For the second day in a row, Patrick Kaleta
caught everyone’s attention during the Sabres’ Training Camp scrimmage. In the first game Friday, Kaleta scored on a penalty shot and set up another. The penalty shot opportunity came after he drew a call near the offensive blue line.
On Saturday, it was Kaleta getting called for the penalty after laying out young defenseman Brycen Martin with the type of big hit he’s known for. So far, so good for a player with a lot to prove in a short amount of time.
After missing the majority of last season with a knee injury, Kaleta was signed by the Sabres to a minor league deal on Sept. 11. That was step one for the Buffalo native, who worked all summer to earn a chance to return to the team with which he’s spent his entire nine-year NHL career.
“It’s been awesome, especially getting back and being able to throw the jersey on again and being back with a new group of guy,” Kaleta said after practice Saturday. “I’ve worked my whole summer for the opportunity to come here and make a team and that’s my goal. I’m focused and pretty determined and so far I think it’s a good step in the right direction for me.”
There were other offers, yes, but as he says, having a plan B and C would only distract him form plan A.
“And Buffalo, as everyone knows, as been my plan A since the day I was born,” Kaleta said.
Kaleta knows there will be doubters; he’s dealt with them his whole life. He has someone doubt him every 10 minutes on his Twitter feed alone, he jokes. But Kaleta also knows that he has a legitimate opportunity to earn a spot at the bottom of the roster, which Sabres coach Dan Bylsma affirmed on Saturday.
In fact, you need look no further than Bylsma to see what kind impact Kaleta has on opposing teams. He coached against Kaleta with the Penguins and, like all of the others who coached against Buffalo for nearly a decade, developed contempt towards him that he’s still trying to shed today.
Bylsma stood in silence when asked about the penalty drawn by Kaleta on Friday. A literal no comment.
“You look at him, and he smiles, I have a hard time not wanting to kill him,” he deadpanned. “He still does inspire that in me when I see him.”
All joking aside, the coach has been impressed with Kaleta through the first two days of camp.
“I think as a veteran guy and as a guy in Pat’s shoes, you have to come out and do exactly what he’s doing in camp, which is play his style, play his game,” Bylsma said. “He’s done that in our practices, he did that in the scrimmage yesterday … if you weren’t watching then you weren’t watching because he stood out in how he practiced and what he did on the ice.”
Kaleta expects to benefit from fast-paced style of play that Bylsma’s implemented in practice thus far, and he’s healthier than he’s been coming into camp in years. Now, he’s just got to keep doing what he’s doing.
“I just do what I got to do. Passionate, work ethic, anything and everything that needs to be done, I’m more than willing to do,” Kaleta said. “Just be myself, I go out there and play the body, play the puck. It’s not always about fighting and hitting but using my wheels that I have now and just getting back in the swing of things and doing what I do best.”
LEGWAND BACK WHERE IT ALL STARTED
David Legwand’s professional career began in Buffalo in 1998. That year, the city hosted the NHL Draft and an 18-year-old Legwand was taken No. 2 overall by a brand new expansion team, the Nashville Predators.
Now, Legwand is 35 and has returned to Buffalo, this time to play for the Sabres and help mentor other rookie No. 2 overall picks, Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel. He’s already seeing the similarities.
“I think this is a very similar situation,” he said Saturday. “When I was in Nashville, there was no other team, it was an expansion team and so much wasn’t expected. But we expected in our four walls, in the dressing room, we were expecting to compete and work hard and make it as hard as it was to get two points night in and night out.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do; we’re supposed to come in here and make this place hard to play in and have a home-ice advantage and those types of things.”
Legwand was traded to the Sabres from Ottawa in June, an added piece in the move to acquire goaltender Robin Lehner. But the veteran comes only a year removed from a 51-point campaign in 2013-14, when he split time between Nashville and Detroit. Last year, he tallied 27 points in 80 games for the Senators.
Going into the season, he still feels like he has a lot to contribute.
“Obviously you want to go out and do well,” he said. “You want to contribute in your position and help with the young guys as much as possible. I still think I can contribute and play key roles and do whatever the coaches ask of me.”
Of equal importance to his role on the ice will be the mentorship he can provide to Eichel and Reinhart, Buffalo’s top picks in the last two drafts. He’s communicated with them both already and thinks he has a lot of help to offer.
“Hopefully a lot,” Legwand said. “Obviously Jack and Sam are two huge, key pieces to this franchise and when kids are coming up nowadays it’s different, they’re learning so fast and the game’s faster and sometimes it’s going to take a little while. They’re going to make mistakes, but the faster you put the mistakes in the back of your mind you forget about them.”
Kaleta hits aside, only one goal was scored in the scrimmage between Eichel and Reinhart’s respective practice groups on Saturday. After missed penalty shot attempts by Martin and Phil Varone earlier in the game, Jason Akeson scored following a penalty to secure a win 1-0 win for Reinhart’s gold team late in the second half of the scrimmage.
Bylsma said afterward that he was also impressed with the performances of Zach Bogosian, Marcus Foligno and Cal O’Reilly in the scrimmage.