When Jason Pominville was traded back to the Sabres in June, his son's first reaction was excitement over the fact that dad would be getting a chance to play with Jack Eichel. What he may not have known was how quickly that chance would come.
Pominville will make his preseason debut on a line with Eichel and Evander Kane when the Sabres play the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night. The trio has practiced together since the start of camp, and Pominville already seems to have a feel for Eichel's style at center.
"His skating is really good, but he's also got the ability to slow the game down because of his puck skills and his size," Pominville said. "And then he can go from zero to 60 pretty quick too, even if he slows the game down. He likes to take his time with the puck, slow the game down and then take a couple strides and he's already full speed. That's pretty impressive."
Video: Preview: PIT vs BUF (9/19/17)
At the time of the trade, Pominville said he felt like he has more to offer than the 47 points he produced in Minnesota last season. He had seen his average ice time dip to 14:14, his lowest mark since his rookie season, and his lack of power-play touches made it difficult to develop a rhythm.
While no line is set in stone during the first week of the preseason, the fact that he's getting a look alongside two of Buffalo's most dynamic offensive players shows that the Sabres coaching staff sees him as a potential difference maker. Pominville thinks he can contribute in more ways than one.
"I think I can help them offensively," he said. "I've had a history of being able to produce. But at the same time, I think I can bring some responsibility to the line defensively and make sure that we don't get caught. Obviously we want to create, but the best way to create is not playing in your own end."
Pominville said he hasn't given much thought to the possibility of remaining on Eichel's wing through the start of the regular season; he knows how much can change over the next three weeks and his focus now is getting to know his new teammates. But he'll take the opportunity and make the best of it.
"It might be something they look at, or maybe not," he said. "But it's been fun so far and hopefully we can get a good game tonight."
Griffith, Bailey to play back-to-back
It's no accident that Seth Griffith and Justin Bailey are the only two carryovers from Monday's lineup to tonight's. They're two of the leading candidates to compete for a roster spot on the wing out of camp, which Sabres coach Phil Housley addressed during his pregame comments.
"We just want to see what they have to offer," Housley said. "With the numbers, I thought it was a good idea to see them in another environment, see how they can adjust to a back-to-back game. This is an important time for those players."
Griffith, 24, is a proven scorer at the AHL level, having scored 77 points in 57 games with Providence two seasons ago and 44 points in 38 games for the Toronto Marlies last season. What he hasn't done is stick in the NHL, although he did play 24 games last year for the Maple Leafs and Panthers.
When Griffith signed a one-year deal on July 1, Sabres management expressed confidence that he would compete for an NHL spot. Part of the reason is his fit in Housley's system, and he was already able to score a goal on the rush on Monday.
"I felt really comfortable last night," Griffith said. "I think it really benefits me, being a guy who likes to keep moving my feet and making plays in the offensive zone and transition quickly form D, the little cycles and all that. It will really benefit my game I think."
Bailey, too, is a player who has impressed in glimpses at the NHL level but is still looking to establish consistency. He improved as the game went on against Carolina.
"The one thing I really liked and saw in the third period was tracking," Housley said. "He had a great track back and disrupted a play at our blue line. That's what speed can do, not only offensively but defensively."
Housley looking for improvement at the net front
Video: Phil Housley Pregame (9/19/17)
Housley was generally pleased with the way the Sabres played and tried to grasp his system against Carolina, particularly in the third period. The one area he felt needed the most improvement was the team's presence in front of the net. Housley felt the Carolina goalies saw too many pucks.
"I think one thing we can is getting that guy down low in front of the net a little bit quicker," he said. "I think he's a little bit too eager to leave that area. Let plays develop, he can always get to that puck at the back of the net. So that's one thing we're going to try and work on tonight."
Sabres heading to Penn State
Tonight's game will be played at Pegula Ice Arena, on the campus of Penn State University. Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula donated $102 million to fund the construction of the facility, which spearheaded the university's jump to Division I hockey in 2012.
The Sabres first played at Penn State during last year's preseason.
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
26 Matt Moulson - 22 Johan Larsson - 24 Hudson Fasching
25 Seth Griffith - 10 Jacob Josefson - 13 Nicholas Baptiste
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 12 Kevin Porter - 95 Justin Bailey
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 47 Zach Bogosian
41 Justin Falk - 93 Victor Antipin
4 Josh Gorges - 5 Matt Tennyson
31 Chad Johnson
32 Adam Wilcox