“You’re coming to a team that’s goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and Buffalo’s still in a rebuild,” Ennis said Wednesday prior to scoring his first goal in 10 games early in his return to KeyBank Center.
The reeling Sabres rank last in the Eastern Conference, losers of seven straight games after Wednesday’s 5-4 setback to the Wild. Despite a 10-8-3 record, the Wild are last in the ultra-competitive Central Division.
Still, Minnesota, which has made the postseason five straight years, possesses enough talent to roar up the standings.
Clearly, a fresh start has energized Ennis and Foligno, who played as visitors Wednesday in Buffalo for the first time since getting traded June 30.
Ennis, 28, fell apart following his third 20-goal season in 2014-15, battling concussions and other injuries. Over his last two campaigns, he mustered only eight goals in 74 appearances. By the end of last season, it appeared he needed a change of scenery.
Meanwhile, Foligno, 26, only tasted success briefly with the Sabres, a short playoff push that ultimately fell short in 2011-12, his rookie season.
In Minnesota, the Buffalo-born Foligno might finally experience the postseason.
“The future is now,” he said. “We have to win. It’s a Stanley Cup-caliber team that we ice and we can put out there. We’ve got great depth and things like that. In Buffalo, it was more taking time to figure our identity out.”
The Sabres haven’t made the playoffs since 2011. In Buffalo, the standard was significantly lower.
“If we put forth a good effort, it was OK,” Foligno said. “Looking at the teams that we had, there were some great players on it, but in this league it’s so hard to win. You need to always have the depth and we didn’t really have that. We always just kind of relied on two lines. Here, you can see the depth is four lines deep.”
When new general manager Jason Botterill dished the Sabres’ longest-tenured players for winger Jason Pominville and defenseman Marco Scandella, Ennis wasn’t surprised.
“When there’s that much turnover every year, it’s almost expected even if you’re used to (the team), you’re comfortable,” said Ennis, a 2008 first-round pick who joined the Sabres in 2009-10. “When there’s that much going on, you’re almost anticipating that something could happen.”
Of course, Ennis and Foligno are grateful for their Sabres careers. Being back in town was special.
“You never forget where you came from with anything in life,” Ennis said. “Buffalo gave me the opportunity to play in the NHL.”
Foligno said: “My time in Buffalo made me who I am today and I owe a whole lot to the organization.”
Ennis and Foligno started Wednesday’s game and played on a line with center Charlie Coyle. The Sabres honored them with a tribute video early in the game, and they acknowledged the crowd during a warm ovation.
Prior to the game, Ennis and Foligno didn’t know what kind of reception to expect.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Foligno said. “I’d like to think that they appreciated my time here and I appreciated it here, too. I loved being in Buffalo. It’s my home, being born here as well. Maybe a boo or two, but hopefully nothing too loud.”
Ennis said: “Should be fun. It’s going to be maybe a little emotional but it will be special.”
With the Wild, Ennis said he has “been up and down in the lineup.” His nifty spin-o-rama goal from the bottom of the left circle 8:59 into the game, his first score since Nov. 2 and fourth in 21 games this season, tied it.
“It’s funny how it all works out,” Ennis said. “I’ve had so many chances, breakaways, posts the last little while here and just a shot from a tough angle goes in.”
Foligno assisted on the goal, his fifth helper and eighth point this season.