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Johansson, Ristolainen to make preseason debuts vs. Leafs

Cozens among players set to play back-to-back games

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Two weeks into his Sabres tenure, Marcus Johansson is having fun. 

The word popped up again and again Saturday morning as the veteran spoke in advance of his preseason debut, smiling throughout. He's had fun learning the principles of Ralph Krueger's system. He's had fun skating alongside Swedish countrymen Victor Olofsson and Rasmus Asplund. 

As for tonight … 

"It's going to be fun," Johansson said. "It's going to be fun to play in front of a home crowd. I think this is what you work for all summer. It's fun to get going."

Video: PREGAME: Johansson

Johansson will make his debut for the Sabres against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at KeyBank Center. He's expected to center a line with Asplund and Olofsson. 

Ralph Krueger said he's noticed Johansson's enthusiasm as he's skated alongside his fellow Swedes, of which there are many. The Sabres - who will play a pair of games in Stockholm in November - have eight Swedish players on their roster for training camp. 

"I think it's really good for the balance of an individual to have a good off-ice family within the family. We don't expect all these players to be hanging out together all the time," Krueger said. "That's not the kind of team we need to be.

"What we need to be is, here in the rink, happy to be together and working together on the ice. That's part of building a good balance for an individual. We're really happy. Marcus seems extremely pleased to be in Buffalo and we're pleased to have him."

 

Johansson has enjoyed being a veteran anchor on a line with Asplund and Olofsson, two young players looking to push their way onto the Sabres' roster. He's recognized a quick chemistry growing among the trio, perhaps a byproduct of their familiar origins playing on the large rinks in Sweden. 

"I think they're great kids," he said. "They've played really well in camp so far. It's been fun to watch them. I think we've had some good chemistry in practice. I think somehow, us Swedes, we kind of think the same way a little bit. It's not too hard to read off each other.

"… I think we kind of grew up with the same type of game, playing on big ice and it's a little bit different than over here. I think most Swedes that end up over here kind of think alike a little bit."

Though he's spent much of his career on the left wing, Johansson has expressed a willingness to play any of three forward positions. He practiced on Asplund's wing to open camp, then switched to center on Thursday.  

Krueger said he'll look to utilize that positional flexibility as much as possible. In fact, Buffalo's roster tonight will have eight players with experience playing down the middle.

"I always say the ideal lineup actually has six centermen in it, just because they bring a natural defensive awareness to the group," Kreuger said. "It's not something we're going to target on - we'll see how the cards fall in the end - but there will be times when we might have six centermen in the lineup where you are clearly stronger in the penalty kill, clearly stronger in the matchups defensively with players who have comfort in the position."

Though the center position carries more defensive responsibility, Johansson said he doesn't expect it to add any mental weight as he plays for the first time in Krueger's system. He echoed various teammates in saying that the coach's set of principles allow for an intuitve game, something he looks forward to seeing transpire tonight. 

"It's up to all of us on the ice to do the right thing," he said. "I think this way we're going to play is making it easier on everyone. It's not too difficult to go out and do. It's been fun doing it in practice and it's going to be even more fun tonight."

 

Tonight's lineup

The Sabres will dress six players who appeared in Friday's 3-0 loss in Toronto: forwards Asplund, Dylan Cozens, Curtis Lazar, and C.J Smith along with defensemen Henri Jokiharju. 

It will be a chance for all those players to earn the opportunity to remain in Buffalo for the third and final phase of camp, which begins Monday. Read more about how Cozens earned the opportunity here.

"It's part of the analysis that we're doing within the game," Krueger said. "We need to make some calls as we'd like to step forward with a smaller group next week. It's definitely just giving these guys one more chance to show their skills."

That group will join a veteran lineup headlined by Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Jeff Skinner, Rasmus Dahlin, and Rasmus Ristolainen. Dahlin and Ristolainen will skate on a defense pair as the latter makes his preseason debut. 

"I'm really excited to play with him," Ristolainen said. "He's really fun to play with and he's a great player. We like to have the puck and play some offense too, so it's going to be fun."

Carter Hutton will start in net and could play the full three periods, though a final determination will be made in-game. Jonas Johansson will serve as his backup.

Click here to view tonight's roster in its entirety.

 

How to watch

The Sportsnet feed of the game will be carried on MSG, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.

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