Only 21 games into the season, the Buffalo Sabres roster has been depleted by a multitude of injuries. Vezina winner Ryan Miller, Calder winner Tyler Myers, resident tough guy Cody McCormick, super pest Patrick Kaleta, Mike Weber, Tyler Ennis, and Brad Boyes are among the wounded warriors. The array of injuries has prompted the Sabres to bring up 4 players from minor league affiliate, the Rochester Americans, to date: Drew MacIntyre, Corey Tropp, T.J. Brennan, and as of yesterday, Zack Kassian.
So far, the call-ups have held their own.
Tropp has now filled in for 8 big-league games, chipping in a goal and an assist, and has mostly played mistake-free hockey. He has provided the Sabres with quality minutes, while maintaining a physical presence, throwing his body around, and getting dirty in the corners. His trial period thus far has shown that Tropp has the capability to play in the NHL. Though he may not stick for the entire year, he will be good for at least a 4th line spot in the near future, with the potential to become a 3rd liner. His grit has been appreciated in the absences of Kaleta and McCormick.
Brennan appeared in his first NHL game on Thanksgiving eve, and did not disappoint. In his first shot on goal, he registered his first NHL goal. He became the first Sabres defenseman to score in his first NHL game since Lindy Ruff back in 1979. Though he has big shoes (literally and figuratively) to fill for Myers, Brennan did not fall victim to any major gaffes in the game against the mighty Boston Bruins. In limited ice time, his game was sound.
MacIntyre has only played 8 minutes in goal for the Sabres so far, his first NHL minutes since January 29th, 2008. He stopped both shots that he faced. With the Sabres playing back-to-back games this weekend (making this 3 games in 4 nights), there is a high probability that we will see MacIntyre get a start this weekend. If this is the case, it might be better for Buffalo to get him in goal for tonight’s road game against the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets, rather than tomorrow’s game against the Alex Ovechkin-led Washington Capitals at First Niagara Center.
Lastly, we have Zack Kassian. A name that the ever-increasingly blood thirsty Sabres fan base has been clamoring for ever since he was named their 1st round draft pick in 2009. In juniors, Kassian grew a widespread notoriety for big hits and flying fists, on and off the ice. Some of his hits were labeled “dirty,” and consequently Sabres fans have repeatedly drooled over the prospect of having their own version of Milan Lucic on the team. A power forward that dishes out bone-jarring hits, is able to park in front of the net and score goals, and throws left-handed punches in fights reminiscent of Cam Neely? I am all for that!
Unfortunately for Kassian’s sake, I think what the fan base is expecting out of him is not what they are going to get. At least, not at this point in time. The same boo-birds that are quick to jump on a world-class goaltender such as Ryan Miller after he lets in a couple goals, are expecting Kassian to fly out of the gate as some magical machine of mischief and mayhem. If so, they may end up largely disappointed.
While in Rochester this season, the organization and Kassian have been working on honing his game; namely, focusing more on making him a complete, 2-way player. He has responded well, showing growth in his overall play as each AHL game has gone by. In 18 games, he is the Amerks leading scorer with 14 points (7 goals + 7 assists). The former OHL bad-boy has only been in one fight this season. He has been going into corners and outworking opponents for the puck, rather than flying in there and throwing his 6’3, 228 pound frame around. “I want to be a complete player, and that means working on my skating and breaking the bad habits, stopping my feet and a lot of the little things as a player so I’m ready for the NHL sooner than later,” Kassian said in an interview earlier this month.
The Sabres fan base seems to want a villain to root for, and Kassian has not been playing that role this year. I have no doubts that he will be able to contribute in his forthcoming NHL stint, but feel the fans will not be getting what they are expecting.