BUFFALO – In three seasons between his stints in the Sabres organization, forward Kevin Porter played 43 NHL games. One year, the former Hobey Baker Award winner stayed in the minors all season. In another one, he played just two contests.
But two years ago, Porter, 32, earned regular duty with the Pittsburgh Penguins, playing 41 contests before an ankle injury ended his season.
While Porter missed the playoffs, he experienced the Stanley Cup run up close. When the Penguins clinched, he raised the trophy in full uniform during the team celebration.
Sharing the ice with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and others taught him how hard some of the world’s most talented players work.
The lessons Porter learned throughout the 2015-16 campaign have stuck with him.
“That was pretty special, you learn a lot from guys like that,” Porter said this morning inside KeyBank Center. “I don’t know if that was something I brought over to Rochester a little bit, but definitely a fun ride but I’ll never forget.”
Right now, Porter is back with the Sabres, “a reward for the work he’s down in Rochester,” coach Phil Housley said.
“He’s been a terrific leader for them, he’s molded those young guys done there,” Housley said.
Porter won’t play tonight against the Ottawa Senators. Still, reaching the NHL again is special.
“This is what I’ve worked for,” Porter said.
The presence of Sabres general manager Jason Botterill and Amerks coach Chris Taylor helped lure Porter back to the organization.
Botterill ran the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre Scranton as part of the duties as Pittsburgh’s associate GM. Taylor, meanwhile, was an AHL assistant for the Penguins last season.
“There was a few factors in me ending up coming back to the organization, Chris Taylor and Jason Botterill, those are two big keys, both great hockey guys, they know what they’re doing,” Porter said. “I knew they’d be trying to win here, Rochester, so that was something I wanted to be a part of and they thought I could help. So I think it’s been a good fit.”
After three down years, the Amerks recently clinched their first playoff spot since 2014.
“That’s big, especially for the young guys getting some experience in playoff games,” said Porter, who has compiled 16 goals and 40 points in 64 games this season. “Those are different games, everyone knows that, they’re a little bit harder, they’re a little more intense.”