BUFFALO – Less than three years ago, Brian Flynn was an undrafted and mostly unknown youngster at the University of Maine. The versatile forward’s signing with the Sabres barely registered with the fan base.
But Flynn quickly and quietly worked himself into a strong NHL prospect.
After less than a season in Rochester, Flynn debuted with the Sabres in 2012-13. The 26-year-old played regularly until they dealt him to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday for a fifth-round pick in 2016 hours before the NHL trade deadline.
“I don’t think it’s all sunk in quite yet,” Flynn told reporters in Tampa Bay, where the Sabres play the Lightning tonight. “I still haven’t even talked to any of the guys in the locker room.”
Flynn is leaving the NHL’s worst team for the Eastern Conference’s best.
“It was a weird path, but I’m excited where I’m at right now,” Flynn said.
Flynn, a restricted free agent after the season, said he “knew it was a possibility.”
“I think (general manager) Tim Murray’s pretty clear that anyone restricted or unrestricted this year was up for grabs,” he said. “It was surprising still when you get the call. I’m really grateful for the opportunity I was given here.”
The Boston native has five goals and 17 points in 54 games this season and 17 goals and 41 points in 159 NHL appearances.
Murray said Montreal wanted depth for its playoff run.
“I had talked to a couple teams about him,” Murray said. “I wasn’t … going into today trying to trade Brian. His name came up in a couple trade talks with two teams. It so happened Montreal was the last team, and the offer was enough for us to do the deal.”
Flynn, a strong checker who can play center and wing, skated 15 minutes, 53 seconds a game with the rebuilding Sabres this season. On the contender like the Canadiens, Flynn will likely have a third- or fourth-line role and kill penalties. He often skated among the top nine forwards with Buffalo.
“I’m excited, just do whatever they ask me there,” he said.
He added: “Obviously, I don’t expect to go there and play the 20 minutes a night I’ve been playing here. They’ve got a really deep lineup, lot of good forwards.”
Flynn played more than 20 minutes in the last two games and scored in Thursday’s 6-3 win against Vancouver.
“I think recently I’ve been playing well,” he said.
What will people back home think about a Boston native joining the Bruins’ most heated rival?
“All my buddies are Bruins fans, but I think they’ll understand,” he said.
The Sabres received a low return – a 2016 seventh-round pick and Jack Nevins, a 21-year-old AHL tough guy – for Torrey Mitchell, their No. 2 center.
“That was the market, and we got a young guy in Jack Nevins that when I was in Ottawa we tried to sign, free agent out of Quebec Junior League,” Murray said. “Is he an NHL player? I don’t know the answer to that. He’s a prospect. At the very least he is going to help Rochester.
“He’s a competitive, tough kid who plays the game properly. His approach to playing the game is he does it the right way. He’s a pro. And he’s a hungry kid. And at the end of the day that was the best offer I had in that deal.”
The 6-foot-2, 199-pound Nevins has zero points and 88 penalty minutes in 32 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs this season. The Sabres have assigned him to the AHL.
Goalie Chad Johnson, acquired from the New York Islanders in the Michal Neuvirth deal, and newcomer Anders Lindback, who hasn’t played with the Sabres yet, are now the team’s netminders. Statistically, they are two of the NHL’s worst.
Johnson is 8-8-1 with a 3.08 goals-against average and a .889 save percentage in 19 games. The 28-year-old has one year and $1.6 million left on his contract.
Lindback’s numbers with Dallas – 2-8, 3.71 and .875 – were terrible.
Johnson, a career backup, has also played for the New York Rangers, Arizona and Boston. He played a career-high 27 games with the Bruins last season, posting the best numbers – 17-4-3, 2.10 and .925 – of his five-year career.
“Johnson had a good season with Boston – he had good numbers, good analytics numbers,” Murray said. “He hasn’t had a good year on Long Island. But he’s a guy I think most teams, certainly the teams he’s been with, think is a legit backup. He’s not old. I don’t know if he has the ability to be a starter. I guess depending on how (coach) Teddy (Nolan) wants to divvy up the games between now and the end of the year we’ll find out.”
Chris Stewart, dished late in the day, found out during a live television interview the Sabres had traded him to the Minnesota Wild.
“My phone rang and it was James Duthie,” the winger said, “and then I was on live with TSN and they told me I was traded to the Minnesota Wild. As soon as I heard it was them I was really excited.”
The Sabres need to make two recalls, Murray said. Winger Tyler Ennis will play tonight after missing two games (lower body).
Murray had no new update on Sabres prospect Mark Pysyk, who was briefly hospitalized Saturday after collapsing during a pickup basketball game in Rochester.
“Thank God … it’s not serious,” he said. “But who knows what serious is?”
Murray said test results have come back in Pysyk’s favor and more will be done.
“We just want him to have the best care, take his time, feel comfortable when he wants to come back,” Murray said. “But certainly we’re going to do everything we can to rule out everything we can and go from there.”