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by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

A day after seeing one of their top defensemen return to the ice in the form of Zach Bogosian, the Buffalo Sabres are coming closer to being complete on offense as well. Evander Kane wasn’t coy when speaking about his expectations for Thursday in St. Louis.

“I think you’ll probably have a good chance of seeing me tomorrow night in the lineup,” Kane said after practice Wednesday at First Niagara Center. “Things went well today as I expected and like I said, I thought I had a chance to play on the trip and it looks like that’s going to be the case.”

Kane has missed the past 10 games after sustaining an MCL injury on a hit into the boards on Oct. 24 against the New Jersey Devils. The timetable for his return was 4-6 weeks, but the progress he’s made might allow him to return in just over three. Both Kane and the coaching staff thought he looked comfortable in practice on both Monday and Tuesday.

“Well he’s been telling me about his progress for about four or five days now,” Bylsma said after confirming that Kane was a possibility to play Thursday.

“He’s shown that in his skating. He’s shown that getting on the ice. The hardest practice he had was three practices ago off the ice and his workout on the ice. So that was his hardest day … He’s skated well. He’s looked really good. I feel good about the way he’s skating.”

Though he’s been told an MCL doesn’t fully heal for 12 weeks, Kane’s ability to play pain-free has been the deciding factor in his return. He’ll wear a brace on his knee, something he gained experience doing while returning from a similar injury last season to his other leg.

“After wearing it last year, I kind of knew what to expect a little bit,” he said. “It only takes a couple of skates to kind of get used to it and kind of forget about it being there.”

On Tuesday, Kane skated on the right wing with linemates Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel. Prior to his injury, he tallied one goal and two assists in eight games despite having a number of chances to score more.

“I think my game was kind of a lot like the team’s,” he said. “I think we were still trying to figure some things out and I feel better. I think as a team we’re in a better position than obviously we were when I got hurt. I’m looking forward to coming in especially against the teams we have coming up.”

As Kane returns to the lineup, the Sabres lose another important forward for at least two more games. Zemgus Girgensons, who did not play Tuesday against the Stars, will not travel with the team on their road trip to St. Louis and then Dallas.

Bylsma is hoping that the forward will be prepared to play upon their return to First Niagara Center. The Sabres host the Blues on Monday night to begin a three-game homestand.

Ryan O'Reilly, meanwhile, was absent from practice on Wednesday for a maintenance day. The forward scored for the second-straight game and was assigned with defending Dallas’ top line in 21:39 of ice time on Tuesday.

While Bogosian and Bylsma both admitted it may take a few games for the defenseman to fully return to game speed, his teammates already noticed the impact he can make after just one game.

“You look at everything he can do, like his whole body of work,” defenseman Josh Gorges said. “Big, strong, physical defenseman that skates extremely well, sees the ice, removes pucks, he kind of does it all. I think he adds a lot of depth to our back end which is always important.”

With Bogosian’s return, a young Sabres defense is starting to show its true potential. Prior to the game Tuesday, Dallas coach Lindy Ruff praised Buffalo’s unit as the type that may have staying power for years to come in the NHL.

The veteran Gorges and 21-year-old Rasmus Ristolainen have comprised Buffalo’s top pair this season and are now joined by another promising duo in the 25-year-old Bogosian and 22-year-old Jake McCabe.

“I’d like to get Zach a few more games under his belt, Zach really can be the anchor of our group back there and [Gorges and Ristolainen] have been doing a real good job,” Bylsma said. “A lot of the responsibility of checking and playing against top units has fallen on them and they’ve done a real good job of doing that.

Jake McCabe, I think he’s – I don’t want to say he’s light years ahead of where he was last year – but with his skating and with his ability, it looks to be a solid pair [with Bogosian].”

Bylsma has also paired a veteran with a young defenseman on the team’s third duo. Cody Franson – a regular contributor on offense with nine points this season – played to the right of 23-year-old Mark Pysyk.

“Everybody wants to grow and make something good happen here together,” Pysyk said. “All of the guys get along so it’s fun to be a part of right now.”

26 Matt Moulson – 59 Tim Schaller – 12 Brian Gionta
9 Evander Kane – 15 Jack Eichel – 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson –  63 Tyler Ennis
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 88 Jamie McGinn

4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
3 Mark Pysyk – 46 Cody Franson
25 Carlo Colaiacovo

“It’s the heaviest game that I’ve watched this year,” Bylsma said of St. Louis’ 3-2 win over Winnipeg on Monday. “Big, heavy offensive-zone, forwards forechecking – it’s a big man’s game and that’s what they present. I don’t think we’ve seen a team like that so far this year through the 18 games.”

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