When away from ice Tyler Ennis
may look more like a kid than a hockey player. Standing at 5-foot-9 and 163 pounds, the winger’s size isn’t usually what makes him intimidating to go up against.
But with three points in as many career NHL games, Ennis is beginning to resemble more of a professional than a rookie. His speed, hockey sense and deft plays are continuing to impress – regardless of his stature.
“I’m still waiting for that growth spurt,” Ennis said with a smile. “I think you just learn how to play the game, go into different areas, and put yourself in different positions. You’ve just got to learn.”
The 20 year old has picked things up at a remarkable pace. This time last season he was in juniors, and on pace for 85 points (43+42) with the Medicine Hat Tigers. He was quickly moved up to the American Hockey League for the 2009-10 campaign and has been near the top of the Portland Pirates scoring with 65 points (he is also ranked first among rookie scoring in the league).
“He’s what we call greasy,” Head Coach Lindy Ruff said. “He’s got great lateral movement; he can go left or right. He knows – and it must be the history of being a smaller man in a big game –how to avoid the big collision. But at the same time, he’s in traffic a lot. I find that incredible.”
What may be helping him adjust is the fact that he isn’t doing it alone. With a string of injuries hitting the Buffalo Sabres this week – Tim Connolly (lower body), Thomas Vanek
(lower body), Pat Kaleta (upper body) and Raffi Torres (upper body) all missing games – the Sabres had to extend their reach to the Pirates. Ennis, along with Nathan Gerbe
and Mark Mancari, were brought in to help the squad claim a pair of victories and get closer to clinching the Northeast Division.
“I really think it speaks to how well Kevin [Dineen] has done there, how well the coaching staff has done all around that the players can step up and make a difference for us, and step into important roles,” Ruff said. “They’ve done a great job.”
“The guys we’ve brought up are highly skilled guys that are having success in the AHL, showing that they can move to the next level,” captain Craig Rivet agreed. “I think all three of them have done a great job for us so far.”
Ennis wants to continue to do so down the stretch if given the chance.
“Within the organization they’ve just told me to play my game and that’s what I’m trying to do,” Ennis said. “I’m just trying to work hard, have fun and take it day by day.”
Raffi Torres is nearing a return to the lineup after missing the last six games with an upper body injury.
“I think I’m ready to go,” he said following Tuesday’s skate. It’s up to the coaching staff now whether they are going to put me in or not. I’m feeling good and it’s been a good eight or nine days here skating to get my legs back and get healthy.”
Ruff would not confirm if the winger would dress for Wednesday’s game against the Florida Panthers.
“It’s his first real practice so part of today was evaluating,” he said. “We’ll use tomorrow to evaluate and make a decision [as to] whether he’s ready to go.”
You can add Jochen Hecht
to the list of players missing from Tuesday’s skate. The winger was given a maintenance day while Connolly, Vanek and Kaleta continue to heal from their respective injuries.
Hasek’s Heroes received a unique gift this week, courtesy of a generous fan. An anonymous participant of the organization, who attended the Sabres most recent home game in conjunction with the Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend, purchased tickets for the Alumni 50/50 raffle. After discovering that his ticket was the winning number, the man in turn donated the $9,809 in prize money to Hasek’s Heroes.