Among a group of team-first thinkers, Nathan Paetsch may be the biggest "I-don't-care-as-long-as-we-win" guy around. For the past couple of weeks, the 23 year old has stepped away from his comfort zone and is embracing any unusual task that Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff throws at him.
Paetsch's charge is simple: He wants to help the team win any way he can on the ice.
Play a position where he has very limited experience, no problem. General the power play, ok. Heck, Paetsch may even drive the zamboni if he thought it would help the team increase its lead in the Eastern Conference standings.
"It doesn't matter to me. I just want to see the team win again," said Paetsch with an ear-to-ear grin. "I'm more than excited to be in the lineup. Anytime I can play a game in the National Hockey League, whether I'm playing goal, forward or defense, it doesn't matter. I'm a happy man."
"You ask him and he'll play anywhere," said Ruff. "He'll go between the pipes if it means he gets to dress. You love his spirit and his enthusiasm."
Change is not something that Paetsch is afraid of. He believes any deficiencies he has as a forward can be overcome the old fashioned way.
"It's always fun to try different things," said Paetsch. "Winger is fun because I get to go out there and do something different. Obviously, I'm not going to have as much skill as some of the guys out there, but I can always work as hard. "
Paetsch has shed his defenseman label and now needs to be considered a designation that is more common to baseball. He's a utility player that adds another element of depth to an already deep lineup. His value to the team has increased with his versatility.
"It's something that I did in Rochester my first season, sitting out 25 games and then switching from forward to defense, center to wing, everything. It's something that I'm comfortable doing and something that I've done in the past so it's not unfamiliar ground for me," said Paetsch, who told a little-white lie as an AHL rookie to Amerks head coach Randy Cunneyworth when asked if he had prior experience at wing. Paetsch said, "yes" when the truth was, "no." He just wanted to play.
When on the blueline, Paetsch is a small, quick defenseman that can move the puck. As a forward, his responsibility changes to more of a mucker role.
"[Playing wing in the NHL] really wasn't that much different. I pretty much had the exact same role as when I did when I was in Rochester. I played wing on the fourth line, was an energy guy, had to skate hard and had to hit, so it was quite similar for me."
His skating ability is what allows him to make the transition from defense to offense and back again.
"Playing wing, your ability to get your feet moving is always important," said Paetsch. "That's always been a huge asset of my game. Playing the wing, I've just got to skate as hard as I can and it helps me fit in out there."
Against Boston last Tuesday, Paetsch opened on the offensive side of the ice with Paul Gaustad and Adam Mair. The trio's performance on the first shift of the game set the passion level and tone in Buffalo's dominating 7-1 victory over the Bruins. Paetsch floated the entire contest between positions, shifting wherever Buffalo needed help, and received praise from his teammates following the win.
Come Thursday night, Paetsch once again opened on the fourth line, but dropped back to the blueline after Jaroslav Spacek suffered a knee strain in the first period and did not return. He logged a team-high 6:24 of power play time, absent for only three minutes of Buffalo's total time with the man advantage.
Buffalo has seen a resurgence of its power play, scoring at least one power-play goal in their last four games. Paetsch took over point responsibilities five games ago.
"He's been able to make some of the little plays," said Ruff regarding Paetsch's performance on the PP. "He's been good bringing the puck up the ice. It's about finding a guy that can quarterback [the power play] a little better than it's been done in the past. Maybe he can do it. He's working hard at it and it's given us a new life."
With Jiri Novotny's high-ankle sprain improving and Spacek's day-to-day status, Paetsch's will most likely return to his roots as Buffalo continues its three-game road trip.
"The more games the better," said Paetsch. "I feel a lot more confident than I did in the first 10 games of the season. The more experience you gain, the better you're going to be as a hockey player. "