Drew Stafford has a new perspective while on the Buffalo Sabres power play, but it’s one he’s quite familiar with.
He’s been play playing the point, which is something he hasn’t done consistently since his college days. He was there for a few games at the end of last season and now finds himself back with his heels on the blue line.
Toward the end of the team’s morning skate before their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday, the Sabres did some brief work on special teams. One notable change was Stafford working on the blue line and Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan used him there that night.
“It would be nice to get some practice in as well. We were just kind of throwing that together right before the game so we haven’t had much time to work on it but I think it’s only going to get better,” Stafford said after practice at First Niagara Center. “I love it.”
Nolan said that Stafford looked even better there on Saturday in New Jersey.
“With Drew coming there, he has to step in and do something else and he’s very capable of doing that,” Nolan said.
As he gets back in the swing of things, Stafford said there are a few right-handed shots around the League that he’s keeping a close eye on to see how they work the point. Steven Stamkos, P.K. Subban and Erik Karlsson are some of the types of players he’s watching film on.
“I love being in a role where I’m touching the puck a little bit more. I’m getting in on some more chances,” he said. “I think I can provide a little bit more creativity and getting pucks on net. So far, we’ve had some great chances.”
As he worked his way to the NHL, Stafford found himself on the point at nearly every level. In high school at Shattuck-St. Mary’s and at the University of North Dakota, he quarterbacked the special teams units.
He remembers playing on that power play at Shattuck-St. Mary’s with the likes of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson and Ryan Duncan, who won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award in 2007 while at North Dakota. Stafford finished the 2002-03 season, his final at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, with 116 points (49+67) in 65 games.
“There were a lot of cross-box one-timers between me and Sid,” Stafford said with a laugh. “With Jack Johnson, Sid and I, I think we were about 90 percent on the power play, so it was pretty good.”
While the power play unit wasn’t quite clicking at 90 percent that season, Tom Ward, Shattuck-St. Mary’s director of hockey and coach of the boy’s prep team, said they were still all right.
“Drew was on the backside of it and he got himself a lot of good passes from Sidney and from [Duncan]. He had a good senior year for us,” Ward said. “Most games, it didn’t take them long from them to get a great chance to score.”
The private school, located in Faribault, Minn., has been attended by numerous NHL draft picks from Joe Corvo and Ryan Malone to Zach Parise and Buffalo’s second-round selection in 2013, Connor Hurley.
Sabres defenseman Jamie McBain also went there before joining the U.S. National Development Program in 2004. Ward said that McBain was able to greatly improve his skills at Shattuck-St. Mary’s thanks to his perseverance and strong work ethic.
“We’re very fortunate that [our alumni] speak very highly of their time spent at our school and our hockey program,” Ward said. “There are a bunch of kids out there and families out there looking for that kind of experience. We like to call it a place where you can have your cake and eat it too. It’s a great education and at the same time, an accelerated hockey experience.”
Stafford has a pretty deep personal connection with the school over and above his experiences there. Stafford’s father, Gordie, coaches the girls’ prep team and both his mother and older sister work at the school as well.
“It’s kind of a family affair here with the Staffords and Shattuck-St. Mary’s,” Ward said. “So more than even the other kids here, it was a perfect storm for the Staffords.”
After graduating from Shattuck-St. Mary’s Stafford moved on to the University of North Dakota, where he again worked the point on the power play. He hasn’t played there consistently since then and is very excited to be back in that spot.
“Then in college, we had so many good players on that North Dakota team. We kind of moved around but I was able to use my one-timer and make some plays off that one side so I really like it a lot,” he said. “Obviously it took a little bit of a back seat once I got here, but hopefully now it’ll give me a good opportunity to hopefully get some of that experience back and so far, so good.”
The Sabres have had quite a few great scoring chances on the power play the past few games. With Stafford at quarterback with Christian Ehrhoff, he hopes they can really start cashing in soon.
“Power play, you’re meant to be out there to score goals,” he said. “Obviously, I have to keep an eye on some defensive responsibilities so that I’m back. But at the same time, it’s nice to be out there, calm the play out there a little bit and get some chances.”