Jason Pominville smiled as he fired shots into an empty net following the conclusion of the Sabres' morning skate at KeyBank Center, perhaps adding a few ceremonial tallies to the population that's boomed since he burst onto the scene in Buffalo 13 years ago.
Pominville, an unrestricted free agent this summer, has maintained that a decision regarding his NHL future will be made with his family after the season. To this point, he's ruled nothing out.
But the 36-year-old winger admitted that the possibility of playing his last game as a Sabre in Buffalo began to set in during his drive to work this morning.
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"I've tried to soak in pretty much everything throughout my career," Pominville said. "Since I've been drafted - that was in '01 - all I've wanted to do is wear the sweater. I've been fortunate enough to do it for a while. But the drive in this morning, was, yeah, I definitely had to think about it, for sure."
Pominville was excused from his time with the media shortly after, growing emotional when asked to reflect on a career that stands as one of the most prolific in Sabres history. He ranks eighth in franchise history in games played (731), assists (303) and points (519) and is tied for 10th in goals (216).
He'll take the ice at KeyBank Center tonight as the second-leading scorer in arena history, trailing only Thomas Vanek. If it is indeed his last game in Buffalo, the opponent is fitting. Pominville produced one of the franchise's most memorable moments against the Ottawa Senators, a shorthanded overtime goal that clinched Game 5 of their playoff series in 2006.
Pominville went on to play his 1,000th game in Ottawa on Nov. 1 of this season and was honored prior to the Sabres' home game two days later, also against the Senators. He tallied two goals and an assist as part of a nine-goal effort.
"Thank God we had the lead and I could look up and enjoy it a little bit more," Pominville said that night. "… It was a great day. The Sabres did a great job, great presentation, I feel very fortunate to call this home and have the support of the fans that I have."
Pominville has been a healthy scratch at times this season - as recently as March 31 - after a scorching-hot start that saw him thrive on the top line alongside Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel. He's totaled 29 points (15+14) in 71 games.
Regardless of production or ice time, he's a respected figure in the Sabres' dressing room for his leadership and team-first attitude.
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"He's a remarkable person, No. 1," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "The consummate teammate, the true professional. He does what we ask him to do with no hesitation and just has a great attitude when he comes to the rink. He does things the right way.
"It's been invaluable to have his leadership in our room. Obviously, we have two games to be played here and those things will take care of themselves, but I've just been thrilled to have him as part of our group."
Sabres captain Jack Eichel cited Pominville as an example for the organization's young players over the past two seasons.
"Pommer's the best," he said. "He means a lot to our group. He means a lot to this organization, just the experiences he's had and the type of leadership he's able to bring. He's been around for a while. For a lot of the young guys, he's somebody we can lean on a lot. It's been a pleasure."
Pominville's wife, Kim, can provide the best context for the emotion her husband showed this morning. She was interviewed prior to his 1,000th game and asked what it meant for him to be reacquired by the Sabres from Minnesota in 2017.
"When we found out he was coming back I was like, 'What?! We're going back home?!'" she said. "This is the place where he grew up. Like, when he got here, he was a kid. We were kids. I feel like we grew up here. I feel like he's a kid who grew up in the organization and then made it to the 1,000 games."
It will be Fan Appreciation Night at KeyBank Center, with all fans in attendance receiving a commemorative Jack Eichel bobblehead. More giveaways and special offers will follow throughout the night. Click here for more information.
"I want to thank them for their support, even through the tough times," Housley said. "I know it hasn't been easy. I think our home record has been a lot better this year, not recently, but obviously this is an important game for our group tonight."
Alexander Nylander will be scratched after receiving a cut on the back of his leg against Nashville on Tuesday. Housley said he expects the forward to be ready for Rochester's playoff run later this month.
"It's a day-to-day thing right now," he said. "We're being precautionary with it."
Here's how the Sabres lined up at their morning skate, with Carter Hutton expected to start in net:
41 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 21 Kyle Okposo
20 Scott Wilson - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 43 Conor Sheary
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 29 Jason Pominville
19 Jake McCabe - 62 Brandon Montour
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
24 Lawrence Pilut - 8 Casey Nelson
40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark