While the lineup for the Buffalo Sabres’ final two preseason games hasn’t been officially set, coach Ted Nolan expects two centers with high expectations to play.
Look for Sam Reinhart and Mikhail Grigorenko to dress in those games, the first coming Wednesday night when the Sabres host the Washington Capitals at 7 p.m. at First Niagara Center.
Nolan said an announcement on roster cuts will also be made soon. Thirty-six players are currently in camp. Buffalo must trim its active roster to 23 before the season begins.
Reinhart, the second-overall selection in year’s draft, is doing everything he can to make the team. He’s ineligible to play in the American Hockey League this season, so he either has to be in the NHL or go back to his junior team, the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League.
He is allowed to play nine NHL games before a decision has to be made as to whether or not he will be loaned back to Kootenay.
Reinhart understands the situation.
“There’s no question it would be disappointing. But I’m aware if that does happen, I’m going to do everything I can to take it as a positive and go dominate junior one more year,” he said.
He’s yet to score in the preseason and for a player that put up 105 points in 60 games in Kootenay last season, not having a point through three games can be a little daunting.
“It’s gotten a little frustrating. The biggest thing for me is I’ve been getting chances, trying to create,” he said. “I’m just going to stick with it and focus on the bigger picture. That’s part of my game. I feel it’s going to have to come.”
Grigorenko, a first-round pick in 2012, has had a great camp and in addition to the coaching staff, his teammates have noticed the growth he’s shown in the last year.
“He’s gotten better and better. They’re definitely giving him a fair shot and it’s up to him to take advantage of it,” Drew Stafford said. “If I had to pick one guy, he’s definitely improved from last year. There are a few other guys as well. Honestly, this camp’s been great in that aspect. There’s been a lot of competition.”
Two players who will definitely not be in the mix for the next two games are Patrick Kaleta and Johan Larsson.
In Sunday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, both players sustained upper-body injuries that will keep them out for some time.
A slap shot hit Kaleta in the head and Nolan said Tuesday that he could miss about a month. The injury, however, isn’t as bad as they first feared.
Though he was only about to show what we could do on the ice in practice and in limited preseason playing time, Kaleta’s work ethic off the ice while recovering from a knee injury sustained last year impressed Nolan.
“His effort and his commitment and what he did in the offseason to get back to where he is right now were enough for me to see how much character this young man has and how much he wants to be a Buffalo Sabre,” Nolan said.
“Right now, it’s tough on him, I imagine, but hopefully he can rest assured that he made a really good impression on us. We’re looking forward to him healing quick and getting back on the ice.”
Larsson, who was elbowed in the face by Petter Granberg near the end of the first period, is expected to miss about 10 days. Nolan said the injury is serious, but, like Kaleta’s, is not as serious as it could have been.
Mark Pysyk has not skated with the team since leaving the preseason game on Sept. 23 with an upper-body injury. He’s expected to miss at least the rest of this week.