It might be a cliché to say there's excitement around a rink during the first practice of training camp, but Jake McCabe said there wasn't a better word to describe the atmosphere as the Sabres took the ice for the first time with coach Phil Housley on Friday morning.
"There's just an excitement around the rink," McCabe said. "You guys can probably feel it in the stands. Everyone's geared up and ready to go, and he brings it in practice too. He's leading the charge, getting us amped up, so it was a fun day out there.
"You're going to hear that word a lot, and I think that sums it up best."
Video: Jake McCabe After Practice (9/15/17)
It's easy to understand why a guy like McCabe would be enthused about playing with Housley. Not only did he win a gold medal under Housley at the 2013 World Junior Championship, he - like most of the hockey world - took notice of how Nashville played during their playoff run under Housley last season.
"You watch Nashville last year and their D driving the offense," McCabe said. "Us defensemen watching that, that alone is fun to watch and know that we want to play that style."
"I hated to play against them because we didn't really have the puck," fellow defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen added.
The Sabres got right to work in employing their five-man attack on Day 1 of practice, with drills designed to incorporate defensemen joining the rush and looking to score. McCabe said the job now for defensemen is to form the right habits upon executing breakout passes.
"You always want to have that weak side D join the rush in the right situations," he said. "Just the habit of, once you make the first pass it's taking those three hard strides to get up the ice and if you see the opportunity to jump, continue going up ice and making reads from there."
On paper, the Sabres have a group on the back end who should fit well into Housley's system. Ristolainen, McCabe and Zach Bogosian are all strong skaters, as are new additions Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu and Victor Antipin.
"I think for sure," McCabe said. "I think all of us on the back end can skate pretty well and we need to use that to our advantage. If it's your strength you have to use it and a lot of us on the back end can skate, so I think that's something you'd be stupid not to use."
Jack Eichel said Thursday that Housley's system will benefit him as a playmaking center as well, a feel that Ryan O'Reilly echoed in his first comments to the media on Friday.
"I think it just gives myself more options," he said. "You look and we're breaking out of the zone, you're going to have another guy joining the rush. There's going to be more guys available. Coming in late, there's going to be a trailer who's going to be up in the play more. I think it's just a great way to create more offense."
Lines at practice
Alexander Nylander and Sean Malone did not practice after both missed time at the Prospects Challenge last weekend. Nylander missed the final two games with a lower-body injury, Malone missed the tournament in its entirety.
Update (1:31 p.m.) - Both Nylander and Malone are week-to-week, Housely said following practice. Housely said the team is continuing to err towards caution with Nylander, while Malone is close to resuming on-ice activity.
Here are lines from the first practice session on Friday:
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
26 Matt Moulson - 22 Johan Larsson - 24 Hudson Fasching
49 C.J. Smith - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 59 Cliff Pu
64 Vaclav Karabacek - 51 Kyle Criscuolo - 46 Eric Cornel
45 Brendan Guhle - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
19 Jake McCabe - 27 Taylor Fedun
53 Devante Stephens - 8 Casey Nelson
4 Josh Gorges/58 Austin Osmanski - 38 Cody Goloubef
40 Robin Lehner
35 Linus Ullmark
34 Jonas Johansson