Since president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine and interim coach Ted Nolan took over last month, they’ve made moves to stock the Buffalo Sabres roster with more veteran players. Younger players have been sent to either the American Hockey League or back to juniors to gain more experience.
On Saturday, they called up Matt Ellis from the Rochester Americans of the AHL. Tuesday morning, the Sabres made room on the roster for center Kevin Porter and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel. Forward Luke Adam and defensemen Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk were sent down to Rochester.
While Ruhwedel has less experience than the other two call-ups, Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said all three have at least one important trait in common.
“They’re character type of guys,” Nolan said after the team’s optional morning skate at First Niagara Center. “When you’re turning around an organization like this, you need good character guys to help some of the younger guys mature and play better and also fill in those gaps so the guys in Rochester get some really quality minutes without missing too much here.”
The Sabres host the Jets at 7 p.m. Porter is expected to be in the lineup for Buffalo. He’ll likely skate on the fourth line with Ellis and Brian Flynn.
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Porter started the season with the Sabres, but was sent down to the AHL in late October when the team found itself in a numbers crunch. When the front office put LaFontaine in charge and started putting a more experienced lineup on the ice, Porter saw it as an opportunity to earn another call-up.
“I know they were going to give guys shots and they wanted to give some other young guys a shot,” he said. “I thought there might be a chance if I played well. That’s what I was focusing on was trying to play well and just work hard.”
Porter said he was in the meeting with the Sabres penalty killers, so it’s likely that he’ll see some time on special teams if Buffalo goes down a man. The 27-year-old center recorded six goals and four assists in 13 games in Rochester.
“Confidence is a huge thing for a lot of guys, especially for me. So to go down there and score some goals and get in some different situations, some penalty kill, some power play, that was good,” he said. “That was good for my confidence and to come back up here.”
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Ruhwedel, 23, joins the Sabres for his first call-up of the season after being assigned to Rochester at the close of training camp. In his first full professional season, he doesn’t have quite the same amount of experience as the other recent call-ups, but has been grooming his game in the AHL. In 26 games with the Amerks this season, he’s racked up 14 points (4+10) and 12 penalty minutes.
He’s expected to be a healthy scratch against the Jets along with forward John Scott. When Ruhwedel does get the chance to play, he’ll look to make the most of it.
“Just prove myself, show what I have to give. I’m just going to work hard, play hard, play simple,” he said. “The rest is up to them. I’m just going to control what I can.”
An undrafted free agent out of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Ruhwedel played seven games with the Sabres at the end of the 2012-13 season to start his professional career. He signed a two-year, entry-level contract with Buffalo in April.
Nolan said that center Cody Hodgson, who has missed the past two games, will be ready to go against the Jets. Hodgson did not take part in the optional morning skate. He worked in practice Monday with wings Marcus Foligno and Matt D’Agostini.
Center Cody McCormick is out four to six weeks with an upper-body injury. Ryan Miller is expected to start in goal.
Jamie McBain has had expanded role beside Christian Ehrhoff while Alexander Sulzer has been on injured reserve. However, with Sulzer set to return Tuesday night, Nolan said he’ll mix up the defensive pairings. That likely means Sulzer will move back with Ehrhoff and McBain will skate with Mike Weber. Henrik Tallinder and Tyler Myers would make up the other pair.
The Americans will participate in the Spengler Cup, a six-team tournament in Davos, Switzerland from Dec. 26-31. The tournament, hosted by HC Davos of Switzerland’s elite National League A, will also feature CSKA Moscow of the KHL, a team representing Canada, Czech Extraliga’s HC Vitkovice Steel and Geneve-Servette, also of National League A.
Nolan said that Pysyk, McNabb and Adam will be given the chance to compete in that tournament and hopefully help the Amerks win it.
“There’s nothing like winning,” Nolan said. “And winning breeds winning.”
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Ellis sees them joining Rochester as a great opportunity that will help their development. He’s played with each of them over the past few seasons.
“For those guys, it’s going to be huge,” he said. “They’re going to be counted upon. They’re going to become a big piece of that hockey club and real heartbeat of that team. They all have bright futures ahead of them. I think for them, it’s just about going down, playing, enjoying the game and keep building themselves to get back and stay at this level.”
The plan is for Pysyk to be back with the Sabres once the Amerks return to North America.
“He’s going to be a different send-down. He’s not going down for a long time. He’s just going down for a few days and then they’re going over to the Spengler Cup and he’ll join us right after that,” Nolan said. “But we’re going to try to find the best way to get him some quality minutes and develop him maturity wise. He’s not a big guy yet. As we go into the season, the games are going to tougher and tougher so we want to make sure he’s in a good position.”