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by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
After finishing last season with 14 goals and 34 points, Drew Stafford left the 2009-10 campaign with a sense of dissatisfaction.

Recharging this summer and entering camp with a new approach; the winger is finally making strides and reaping the rewards of determination.

“He’s definitely listening, he’s learning,” linemate Derek Roy said. “He’s all ears all the time and he’s working tremendously hard. He came into camp in great shape and he looks great out there. He’s making those little plays that create scoring chances and create goals.”

Playing in five exhibition games, Stafford is not only tied for first place in the NHL with seven assists, he’s also among the League leaders with nine points and 27 shots on goal through the preseason.

That includes a four-point (1+3) performance on Sunday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.

“He’s had a very good preseason, very good,” Head Coach Lindy Ruff said. “We’ve used him in different roles, we’ve used him in penalty killing. He came to camp in exceptional shape and I think that shows with the way he’s skating. The preseason was an indication as to how prepared he was.”

“I had a pretty good summer,” Stafford said. “I was a little rusty at first, but as it went on I felt as though I got better. It’s only a step, but I’m really excited to get going for the season opener. I can speak for everyone else in here, we feel as though the season has already started. We’re not thinking it’s just the preseason. We’re making sure that we’re prepared, ready to go and working on our good habits.”

Part of Stafford’s success has been an increased chemistry with Roy – who leads the Sabres with 10 points through preseason action.

“That combination has really worked well together,” Ruff said. “Drew has really skated well and that combination has really been feeding off each other.”

The rest has been a product of a different attitude. Stafford is thinking about the big picture this time around and hopes that this summer will be a time to reflect on what went right instead of what could have been.

Ruff updated the status of several injured players on the Sabres roster, saying that Patrick Lalime (groin), Thomas Vanek (neck) and Craig Rivet (throat contusion) are all progressing.

“[Lalime] skated a little bit today. Thomas didn’t skate. We’ll see Tuesday when we go back to work,” Ruff said. “Tonight [Vanek] felt a lot better. I’m hoping that with a day off Monday that if he doesn’t skate Tuesday, he’ll be able to skate Wednesday.”

The Sabres open the 2010-11 season Friday night in Ottawa. With 26 players remaining in camp: 14 forwards, 9 defensemen and 3 goaltenders, Ruff has to make some decisions.

While Jhonas Enroth will likely start the year in Portland after Lalime has recovered, that still leaves two players on Buffalo’s roster that will have to be sent down the AHL.

“Nothing is set until somebody says this guy has the green light to participate,” Ruff said. “Thomas in all likelihood will have to participate in a non-contact sense and then you have to see how he’s going to make out. If he makes out well, I think he’s going to be able to progress fast enough [to play in the season opener].

“We’re just going to have to evaluate and make a decision… A lot of it goes into the play through the preseason.”
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