When Taylor Fedun was evaluating his options as a free agent this summer, he looked at the Buffalo Sabres and saw a young team that he thought was moving in the right direction. He also saw a depth chart that, as a defenseman with a right-handed shot, showed some opportunity for him to contribute at the NHL level.
Fedun signed with the Sabres and entered his fifth professional season with 12 NHL games under his belt compared to 263 games in the AHL, where he never scored less than 27 points in a single campaign. A foot injury kept him from participating in camp with the Sabres, so he began the season in Rochester without having had the chance to show his new organization what he was capable of.
"It's difficult at times," Fedun said of the back-and-forth nature of his career thus far, "but it just makes it that much more exciting and that much sweeter when it finally does happen. When you're putting in the time down there and when you do get that opportunity it makes it that much more important to make the most of it."
Video: Sabres in :90 (11/20/16)
Fedun got his chance on Thursday, when he earned his first recall of the season. The door was opened when Zach Bogosian sustained a knee injury, followed by the reassignment of rookie defenseman Casey Nelson to get more seasoning in Rochester.
In two games so far for Buffalo, Fedun has made the most of his opportunity. He earned an assist on Cody Franson's power-play goal against Tampa Bay on Thursday, but it was his ability to move the puck up the ice that earned him a promotion to the top power-play unit for the Sabres' game against Pittsburgh on Saturday. He responded with another assist in that game.
"I think the message that I received was just to keep moving the puck efficiently and nice and flat for the skilled guys that we have out there," he said. "I think being in that position on the power play, that's one of the most important things is getting it to those guys in a good spot where they can work their magic."
The Sabres have been looking to get their defensemen more involved offensively this season, and Fedun has shown a knack for doing that in more ways than just moving the puck up the ice. He doesn't have a hard shot, but his ability to take smart shots that get through to the net led to William Carrier's redirect goal and later to a Sam Reinhart tip-in chance on the power play on Saturday.
"We felt pretty highly of him this summer in signing him, just unfortunately with his injury he didn't get an opportunity to do anything in camp and he was at least a month behind everybody else," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.
"I'm surprised and encouraged by the poise he displays with the puck. It's confidence with the puck, a couple plays in the neutral zone, the passes that he made under pressure and distributing the puck up the ice to our forwards. He shows quite a bit of poise."
Video: BYLSMA: After Practice
Fedun also showed an ability to join the rush, setting up a 2-on-1 opportunity between him and Cal O'Reilly in the second period.
"I think there is a number of times where our defenders are able to jump into holes and fill in on the rush but I think a lot of that comes from playing effectively in the D-zone and being able to jump into those holes by beating forwards up the ice," he said.
Bogosian's timeframe to recover from his injury was labeled as "weeks" on Nov. 3, and he has yet to skate in the meantime. With that in mind, it's fair to say that Fedun will have more chances to make a positive impact on the Sabres lineup. All he needs to do is continue to make the most of them.
The Sabres only had a handful of players take an optional skate on Sunday, but Ryan O'Reilly among the few who did take the ice. O'Reilly has missed five games with an oblique injury, and his skate on Sunday marked his first time on the ice with teammates other than Jack Eichel, who is rehabbing a high-ankles sprain.
Bylsma said that O'Reilly remains day-to-day.
The Sabres continue their four-game homestand against the Calgary Flames at KeyBank Center on Monday night. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with the TOPS Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Flames at 7 p.m