Sam Reinhart says often that playing with fast players makes him play faster, and his coach said Sunday that he'd like to see Reinhart move his feet a bit more. Having said that, it made sense to see Reinhart centering a dynamic skater like Tyler Ennis for the second-straight practice at KeyBank Center on Monday.
Reinhart has played on the left wing alongside Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo through the first four games of the season, which Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said was done in an effort to "overload" his top line in the absence of Jack Eichel and Evander Kane. Now, in an effort to restore balance to his scoring lines, Bylsma has placed Reinhart on a line between Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons.
Through two days at practice, the coach has liked what he's seen.
"I've liked their jump the past two days and [they] have some offensive punch to them," Bylsma said. "That's what that line needs to be for us. Get Tyler Ennis going here, get Zemgus going and Sam, he's his best hockey player playing center in his past."
Reinhart is a natural centerman, having played the position in junior hockey and on the top line for Team Canada when he won gold at the World Junior Championship in 2015. He shifted to wing as a rookie last season after finding success on lines alongside both O'Reilly and Eichel.
However long his stay at center ends up being, Reinhart thinks the move will help his game going forward. He's reiterated that he's willing to play either position, but Bylsma said Monday that he still envisions Reinhart on the wing next to O'Reilly or Eichel in the future.
"I think when I'm playing my best I'm moving my feet and I'm taking away time and space on the forecheck from their defenders," Reinhart said. "I think at times when I move to center it helps me do that and if I ever get a chance to go back to wing it I think it benefits my game that much more."
Playing center means more time playing down low, which is where Reinhart has thrived for the Sabres on the power play. Ennis called Reinhart an "incredible passer," and both of his assists so far this season are products of him putting that ability on display low in the offensive zone.
Video: MTL@BUF: Moulson snaps in Reinhart's feed for PPG
He's also fared well when called upon in the faceoff circle so far this season. He won seven of 11 draws in the opener against Montreal, when an oblique injury prevented O'Reilly from taking a number of faceoffs for his line, and is 12-for-19 this season (63.1 percent).
The goal for Reinhart as a center is to not only generate more offense himself, but also to help derive more from his linemates. Ennis and Girgensons have scored just one point each through four games, and Ennis admitted he's still trying to get his game back to where it was prior to sustaining a season-ending concussion last December.
"We've got to support the puck and try to use speed, get the pucks behind them and then go to work," Ennis said. "If I can get in there with my speed and have Sam making plays with those great passes he can make, it should be a fun line."
Nilsson to start Tuesday
Robin Lehner was absent from practice on Monday due to illness and did not travel with the team to Philadelphia, meaning Anders Nilsson will make his regular-season debut for the Sabres against the Flyers on Tuesday night. Linus Ullmark was recalled from Rochester to serve as Nilsson's backup.
For more on Nilsson and the tremendous preseason he had for the Sabres, be sure to check out Monday's "Sabres in :90" with Brian Duff below.
Video: Sabres in :90 (10/24/16)
New defensive pairs
Dmitry Kulikov and Jake McCabe swapped defensive partners on Monday, with Kulikov skating alongside Zach Bogosian and McCabe alongside Cody Franson. Bylsma said the move was made in an effort to increase the responsibilities for Kulikov, who also practiced on the power play.
Kulikov has seen his ice time increase in every game since missing the end of preseason and then the regular-season opener with a lower-body bruise. He skated 21:35 in the loss to Vancouver on Thursday.
"I want to get Kulikov on the ice in more situations and more opportunities," Bylsma said. "That paring of Josh Gorges and [Rasmus Ristolainen], while it's not together 100 percent of the time during the last four games, has been strong in the matchup pairings. Getting Dmitry more ice time, I think he needs it, deserves and we need him to have it."
It's been a bit less than two weeks since the Sabres lost Eichel and Kane to injury, and Bylsma offered updates on their status on Monday. Bylsma said that Eichel (high-ankle sprain) remains in a walking boot and will continue to proceed with caution, while Kane's timetable (cracked ribs) for a return is still "weeks."
"It's more of a pain and discomfort than anything at this point in time," Bylsma said of Kane's injury. "He should be able to start moving here shortly. Not crazily, but he should be able to start moving shortly and kind of go from there."
26 Matt Moulson - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
63 Tyler Ennis - 23 Sam Reinhart - 28 Zemgus Girgensons
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 27 Derek Grant - 52 Hudson Fasching
4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
77 Dmitry Kulikov - 47 Zach Bogosian
29 Jake McCabe - 6 Cody Franson
34 Casey Nelson
31 Anders Nilsson