Jason Kasdorf's eyes widened Tuesday when he spoke about his last 24 hours. The 23-year-old goaltender had signed his first professional contract the day before and, while he didn’t participate due to a nagging groin injury, had just concluded watching his new teammates take part in an NHL practice.
Kasdorf said he will remain with Buffalo for the remainder of the season. Once he's recovered from his injury – he said it shouldn't take more than a few days – he'll join the team for practice. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma didn’t rule out the potential for him to play in one of the remaining 12 games.
But, for now, he's just happy to be here.
"I'm incredibly excited," he said. "I'm just thrilled about the opportunity I have to be here, to be a part of the organization. It's a dream come true. It's what I worked for my whole life and now to be here with the big club, it means a lot. It's really special."
Kasdorf, who was acquired from Winnipeg in February 2015 as a part of the deal that brought Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to Buffalo, concluded his season at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Saturday.
While he spent four seasons at R.P.I. and remains on track to graduate in May, he had one year of eligibility remaining due to an injury that cost him all but two games during his sophomore year.
At the time of the injury, Kasdorf was two years removed from being drafted in the sixth round by the Jets, his hometown team, and one season removed from setting a single-season school record by posting a 1.62 goals-against average in 23 games as a freshman at R.P.I.
As disappointing as it may have been to miss his sophomore year, he doesn't believe the season was wasted.
"It definitely helped with the mental side of things, learning how to stay in the game even though you're not playing," Kasdorf said. "Just trying to focus on mental things and off-ice things, trying to get stronger and nutrition … There was a lot that I was able to take from that year."
Fittingly, those are the sort of things Kasdorf will be focusing on as he concludes the season with Buffalo. He got right to it on Tuesday, soaking in practice from the bench and speaking at various points with goalies coach Andrew Allen.
"I'm just trying to learn as much as I can," he said. "I'm just trying to develop, trying to take it all in, learn from the guys what it's like to be a pro now. Just kind of asking guys questions, learning from them, guys who have been in this position. Really just, I think it's a great learning opportunity for me and I want to make the most of it."
Bylsma first saw Kasdorf in action at Development Camp in July. Kasdorf impressed during that week and even played 30 minutes of shutout hockey as the starting goaltender in the Blue and Gold Scrimmage (his opposition included Jack Eichel).
He took what he learned at camp – specifically, he said, how to better play the puck – and utilized it during his senior season. He posted a 2.30 GAA and a .931 save percentage in 30 games as a senior and graduates as the school's all-time leader with a 2.39 career GAA.
Bylsma said that on most days, there will still only be two goalies on the ice for practice depending on the situation. When Kasdorf is one of them, the coach said, he'll be gaining invaluable experience by seeing NHL shots.
"It's huge," Bylsma said, who added that he's had goalies in this position several times. "The possibility, opportunity to get some NHL shots, to get into practice, to see the speed of the game and the quality of the shooters is going to be an adjustment for him and a great opportunity."
The work won't stop for Kasdorf when he leaves the rink. The business and management major still has a few courses he'll need to finish up in the meantime to earn his degree.
"I've already talked to my professors and I've just got to kind of stay on top of things when I'm not at the rink," he said. "Got to do some homework and stuff."
NEW POWER-PLAY UNIT
With Bylsma saying that Ryan O'Reilly is progressing towards playing against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, he changed Buffalo's power-play unit accordingly at practice. O'Reilly replaced his brother Cal, while Zemgus Girgensons was also in for Johan Larsson.
"We have a net-front in Sam [Reinhart] and again operating with a middle-top guy and two flankers, with Ryan and Jack [Eichel] being on the flanks, we're looking for a good, smart middle man in the middle of the ice and Zemgus is a guy that can be both at the net and be that middle guy," Bylsma said.