BUFFALO – While a seven-game, late-season introduction to the NHL was nice, Sabres defenseman Chad Ruhwedel knew he still had plenty to learn about professional hockey.
So a preseason assignment to Rochester hardly surprised the 23-year-old.
“I came in not expecting it, but ready for it,” Ruhwedel, who joined the Sabres straight from the NCAA in April, said Monday in Pittsburgh. “It was my first year pro. I’m not the guy who thinks he’s ready for the NHL out of college. So I knew I was going to have to develop, grow and grind away in the AHL for a while.”
Ruhwedel played well with the Americans, compiling four goals and 17 points in 34 AHL games. He earned his second recall this season Friday. He didn’t play during a brief three-game stay in December.
He impressed interim Sabres coach Ted Nolan in Saturday’s 5-2 win in Columbus, skating 16:09. Ruhwedel then played a career-high 20:12 in Monday’s 3-0 loss in Pittsburgh.
“He’s getting better and better,” Nolan said Tuesday prior to the Sabres’ 5-4 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals inside the First Niagara Center.
Nolan has been skating Ruhwedel beside Christian Ehrhoff, a plum assignment for the San Diego native.
“The one thing about Chad, he can skate,” Nolan said. “I think the first part he was similar to Phil (Varone) the game before. I think he was a little bit nervous in the beginning. I think once he got his legs underneath him he was pretty effective for us.”
Ehrhoff added: “He plays a really solid game. He’s reliable positionally and in his own end. He makes a good first pass.”
How has Ruhwedel, who played three years at UMass Lowell, adapted to the pro game?
“It’s just a different lifestyle,” he said. “It’s a lot more games. It’s about managing your energy and taking care of your body and stuff like that. College is a grind. But this is ever more so. I think that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learned so far.
“The hockey side of it, it’s a different style. It’s not as run-and-gun as college was. It’s more controlled. When it’s time to make a pass or make a play, you got to make it.”
As expected, Nolan scratched defenseman Jamie McBain against Washington. Alexander Sulzer, a scratch five of the last six games, replaced him.
The 25-year-old McBain endured a rough night Monday, losing the puck on Pittsburgh’s first goal.
“I just want to see better,” Nolan said Tuesday morning. “As every player in this league, I just want to see better. There’s a couple others that were in the same boat. But the bottom line is we have to be better. There’s just no other way to put it, especially with the team that we have. We can’t afford one or two bad blunders and turnovers and not concentrating.”
McBain hadn’t been scratched since Nov. 30.
In other lineup news, tough guy John Scott replaced winger Linus Omark, who returned from a two-game absence Monday.
“Maybe we got him in the wrong position,” Nolan said about Omark. “We put the kid on the fourth line. He’s a skill guy, but right now some guys are playing a little bit better than him.”
The Sabres also scratched winger Drew Stafford (upper body).
Instead of a red non-contact jersey, Cody McCormick wore a regular gold one with his Sabres teammates Tuesday morning.
So, is the forward ready to return from the hand injury that has sidelined him the past 19 games?
“I just had it on,” said McCormick, who was rehabbing earlier in the morning. “I didn’t feel like changing.”
The 30-year-old said he’s probably out until after the Olympic break.
“Probably be pushing it before the break,” said McCormick, who hasn’t played since Dec. 14. “So that’s kind of what we’re at right now. They’re looking for some real progress before that. Otherwise, probably take the break and get it as healed as we can.”
The Sabres play their first game after the break Feb. 25.
Injuries have limited McCormick to only 25 games this year, something he called “terribly frustrating.”
“Each checkup you’re kind of hoping for good news,” he said. “It’s not there. In the long run, it’s the best thing for myself to come back at 100 percent.”