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Ennis Hopes Fresh Start Can Get Career Back on Track

Three-time 20-goal scorer has been limited to 74 games the past two seasons because of injuries

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon lost one close buddy in the team's trade with the Buffalo Sabres on Friday. But he also gained another in the acquisition of forward Tyler Ennis.

Spurgeon and Marco Scandella, dealt to Buffalo along with forward Jason Pominville, have grown close over the years, a friendship that began nearly a decade ago when the two were assigned as defensive partners at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. Spurgeon's friendship with Ennis goes back even further: The Edmonton, Alberta natives grew up living across the street from each other.

"We've known each other since we were five years old," Ennis said. "[We] played hockey together every year. We're both very excited. I think we're just both excited to play together but also win together."

Ennis, the 26th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, looked like one of the League's next up-and-coming stars. As a 21-year old playing his first full season in the NHL, Ellis scored 20 goals and dished out 29 assists, helping Buffalo to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The next season, he scored 15 goals and had 19 assists in a 48-game season that was shortened by a nagging ankle injury. 

After playing with Spurgeon in Switzerland during the NHL lockout, Ennis returned and had 10 goals and 21 assists in 47 games.

Two more relatively healthy seasons resulted in a pair of 20-goal campaigns before the bottom fell out on his career during the 2015-16 season. A lengthy recovery from a concussion limited him to just 23 games that year, one in which he had three goals and 11 points.

Last season, it was double hernia surgery that cost Ennis 30 games and limited him to five goals and 13 points in 51 games.

"[It's been] very frustrating," Ennis said. "Injuries have sidelined me a lot the last couple of years and affected my game. I've worked hard to feel good, I've had a good summer of training and skating a lot. My body feels good. I'm just ready to be the player I was a few years ago."

If the Wild can keep Ennis on the ice, it believes it could have a potential game-changer. Still just 27 years old, Ennis has proven to be a more-than-capable offensive player in the NHL. 

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said he looks at Ennis' situation in the same way that he looked at Eric Staal's before last season. Staal didn't have the injuries that Ennis had, but a couple of down years had some observers questioning exactly how much the long-time Carolina Hurricanes captain had left.

Staal answered those critics with a team-leading 28 goals and 65 points last season, his first in Minnesota. Boudreau hopes Ennis can have a similar impact.

"I think Tyler is excited about everything. He's got speed. He's small, but we've got a couple small forwards that are really good. So I think he's going to fit in with our group really well," Boudreau said. "I think it's going to be a breath of fresh air for him. I'm looking forward for him to return to form from where he was three, four and five years ago."

Boudreau said he isn't sure where Ennis, a lefty shot, will fit into the lineup just yet, but the former alternate captain for the Sabres provides the Wild with a bit of flexibility. A winger for much of his NHL career, Ennis can and has played center in the past. He can also contribute on special teams, having scored 23 career power-play goals in his career. 

"If he stays healthy, he's going to be a good player," Boudreau said. "From all accounts, from [new Wild assistant and former Sabres assistant coach] Bob Woods, the last 15 games he was healthy last year, he played really good. Assuming he's going to come into camp healthy, we'll see the best of him right off the bat."

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