VANCOUVER - Rasmus Asplund's "welcome to the NHL" moment occurred before he had even officially made his debut. It was at the start of warmups that same night, when teammates sent him out for a customary "hot lap" on the KeyBank Center ice.
"That's when it comes to you that you're really here," he said.
Since then, Asplund has made it a point to enjoy every moment he's had at hockey's top level while earning more in the process. On Friday, he practiced on the right wing of a line with Jeff Skinner and Marcus Johansson.
"We think that he's shown a grit to the game that's really interesting and we think he's improving every single day and learning more and more what it takes to play in the National Hockey League," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said.
"A little bit delayed to what Victor Olofsson went through at the start of the season where he spoke about finding his way to play the 5-on-5 game and I think that's where we're at right now with Rasmus Asplund. We're excited about what he's giving us."
Krueger showed faith in Asplund's defensive game from the moment he made his debut, against Ottawa on Nov. 16. He was utilized on the penalty kill that night and has been ever since, including a whopping 7:36 of shorthanded ice time in his third game against Minnesota on Nov. 19.
By placing him on a line with Skinner and Johansson, Asplund should see more offensive opportunity while still being counted on for his defensive awareness. Asplund has already shown an ability to create on offense, having generated at least one 5-on-5 scoring chance in each of his last five games.
He also has familiarity skating with Johansson, whom he played with at the outset of training camp.
"He's such a good two-way player," Johansson said. "He makes plays and he's always in the right position defensively. Seeing him now, you can tell that he's kind of comfortable doing it on this level, too, and it's fun to watch."
Video: SABRES IN :50
It's part of a continued progression for the 22-year-old, who has seen tangible improvements each year since he was drafted by the Sabres in the second round in 2016. His point totals climbed from 12 to 19 and then 28 through three years in the Swedish Hockey League.
Last season was Asplund's first in North America, and he scored 23 of his 41 points during the Rochester Americans' final 22 games. It was the result of patience and coachability, a mindset he's maintained as he adjusts to the next level.
"I'm trying to think that every time I step out onto the ice is an opportunity to show what I got and show the coaching staff and the organization what type of player I am on this level," he said. "I'm still gonna try and take every chance I get on the ice."
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Krueger
The Sabres skated within the ice-cold confines of the Thunderbird Centre on the campus of the University of British Columbia, a session that concluded with work on the power play.
Buffalo went 1-for-8 with the extra man against Calgary on Thursday, with the lone goal coming on the eighth and final try of the night. Victor Olofsson and Sam Reinhart stressed the need for simplicity following that game, a message that remained prominent Friday.
"We just have to get some speed into our puck movement, and we need to get hungrier on getting shots to the net," Krueger said. "I mean, it's simple things that fix situations you're unhappy with in the game of hockey. It doesn't matter what area.
"That's where our power play is at right now, is simplicity above all and allow the skill and the talent then to take over if we can create some chaos. That's what we've been unable to do of late. We need to get a way to get back to that."
Kyle Okposo practiced on a line with Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson and could make his return to the lineup against Vancouver on Saturday. Okposo has missed the past 10 games after sustaining a concussion on Nov. 16.
"Okposo feels good," Krueger said. "We liked the way he reacted. I'm going to have a final conversation with him, but just as a person, as a leader, it's so good to have him back in our space.
"… Okie is an excellent hockey player and person to have back in the group just for the way he executes within the plan consistently. His work ethic off the ice is second to none and it shows up in his game then on the ice, too."
Here's how the Sabres lined up at practice:
68 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo / 71 Evan Rodrigues
53 Jeff Skinner - 90 Marcus Johansson - 74 Rasmus Asplund
13 Jimmy Vesey - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 43 Conor Sheary
4 Zach Bogosian, 6 Marco Scandella, 10 Henri Jokiharju, 19 Jake McCabe, 33 Colin Miller, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 62 Brandon Montour
35 Linus Ullmark
40 Carter Hutton