There were some noticeable absences at the Buffalo Sabres' morning skate on Tuesday.
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said Monday that some changes to the roster would be coming, particularly in terms of some of the younger players on the team. It was apparent Tuesday morning that decisions had been made when the Sabres worked out with 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders. Four rookies were not on the ice for practice.
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, 19, and center Johan Larsson, 21, were sent to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League. Center Mikhail Grigorenko, 19, will join them albeit on a conditioning assignment. Nolan said Grigorenko had been feeling ill and will return to Buffalo following his stint with the Amerks.
Defenseman Nikita Zadorov, 18, was returned to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, where he will play for coach Dale Hunter and compete for the Memorial Cup.
“There are not too many 18 year olds that can step into this League and be a contributing player,” Nolan said after Buffalo’s morning skate at First Niagara Center. The Sabres take on the St. Louis Blues at 7 p.m.
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Nolan looked to his experiences as both a hockey dad and a coach in juniors to help make these decisions with President of Hockey Operations Pat LaFontaine. They will look to bring up players from the Amerks to fill out the roster, but those announcements will be made later on and none of the players that may be recalled will play Tuesday night.
Nolan cited how young players have been brought along slowly by other organizations like Slava Voynov of the Los Angeles Kings. Voynov, a second-round pick in 2008, spent three seasons in the minors before making it to the NHL in 2011-12. This season, he’s third among Kings defensemen in scoring and averages 21:03 of ice time per game.
“We look at where we are with this organization and where we have to go to,” Nolan said. “Proper development is so vital. It’s so important. You look at some of the better teams in this League and how they do it.”
Defenseman Mike Weber has been activated from injured reserve as well. He’s been eagerly awaiting the chance to get back into the lineup after missing the past 10 games with a thumb injury. He is expected to be paired with Jamie McBain.
Weber been practicing with the team for the past week and has noticed that the players’ compete level has increased. He said that when you look at the young players departing for now, there’s a sense that nothing can be taken for granted.
“They’re all good players, all great hockey players and probably going to be here maybe sooner than later. But it’s one of those things that’s the philosophy maybe going back five or so years ago where you have to earn it,” Weber said.
Weber spent three seasons in the AHL before becoming a regular contributor for the Sabres in 2010-11.
“You have to develop in the minors, you have to play your junior. You have to earn the right to be here and it’s nothing against those guys,” he said. “They were given that opportunity so it’s not their fault. But from a standpoint of just hockey and what we want to be as a hockey team, that’s kind of a positive I think.”
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Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who spent the 2001-02 season in Rochester, said that there is pressure on the veterans still on the team to perform and keep their spots from young guys knocking on the door in the minors.
“That’s the key for the whole organization to keep moving forward,” he said. “Just to have that push from everyone. You push each other that’s what makes a good team.”
Nolan has talked about how young players need to mature at their own pace and that thrusting them onto the NHL stage when they may not be ready could do more harm than good. He said the players were disappointed by the decision, but they now have the opportunity to go out and prove that the organization made the wrong call by not keeping them here now.
“I can’t speak for them, but just by the expression and the emotion, it was almost like a relief,” Nolan said. “…We want these kids to mature. They’re all really good players and they’re going to be great contributors down here at the right time.”
Ryan Miller was the first goaltender off the ice and is expected to start in goal. Nolan said Monday that he’d like to play Miller as much as possible while making sure Miller receives the proper rest in a schedule condensed due to the Winter Olympics.
26 Matt Moulson – 19 Cody Hodgson – 21 Drew Stafford
63 Tyler Ennis – 23 Ville Leino – 9 Steve Ott
82 Marcus Foligno – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 65 Brian Flynn
32 John Scott – 8 Cody McCormick – 78 Corey Tropp
10 Christian Ehrhoff – 3 Mark Pysyk
20 Henrik Tallinder – 57 Tyler Myers
6 Mike Weber – 4 Jamie McBain
30 Ryan Miller
1 Jhonas Enroth