Jeff Skinner admits he's learned more about Marcus Johansson over these last two weeks than in their nine years as opponents.
Sure, Skinner expected the veteran to have good hockey sense and vision. But playing with Johansson on a daily basis has opened Skinner's eyes to just how much he adds to the Sabres' lineup.
"Sometimes you don't realize until you play with someone how well they see the ice or how well they think the game," Skinner said after practice on Thursday. "It's tough to watch someone on another team or play against someone and pick that up. That's been a nice surprise."
Skinner may be a benefactor of Johansson's presence moving forward. Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said following Wednesday's victory over Columbus that he'd like to see the duo develop a chemistry moving forward, offering a hint at what we might see on opening night.
Johansson has skated at center since the early stages of camp and he remained alongside Skinner at practice on Tuesday. Sam Reinhart previously said he feels Johansson "slows the game down" with his play, a skill set Skinner said he has noticed as well.
"He's pretty smooth, I think," Skinner said. "He's really comfortable with the puck. I think he sort of thinks the game well, so he's makes good reads and knows where people are.
"In that sense, he doesn't have to react, he doesn't have to force things. He's sort of a step ahead. That allows him to slow the game down, I guess. That's one of his strengths. I think he knows it. It's fun to play with a guy like that."
The Sabres are working to establish a style under Krueger that places responsibility on players to act instinctively within the confines of a defined set of principles. They hope to be connected in a way that allows players to know each other's whereabouts in all three zones, which in turn should promote speed up the ice.
In that sense, the repetitions Skinner and Johansson are being given late in camp should be beneficial as they learn each other's tendencies.
"It's different for everyone," Skinner said. "Sometimes it takes a little longer. Sometimes it's a little quicker chemistry. For him, the way he plays is naturally going to speed up that process. I think he probably finds chemistry with guys pretty quickly. Hopefully we can play well together."
Here are more notes from Thursday's practice at KeyBank Center.
Sabres see a bright future for Cozens
Video: Ralph Krueger after Thursday's practice
Krueger provided a detailed explanation for why the team decided to assign Dylan Cozens to Lethbridge on Thursday morning, a choice that was made in collaboration with general manager Jason Botterill.
The coach complimented Cozens' approach in the months since he was selected with the seventh overall pick in this summer's draft, including his determined rehabilitation from a hand injury sustained during development camp and his maturity through two weeks at pro camp.
"This decision today is about the development and the future of an outstanding young man and athlete," Krueger said. "… Here, we thought his first week was as he should be, a bit tentative and he was watching. But in the second, he really grew up and became a part of what we were doing.
"We're just very confident that this is the right move for Dylan and his future and I'm excited about coaching him again in the near future."
Krueger said he was impressed by the package of speed, skill, and defensive awareness that Cozens displayed during his three-game stint in the preseason. He returns to Lethbridge with the goal of adding strength after receiving a first-hand look at the grind of NHL competition.
"It's maybe some pain for him at the moment, but there's a pace and there's an intensity to a National Hockey League season that we just didn't feel he was quite ready for," Krueger said.
"The extended staff that we have that are going to be visiting him in Lethbridge whether it's off ice or on ice, we're going to be really close to him here right through to next year and working on his strength, working on his ability to keep the game up at the highest level.
"… We believe he goes away from here a better player than he was when we drafted him and we believe he's going to come back and make a very hard push for being a part of this team next year."
Larsson, Sheary return
Johan Larsson and Conor Sheary both returned to practice from their respective injuries with the hopes of playing in the team's preseason finale in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Krueger detailed what he saw from the two forwards prior to their injuries and what he believes they can add to the mix going forward.
"We see Johan as a stabilizing type of player that's consistent with what we need to do especially without the puck and on the PK, and also add to the offense," he said. "We'd like to push him in the direction.
"Sheary should bring that element of surprise and work into any line that he's in and also add clearly to the offense. We like to see players who can work hard in both directions and we see Conor as one of those."
With 26 skaters still practicing as of Thursday, Krueger said the plan is to take one last look at the team's depth players on Saturday.
"The players coming in who we don't know as well, it's important to leave a mark," he said. "We have game on Saturday where some final decisions will be made and that game, even if I said last night that possibly some of the top players will be left out of the roster, we're expecting a top-level game and a top level of competitiveness right through those 60 minutes."
Lines at practice
68 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 90 Marcus Johansson - 17 Vladimir Sobotka
20 Scott Wilson - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 21 Kyle Okposo
13 Jimmy Vesey - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 43 Conor Sheary
81 Remi Elie - 74 Rasmus Asplund - 72 Tage Thompson
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 27 Curtis Lazar
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Marco Scandella - 33 Colin Miller
58 John Gilmour - 3 William Borgen
10 Henri Jokiharju - 8 Casey Nelson
40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark