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by Chris Ryndak / Buffalo Sabres

As the Buffalo Sabres roster is further pared down, 2014 first-round pick Sam Reinhart is still among those vying for a full-time spot on the team. His audition will last at least through the end of this week.

Coach Ted Nolan said that Reinhart, the second-overall pick, will play in the team’s season opener at home Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets

The 18-year-old center is beginning to prepare both mentally and physically for that first game. He skated between Cody Hodgson and Brian Gionta in practice at First Niagara Center on Monday.

“I’m always going to be trying to prove myself no matter what the situation is, no matter what game it is in the season,” he said. “My focus right now is just the first one not the next however many I have to make a statement. I’m just going day-by-day and focusing on that.”

Reinhart and defenseman Nikita Zadorov are each eligible to play in nine NHL games before their contracts kick in. They can be returned to their junior clubs before then and Nolan didn’t want to predict how many games either would play with the Sabres this year.

“We can’t predict that far ahead, but they’re definitely here for the next nine minutes,” he said. “Then we’ll go game by game and we’ll go from there.”

Zadorov, the 16th overall selection last year, practiced with the team as well but hasn’t received any word as to if he’ll dress for a game yet.

“I tried to work hard, tried to make the team,” he said. “It is what it is. I did my best and I’m still here so maybe I’m going to be here.”

Forwards Mikhail Grigorenko and Zac Dalpe were assigned to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League. Dalpe must clear waivers before he’s able to report to Rochester.

Grigorenko, a first-round pick (12th overall) in 2012, played in five of six preseason games and recorded two points (1-1-2) and a highlight-reel shootout goal. He came into camp in great shape after adding 10 pounds of muscle.

The decision to send him down was not taken lightly by Nolan and general manager Tim Murray.

“The one thing we talked about a lot earlier was hopefully these guys make it tough on us. And that was certainly a tough one,” Nolan said.

Grigorenko has played a few games with the Amerks over the past two seasons, but junior eligibility rules prevented him from having an extended stint in the AHL. Starting the season in Rochester means he’ll have the opportunity to play a lot of minutes on a scoring line.

“He should be a little disappointed, but when he plays here for good and permanently, you don’t want to be a third-line, pop-in guy. You want to make sure you’re mature and you’re ready enough,” Nolan said. “That was the big reason for him. He’s really, really close.

“… He’s knocking on the door and right now, he just needs a little bit more seasoning.”

Eight defensemen skated at practice Monday morning at First Niagara Center but 10 D-men are still in camp. Final decisions have yet to be made because of injuries to two defensemen.

Jake McCabe was given a maintenance day and did not practice. Mark Pysyk has been out since Sept. 23 with an upper-body injury and has been skating on his own the past few days. Nolan expects him to be back at practice sometime this week.

Their availability could determine the statuses of Zadorov and Tyson Strachan.

The 23-man active roster must be set by Tuesday at 5 p.m.

The coaching staff is also nearing a decision on which players will wear letters on their sweaters. Three players – one captain and two alternates – will be chosen for those leadership roles and Nolan said it will likely happen by tomorrow. The assistant coaches have been making note of which players are looked up to and what kind of interactions are taking place both on and off the ice.

“A lot of things we’ve been doing from the start – maybe not on paper, but we’ve been thinking about it the whole time,” Nolan said.

26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
82 Marcus Foligno – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 80 Chris Stewart
19 Cody Hodgson – 23 Sam Reinhart – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 8 Cody McCormick – 65 Brian Flynn – 17 Torrey Mitchell
22 Johan Larsson

4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
61 Andre Benoit – 41 Andrej Meszaros
6 Mike Weber – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
51 Nikita Zadorov – 24 Tyson Strachan

1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth

Larsson, who sustained an upper-body injury in a preseason game on Sept. 28 after being elbowed in the face by Maple Leafs defenseman Petter Granberg, skated with the team in a red non-contact jersey. It was his first practice since being sidelined.

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