There's no player or fan in the Western New York area more enthusiastic for the start of the 2007-08 season than center Paul Gaustad.
Limited to just 54 regular season and seven playoff games after suffering a severe ankle injury midway into last season, the "Goose" has been itching to get loose.
"I can't remember being this excited for a season in a really long time," said Gaustad at a player-organized skate at the Pepsi Center. "I had three months off and just a short spurt of hockey in the playoffs, so I've been ready to go for a while now. I'm just really excited to start camp."
Gaustad's return will help fill a void both on and off the ice that opened in the off-season with the departure of co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury via free agency.
Entering his third NHL season, the center will be looked to as a leader in the locker room. A steady defensive presence, Gaustad will also aid the team on the penalty kill and as the Sabres second-best faceoff combatant behind Connolly. He won 52.8 percent of his draws last season, good for third on the team behind Connolly (53.8 percent) and Drury (58.8 percent).
"I have the opportunity to step-up and fill some roles, see some more ice time and play some more hockey, but I'm not going to leave my game," commented Gaustad. "I'm not a Danny Briere, and Chris Drury is a great overall player, but I'm not going to be those guys right away.
"Everybody is going to have to step up to fill those holes. It's not going to be just one guy at one position."
Not all players look forward to training camp. In fact, many may even dislike the yearly ritual of pre-season training.
But for Gaustad, the anticipation for the new season has been like awaiting Christmas morning. He has waited, and waited, and waited some more to return to what he does best.
It's not hard to understand.
Most of Gaustad's frustration stemmed from being a spectator when the Sabres were claiming their first President's Trophy in franchise history and working through the opening rounds of the playoffs.
"It would have been different if it was the first third of the season," said Gaustad. "It's that last part that I love to play. I love the playoffs. We work so hard to get there.
"These last couple of weeks have been really long. I just want to get this thing started and get going again. I know camp is going to be some work. Everyone is going to try and get the kinks out, but I kind of want it to fly by so that we can start the regular season."
Gaustad knows the areas where he needs improvement. Possessing an intimidating six-foot-four, 229-pound frame, the Fargo, ND native has always been concerned with mobility.
The now two year old rule changes and the removal of the red line made his focus that much more concentrated.
"Skating is always something that I'm trying to improve. That was something that I hit pretty hard in the summer time.
"My leg has healed up 100 percent, so I just want to start off with a really good camp and just kind of build from there."