NEW YORK – After practice on Wednesday in Buffalo, Sabres coach Rolston talked about how the younger players on the team, including the four teenagers, will need to work harder to become more consistent both in practice and in games.
Part of learning how to deal with playing a full season in the NHL – and playing well – means occasionally taking a night to watch the game from the press box as a healthy scratch.
That’ll be the case for 18-year-old rookie defenseman Nikita Zadorov for the team’s game against the New York Rangers on Thursday at 7 p.m. Jamie McBain will take his place in the lineup and will likely play the left side on a pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen.
Zadorov is in a different position than the other six rookies on the team. The Sabres can return him to his junior club, the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, without using up a year on his contract as long as he does not play in more than nine games with Buffalo.
“He needs to better. A lot of aspects. A lot of his details right now [in] practice and game situations,” Rolston said after practice Thursday at Madison Square Garden. “He needs to get some perspective. With all our players, especially our young guys, we don’t want guys getting comfortable.”
Ristolainen, Buffalo’s other 2013 first-round pick, has been a healthy scratch in two games this season and did not dress for a third as he was assigned to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League at the time. Rolston said that he’s seen improvement from Ristolainen in the three games since he was last scratched.
“I thought when Rasmus was out of the lineup, he came back and played well. He was refocused on what he needed to do and wasn’t taking things for granted. I think it’ll be the same with Nikita,” Rolston said.
In Ristolainen’s first game back in the lineup, he scored his first NHL goal.
“I think for him, it was good to get out and watch things from upstairs and just understand his position a little better and understand how he can keep thing simple, where he needed to improve defensively but just keeping the game simpler,” Rolston said. “I think he’s done a better job with that and he’s been better in some of the areas that we’ve been working with him on with his defensive stick and net-front situations that he’s been in. But we like where he’s going.”
The coaching staff has a few decisions to make in the next few days regarding the roster.
Right wing Patrick Kaleta is set to come back on Saturday against Anaheim, having served his 10-game suspension by the League. Rolston also said that forward Corey Tropp will likely be ready Saturday as well. He’s been on the non-roster injured reserve since breaking his jaw in a fight during the preseason. Tropp skated with the team at MSG.
Putting Tropp in the lineup would require the team to make a move to satisfy the 23-man roster limit.
“It should push everybody because we’ve got some decisions to make here coming up,” Rolston said. “You’ve got players like Corey [Tropp] coming back and Patty Kaleta’s suspension’s up on Saturday. Everybody should feel that.”
The Sabres did not do any line rushes during the morning skate but the forward combinations will likely look similar to what they have been in practice this week. Rolston confirmed that Mikhail Grigorenko will be back in the middle, centering Zemgus Girgensons and right wing Brian Flynn.
That would put Johan Larsson on the fourth line with center Cody McCormick and right wing Drew Stafford. Ville Leino had been practicing on the right side with center Marcus Foligno and left wing Steve Ott. New addition Matt Moulson would then again be on the top line with center Cody Hodgson and right wing Tyler Ennis.
Ryan Miller was the first goaltender off the ice and is expected to start in goal.
John Scott did not skate with the team. He was set to have an in-person hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety for a hit he made on Loui Eriksson of the Boston Bruins on Oct. 23. The in-person hearing allows the League to suspend him for at least five games. He’s missed three already.