Given how much he's been through in the year since, it's easy to forget that Hudson Fasching played well enough last fall to make the Sabres roster out of training camp. He played in six of Buffalo's first eight games, a promising start for the first-year pro.
His season took a turn on a Sunday afternoon in Winnipeg, when Fasching sustained a groin injury on the first shift of his sixth game. The injury would plague him throughout his rookie season, limiting him to 47 games combined between Buffalo and Rochester.
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Even when he did return, Fasching estimates it took another month or two before he felt normal on the ice. While everyone around him was in midseason form, he was a step behind.
"It was definitely difficult, the first major injury of my hockey career even as a kid," Fasching said. "It was definitely something new that I had to deal with and it was a learning year, a learning experience. I think mentally I'm a lot stronger for it and I'm grateful for it from that perspective. It is what it is and you try to move forward with it this year."
Thursday night will serve as a fresh start for Fasching, as he and his fellow Sabres prospects play the New Jersey Devils at HarborCenter in their first game at the Prospects Challenge. As one of a handful of players on the ice with NHL experience, he'll make it a point to try and stand out.
"I want to come out and just kind of take over," he said. "I want to be physical, dominating things out there, take over the game the best I can. This is something where I come out of an injury-plagued season, come out healthy and come out strong, that's where I'm at right now."
Fasching spent what he called the "longest summer he's ever had" preparing for this chance, with a focus on his health and body. He skated in a Minnesota summer league with Sabres teammates Kyle Okposo and Zach Bogosian, and picked up yoga to break up the redundancy of skating.
Now healthy, he enters camp as one of the young forwards in the conversation to take a step forward and contribute in Buffalo, along with Justin Bailey and Nicholas Baptiste. All three possess combinations of speed, size and skill that the Sabres could use in their lineup.
"That's the thing for me, is I'm trying to be as versatile as I can," he said. "Be able to be that 25 goal scorer or also be able to be the guy that's going to pay attention to details, get pucks out, wear the other team down, kill penalties, block shots, things like that. Just having that versatility, being able to play multiple roles is kind of what I've been shooting for."
Puck drop tonight is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tickets for the game are still available, or you can stream it live on Sabres.com.
92 Alexander Nylander - 59 Cliff Pu - 13 Nicholas Baptiste
62 Brandon Hagel - 46 Eric Cornel - 95 Justin Bailey
49 C.J. Smith - 65 Colin Blackwell - 24 Hudson Fasching
85 Daniel Muzito-Bagenda - 83 Vasily Glotov - 64 Vaclav Karabacek
45 Brendan Guhle - 79 Vojtech Budik
53 Devante Stephens - 72 Anthony Florentino
58 Austin Osmanski - 73 Carl Neill
34 Jonas Johansson
50 Jake McGrath