Although he set a career-high with 21 goals this past season, Tyler Ennis sees lots of room to improve.
The second half of his season was noticeably better than his first. In his final 39 games of the season, he averaged 19:37 of ice time per game and racked up 28 points (13+15). That’s up from the 15 points (8+7) and 18:07 of average ice time he logged in his first 41 games.
Ennis started the year on the wing, but eventually settled in as the Buffalo Sabres’ top-line center and rekindled his chemistry with right winger Drew Stafford.
“I need to be more consistent. I’m happy that I beat my last career-high at 20 so I’m glad I got 21,” Ennis said. “But I want to get 30. I want to get 40. You want to set high goals, so I’m going to set high goals for myself.”
“(My play) got better as the season went on ... I have to play the whole season like that though.” - Tyler Ennis
Stafford also had a great second half, posting 21 points (12+9) in the 29 games he dressed for following the halfway point of the schedule. The two were able to feed off each other, and Ennis was quick to credit both Stafford and coach Ted Nolan for his midseason surge.
“(My play) got better as the season went on. I think a lot of it has to do with Teddy, and that Staff was playing great at the end of the year, too,” Ennis said. “I have to play the whole season like that though.”
The entire Sabres roster battled numerous ailments throughout the difficult season, losing a total of 305 man-games due to injury in the process. Factoring in the injuries, trades and other roster moves, Ennis was one of only nine Sabres to dress in both the first and final games of the year.
At a time toward the end of the season when alternate captains Stafford and Henrik Tallinder were both out of the lineup due to injury, the 24-year-old Ennis was called upon to wear a letter.
“It was special,” he said. “To be the assistant captain of any team is cool. To grow up and make the NHL is one dream come true and then to be an assistant captain and be a leader is awesome. It was a cool experience for me and hopefully I can continue to lead the team and lead the team out of last place.”
While Ennis did have a productive year on the offensive side of things, he finished a career-low minus-27 and will look to improve his defensive-zone play. One of the biggest aspects of the game he’ll focus on in the offseason in the faceoff circle. Ennis won 38.7 percent of his draws last season.
“Faceoffs are something that should be easy to work on. It’s a lot of technique and it’s something that you can just improve because it’s not reading a play, it’s just one battle with a guy,” he said. “I can work on that and I can study tape and continue to get better as that as well. But that’s an area I need to improve at obviously.”
Ennis cited Sidney Crosby and Eric Staal as two players that have steadily improved in the faceoff circle in their careers. Crosby won 45.5 percent of his draws in his rookie year and has finished around or well over 50 percent every season since.
Winning a battle at the faceoff dot is an example of the types of battles Ennis says the team needs to win all over the ice. Since Nolan was hired to coach the team in November, he has preached the importance of bringing a strong work ethic every shift. Ennis has taken that message to heart.
“Just come in with the ‘compete’ attitude every single game. We were limited some nights. We traded guys. We had injuries. But whatever team you have on the ice, you can still win,” Ennis said. “We just need to create that compete atmosphere, whoever’s on the team next year.”
Ennis has only 13 Stanley Cup Playoff games under his belt and he expressed how much he would like play in the postseason again. He was called up from the American Hockey League toward the end of the 2009-10 season and played in six playoff games for Buffalo against Boston. He scored a goal and added three assists in that series.
The next year, he played in every game of Buffalo’s seven-game tilt against Philadelphia and recorded four points (2+2), including the overtime winner in Game 5.
“It stings watching playoffs because I remember how much fun it was against Boston and Philly, even though we got knocked out in the first round,” he said. “It’s just such a cool atmosphere, cool time of that year. Yeah it sucks, but it’s good motivation.
“…It would be awesome to give this place a championship and I want to be a part of it.”