BUFFALO – Minnesota Wild winger Jason Pominville thought for a moment, scanned his mind for some names. The former Sabres captain came up with two.
“Uh, like, Foligno, Ennis,” Pominville said this morning inside KeyBank Center. “Umm, that might be it.”
“There’s not a lot of guys left,” Pominville said.
Pominville, 33, was the first big name to go. His trade signaled the Sabres planned to gut their veteran team and begin a long rebuild.
Three and a half years later, the Sabres are still struggling, just 1-2-2 entering tonight’s game against the Wild. Pominville, meanwhile, has participated in the playoffs the last four seasons.
“They struggled for a little bit, and now they’re slowly turning a corner,” Pominville said of the Sabres. “So I think the city can be excited about this team and the future.”
Pominville spent eight seasons with the Sabres, developing into an NHL All-Star and arguably their best all-around forward. Returning here, he said, is “always a little weird.”
“It will always be,” he said. “I think the first time was always the most awkward one.”
Pominville’s role has changed in recent years. He struggled badly early in 2015-16, starting the season with a 21-game goal drought.
He’s not a first-liner anymore, but, as Wild coach Bruce Boudreau called him, a “jack-of-all trades.”
“Put him in on third, fourth or second line,” said Boudreau, who’s in his first season with Minnesota.
Pominville, however, has recently started killing penalties again and will play on the power play tonight for the first time this season.
“He’s a guy that has experience that takes whatever assignment he has very seriously, and he does a good job with it,” Boudreau said.
Naturally, Pominville’s numbers suffered because of his career-worst stretch early last season. After scoring 18 goals in 2014-15, the first full season he didn’t score at least 20 times, he dipped to a career-low 11 goals.
“I couldn’t do anything (early),” said Pominville, a notoriously slow starter. “Nothing was going my way. I was able to turn the corner later on in the year. I had a great end to the year, had a great playoffs.”
Pominville had four goals in his final four regular-season outings. He then enjoyed his best postseason ever, scoring four goals and seven points in six games.
He has two goals and three points in seven games this season.
“I still want to play,” Pominville said. “I still feel good. I still feel young. I still feel like I can help the team. I’ve been kind of bouncing around with new coaches, new systems, new line combos trying to figure out, get a feel for the team.
“But at the end of the day, I’m playing hockey. That’s what I want, and I still feel like I can do it at a high level. That’s what’s most important for me.”