BUFFALO – Six months ago, Nick Deslauriers’ future in the NHL looked iffy. Following a career-worst season in which he scored zero goals for the Sabres, it became apparent the popular winger wasn’t part of the new regime’s plans.
On Sept. 30, the Sabres waived Deslauriers. Four days later, they traded him to the Montreal Canadiens, who promptly assigned him to the Laval Rocket.
Deslauriers, 27, hadn’t played in the AHL since 2013-14.
To Deslauriers, he needed the “fresh air” changing teams quickly provided him. He said the fit with the Sabres was no longer there. Going through waivers and playing 14 games with Laval provided “a good wake-up call.”
These days, Deslauriers is happy. In 50 games with his hometown Canadiens, he has already scored a career-high eight goals. Last month, he signed a two-year, $1.9 million contract extension.
“I went from having a really tough year to getting a slap in the face, going on waivers and playing in the AHL,” Deslauriers said this afternoon. “That’s what I needed, (I) rebuilt everything. It’s been good. I’m happy with what I came through this year.”
He added: “I took advantage of going to a new organization … and I just proved I could be an NHL player again.”
But Deslauriers, the Sabres’ top fighter for years, was happy in Buffalo. After all, they gave him his first opportunity in the NHL shortly after acquiring him late in 2013-14.
“I liked it here, I wanted to stay here,” he said. “Just from my last season, I didn’t play much, I didn’t produce at all. Everything was going the opposite way. If I stayed here, would I have had the same season? I don’t know.”
If Deslauriers had stayed, he’d still be making his teammates laugh. Mentioning his name inevitably leads to a smile. His passion and fun-loving personality made him perhaps the most popular teammate in the dressing room.
This morning, Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly grinned recalling feeding Deslauriers for a short-handed goal.
“He had the real intense (celebration) and bear hugged (me) in the huddle,” O’Reilly said. “He’s a guy like that, always had that energy. He just always had that excitement and could do so many things.”
The Canadiens had a day off Thursday in Buffalo, so Deslauriers visited his house, which he is renting to Sabres defenseman Justin Falk. He said walking from the team hotel to KeyBank Center was “kind of weird.”
“It was to good see where it all started,” he said of visiting Buffalo for the first time as an opponent.
Deslauriers said when the Sabres waived him, general manager Jason Botterill told him he would try to find him the best place. Little did he know it would work out so well.
While the Canadiens have endured a brutal season, they’re still hockey’s most storied franchise. Deslauriers grew up about 20 minutes outside Montreal in LaSalle, Quebec.
“It’s unbelievable,” Deslauriers said of playing for the Canadiens. “It’s hard to describe, you know? You see the history and … when you put your bucket on, you see all the alumni. It’s very special … especially being a French home.”