saturday morning, just hours ahead of their NHL debuts, Buffalo Sabres coach Dan Bylsma had a word of advice for the two rookies.
"I said, 'Just so you know, you're going to make a mistake in the game tonight,'" Bylsma said. "'We're all going to make them; our best player is going to make mistakes tonight. Just go out and play your game.' Hopefully they let her loose a little bit and just go out and show what they can do."
It's been a whirlwind of a week for Fasching and Nelson, both of whom played their last collegiate game last Saturday. In the seven days since, both signed entry-level deals with the Sabres and got their first two professional practices under their belts on Thursday and Friday.
On Saturday, they make their debuts against the Winnipeg Jets.
"It's a lot faster than I thought it would go, that's for sure," Nelson said. "I actually didn’t sleep too bad until I woke up this morning, then the sweat started hitting me."
As nervous as he may be for his debut, Nelson said it fails in comparison to the nerves he felt when he arrived in Buffalo on Tuesday.
"Way more comfortable than I did coming in," he said. "I can't imagine not practicing and just stepping in. I think I'm a little more comfortable than I would be if I didn’t get to meet the guys a little bit early and had a couple days off with them so it helped a lot."
Fasching, a 6-feet-2-inch power forward, will begin the game on the fourth line alongside Matt Moulson and David Legwand but might see time on other lines as the game progresses, Bylsma said. Nelson will play on the right of a defensive pair with Mark Pysyk.
Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The broadcast will include coaches from the Academy of Hockey, who will provide in-depth analysis on game situations to provide a unique learning experience for the viewer.
Chad Johnson will start in net for the Sabres.
REMATCH WITH THE JETS
When the Sabres met the Jets in Winnipeg on Jan. 10, Sam Reinhart scored his first career hat trick and Marcus Foligno scored the game-winner. But a key to that game, Bylsma said, was keeping the Jets' active defensemen in check.
Winnipeg lost former Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers to season-ending knee surgery on Thursday, but Bylsma said handling defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba (a game-time decision) will again be a key on Saturday.
"They come at you with a lot of action, a lot of motion of their defensemen," he said. "We're certainly seeing a lineup that’s a little bit different from the one that we saw earlier in the year but getting control and keeping control of the game in terms of managing their defense and affecting their defense, getting markers on their defense was what we did well in Winnipeg."
Forwards Drew Stafford and Joel Armia will be playing their first game in Buffalo since being traded along with Myers last season for a package that included Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and rookie goaltender Jason Kasdorf.
Stafford spent parts of nine seasons with the Sabres, tallying 145 goals and 177 assists for 322 points.
9 Evander Kane – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 15 Jack Eichel – 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson – 17 David Legwand – 52 Hudson Fasching
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
3 Mark Pysyk – 34 Casey Nelson
31 Chad Johnson
50 Nathan Lieuwen