The hockey world will have their first chance to see the Buffalo Sabres’ new top line in action Wednesday night at First Niagara Center when the combination of Evander Kane
, Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Ennis
will make its preseason debuts against the Ottawa Senators.
O’Reilly and Kane lead a group of veteran players making their Sabres debuts that includes forwards Jamie McGinn and David Legwand, defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and goaltender Robin Lehner, who will play the first two periods.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game can be heard live on WGR 550 with Brian Duff and Rob Ray on the call. The game will air on NHL Network at 10:30 p.m. and will be shown again Thursday at noon and 5 p.m.
As with all of the lines on the Sabres roster, the preseason games will serve as a chance for Kane, O’Reilly and Ennis to develop the chemistry they hope will bring them success in the coming season. In the two scrimmages they’ve played through camp, they’ve already shown hints of it.
“I think chemistry obviously gets built through time. But I’ve had a chance to practice and play a little bit with them throughout the camp and I think there’s a lot of opportunity for success for us with us three playing together, bringing different attributes to our line,” Kane said.
What are those attributes? From Sabres coach Dan Bylsma’s perspective, O’Reilly and Ennis have already shown their ability to read off of each other and move the puck up the ice, while Kane can use his speed to slash as a target for them in toward the net.
Ask O’Reilly, who spent the first six years of his career playing in Colorado, and he says that the new line boasts as much talent as any he’s played on before.
“Just as good as any line I’ve played on before, absolutely,” he said. “For me, it’s guys that are easy to play with. It makes my job a lot easier, you just have to give them the puck and you should be fine. But I think tonight, going into a preseason game, it’s gonna be a good test.”
Even more so than his ability to center Kane and Ennis, O’Reilly has impressed Bylsma with his work ethic in camp. Even the coaches come off the ice before O’Reilly, who sticks around after practice to put more work in.
“It’s been fun through four days of camp to watch him,” Bylsma said. “I’ve been real impressed with the way Ryan’s worked I practice and he might be our hardest, longest working guy in Training Camp.”
Kane, meanwhile, will play his first game in a Sabres sweater despite having been traded to the team in February. At that time, his season had already ended after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder. Now, he’s excited to finally play in front of his new fans.
“Obviously it’s something I haven’t done in a long time but it’s exciting and I’m looking forward to tonight,” he said, “and many more with the home fans.”
GUHLE EARNS A SECOND GAME
An unlikely face anchored the Sabres defense in the third period of Monday night’s 3-2 win over Minnesota. With the game on the line, 18-year-old defenseman Brendan Guhle was poised and able to make plays with the puck in impact situations.
On Wednesday, Buffalo’s second-round pick in this year’s draft will be the only player who played Monday to also play against the Senators.
“Confidence and poise has been the biggest thing that he’s shown,” Bylsma said of Guhle. “For kind of a quiet, unassuming kid he’s shown a lot of confidence in how he can play and he’s showed a lot of compete against NHL players and he’s earned this game.”
While Guhle is eligible to play nine regular-season NHL games before putting his junior hockey eligibility at risk, the coach staff isn’t thinking that far ahead. It’s rare for a blueliner to make the leap so quickly. Bylsma has only coached one 18-year-old defenseman for a full NHL season – Olli Maatta in 2013.
So, is junior hockey still Guhle’s most likely destination this year?
“That would be what logic said,” Bylsma said. “It’s hard to come in and play and play out there with the big guys and their speed and how strong they are and to be counted on back there.
“But,” Bylsma continued, “he has shown, at least through one exhibition game and through practice so far, he’s showed the ability that he could possibly do it.”
E-ROD ON THE POWER PLAY
Another young player who has continued to impress Bylsma is Evan Rodrigues, who signed with the Sabres an undrafted free agent out of Boston University over the summer.
It seems Rodrigues is also being rewarded for his strong Training Camp, seeing time on a power play unit alongside Kane, O’Reilly, Ennis and Colaiacovo during Monday’s skate.
“I’ve seen an awful lot from Evan. In fact I’m a huge fan of what he’s done so far in camp,” Bylsma said. “He’s competed, he’s been hard, he’s been good on the inside, he’s gone to the net. This guy loves to compete and play the game.
“…He’s fighting an uphill battle with where he’s at, but I’ve liked a ton from this guy and I’m looking forward to seeing him play.”
9 Evander Kane – 90 Ryan O’Reilly – 63 Tyler Ennis
88 Jamie McGinn – 23 Sam Reinhart – 12 Brian Gionta
71 Evan Rodrigues – 17 David Legwand – 20 Jason Akeson
49 Jerry D’Amigo – 86 Eric Cornel – 73 Nicolas Baptiste
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 4 Josh Gorges
65 Matt Donovan – 45 Brendan Guhle
38 Jerome Leduc – 5 Chad Ruhwedel
40 Robin Lehner
35 Andrey Makarov