Nicolas Deslauriers has already been treating every preseason game as an opportunity to prove he belongs in the Sabres lineup on a regular basis. With the acquisition of Jordan Nolan off of waivers from Los Angeles on Wednesday, the competition just got tighter.
Deslauriers will play his fourth game of the preseason tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He'll skate on a line with Jacob Josefson at center and Johan Larsson on the right wing.
"If I can play all three preseason games, I'll play them all," Deslauriers said. "I missed so much time last year from an injury and after, just being a healthy scratch, it was probably one of the worst feelings I've had."
Deslauriers played in 42 games last season, his lowest mark since his rookie season of 2013-14, and was held to no goals and only two assists. His average ice time of 7:25 was a career low.
He went home to Quebec to refresh this summer, and has done the little things well enough in training camp thus far to impress his new coach.
"I think he's had an excellent camp," Phil Housley said. "He's gotten a lot of responsibilities in special teams areas, killing penalties, which he's really done a good job of. He's got to bring a physical aspect to the game, obviously that's a big part of his role so we're looking forward to seeing what he can do in the game tonight."
Deslauriers accumulated 53:38 of shorthanded ice time during the 2014-15 season, but he was used scarcely on the penalty kill during the last two seasons under Dan Bylsma. Housley has given him ample opportunity to prove he can be an asset in the area through three exhibition games.
"I love playing PK," Deslauriers said. "Special teams are a really big thing in the NHL now. If I can be on one of those, I would love that."
Doing things to separate himself from the pack becomes increasingly important with the addition of Nolan, who offers a similar blend of size and physicality. Others looking to solidify positions on the left wing include Matt Moulson and possibly one of Josefson and Larsson, depending on what the Sabres choose to do at the other two positions on their fourth line.
With a skill player in Josefson centering his line tonight, Deslauriers will look to contribute on offense by bringing speed and physicality on the forecheck.
"I can do my work and just get a forecheck and he can get the loose puck and find Larry on the other side," he said. "I love doing the dirty work."
Video: Phil Housley Pregame (9/27/17)
Marco Scandella has been a regular participant in practice, but he will not make his preseason debut against the Penguins. The Sabres are continuing to use caution with the defenseman as he returns from hip surgery.
"We're still cautious on that," Housley said. "He's making progress every day. He feels good. We just don't want to get ahead of ourselves. Would I like to see him play tonight? Definitely. But I just think he needs to be careful and monitor it. But I can say that he's making improvement every day."
Here's how the full lineup is projected to look tonight:
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
67 Benoit Pouliot - 23 Sam Reinhart - 95 Justin Bailey
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 10 Jacob Josefson - 22 Johan Larsson
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 47 Zach Bogosian
93 Victor Antipin - 27 Taylor Fedun
41 Justin Falk - 38 Cody Goloubef
31 Chad Johnson
35 Linus Ullmark
Facing the champs
It's hard to imagine a better litmus test for the Sabres than what they'll see tonight in the reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins, whose lineup is expected to closely resemble the one they'll ice on opening night.
"It puts us in a good spot," Housley said. "Going on the road, we don't have to do anything fancy, but we have to learn to play a 200-foot game against the good teams in the league and that's going to require a lot of energy. I'd really like to keep the shifts short. I want us to bring the pace and the speed to their level or maybe a notch ahead."
Catch the game live on MSG
Marty Biron will make his debut alongside Brian Duff for the pregame show beginning at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B. Rick Jeanneret and Rob Ray will be on the call, with puck drop scheduled for 7 p.m.