BUFFALO – When the Sabres waived winger Scott Wilson and assigned him to the AHL in early January, it wasn’t a normal demotion to the minors.
Having won two Stanley Cups over nearly three years in the NHL, Wilson was already an established talent.
A season ago, Wilson earned regular duty with the Sabres, playing 49 games following his arrival from the Detroit Red Wings.
But Wilson, who faced his old team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, for the first time Friday, broke his right ankle Sept. 30. After missing more than three months, he needed to play games.
So on Jan. 9, the Sabres sent Wilson to the Rochester Americans, his first stint in the AHL since early 2016.
Wilson’s acclimation to game action was a little slow. Early on, he said he even felt a step behind in practices.
“That kind of took longer than I thought,” Wilson said of his skating legs. “You feel good in practice and you go in games and you’re getting tired faster. You just feel not as fast.”
Instead of rushing Wilson back and giving him a handful of games, the Sabres kept him in Rochester for more than five weeks.
“You got to take it day-by-day,” Wilson said prior to Friday’s 4-3 overtime win inside KeyBank Center. “I think sometimes I’d wake up and I wouldn’t be feeling good with regards to my foot and stuff. Some days I was feeling better. Kind of once you kind of string a few together and not have too many of those days that you’re feeling a little bit off, you kind of get (on) a roll.
“I think the biggest thing is just kind of focusing every day doing the same things.”
Finally, after compiling three goals and seven points over 17 appearances, the Sabres recalled Wilson last Friday.
“It’s kind of good for me in a way,” Wilson said of going to the AHL. “I think it had been three years or so. It was a little different just being down there, but they got a great group of guys down there.”
Wilson said “the last 10 days is probably when I felt the best.”
Friday was Wilson’s fourth straight appearance. Sabres coach Phil Housley has mostly utilized him as a fourth-line winger.
“He’s done a terrific job down there in his game and developing his game,” Housley said. “But I really like the way he’s brought it since he’s been here. He’s creating offense down low, he’s finishing his checks, he’s tough to play against. He’s a very reliable player.”
Wilson, a regular during the Penguins’ run to the Cup in 2017, said he doesn’t have any extra motivation facing his old team.
“It’s been a couple years now, so it’s not super, super fresh,” Wilson said.
Wilson skated at left wing on the third line Friday beside center Casey Mittelstadt and Tage Thompson and also killed penalties.
Shortly after Penguins goalie Matt Murray stymied Wilson’s splendid second-period scoring chance, Wilson took a four-minute high-sticking penalty. The Penguins quickly scored twice, roaring back to take the lead.
The Sabres made three lineup changes Friday, inserting defenseman Matt Hunwick for Marco Scandella (lower body) and Thompson for Vladimir Sobotka (upper body). Housley said Scandella and Sobotka are both day-to-day.
Sabres goalie Carter Hutton, who left Thursday’s practice early after he tweaked something in his lower body, dressed for the game.
Notes: The Sabres scratched Casey Nelson again. The defenseman has sat out six straight games since returning from an AHL conditioning assignment. Nelson hasn’t played an NHL contest since Dec. 4, when he suffered an upper-body injury that sidelined him more than two months. … The NHL honored linesman Brad Kovachik for his 1,500th game prior to the opening faceoff. … Brandon Montour played his first home game with the Sabres on Friday and recorded his first point, an assist, on winger Conor Sheary’s power-play goal. Montour scored the tying goal late in the third period. The defenseman is the first player in franchise history to wear No. 62.