BUFFALO – Had Taylor Fedun been healthy enough to participate in training camp, then perhaps the Sabres would’ve recalled the high-scoring defenseman earlier this season.
But Fedun, who made his Sabres debut Thursday, fractured his foot in April playing with the Utica Comets, the Vancouver Canucks’ AHL affiliate. The Princeton product didn’t begin skating again until the day before training camp started, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.
So while Fedun, 28, participated in meetings with his new team, he stayed off the ice until Oct. 1, missing the entire preseason slate. Fedun said he was still behind a week or two following his assignment to the Rochester Americans days later.
Fedun eventually “got his game underneath him,” Bylsma said.
“Last three weeks he’s been very good for us, a smart defender, compete level (is) high, a puck mover,” Bylsma said Thursday prior to the Sabres’ 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at KeyBank Center.
Fedun has been one of the AHL’s best defensemen, compiling two goals and 12 points in 14 games. The Edmonton native had a four-point game last Friday.
“He was due for a call-up after that,” Bylsma said.
Fedun skated beside Justin Falk, his partner in Rochester. He also played on the second power-play unit, assisting on Cody Franson’s second-period score, the first goal from a Sabres defenseman and the second unit all season.
The Amerks, who are coached by former Sabres assistant Dan Lambert, play a similar style.
“It makes for a much more seamless transition when the message is the same down there,” Fedun said. “You don’t have to come up here and deal with different systems and nerves all at once. It’s definitely a plus.”
The Sabres summoned Fedun on Thursday morning after sending defenseman Casey Nelson to the Amerks on Wednesday. Nelson, 24, has zero points and a minus-4 rating in eight games. The rookie was clearly struggling in his limited minutes.
“Casey just needs to find his game and get games underneath his belt,” Bylsma said.
Fedun, who signed a one-year, two-way contract July 1, has 13 NHL games under his belt. He has also played for the Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks, compiling two goals and eight points.
Most defensemen summoned from the AHL don’t have notable numbers. Why has Fedun been so productive?
“I wish I could put my finger on it, then maybe I’d be here a little bit more often,” he said. “I think I’ve just tried to play the same way that I do when I’ve been up here. The players up here have a lot of skill. You (can) just work to get them the puck and let them do the work.”
On the surface, it might look like a season-killing injury for the Lightning. Two-time 50-goal scorer Steven Stamkos could reportedly miss four months after tearing his lateral meniscus in an innocent-looking play Tuesday in Detroit.
The Lightning captain plans to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery in Colorado, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who also reported a four-month recovery is a best-case scenario.
Stamkos, 26, and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin are the only superstars who have consistently busted through the gridlock of the Dead Puck Era and scored 40 or 50 goals regularly.
That kind of production can’t be replaced.
“You know what we have to do, you’ve got to take your head out of the sand, dig your heels in and march on,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Thursday morning. “Unfortunately, this has happened to us before and the guys have found a way.”
It happened late last season, when Stamkos suddenly underwent surgery to treat a blood clot in his arm. The Lightning responded by reaching the Eastern Conference final without Stamkos, who returned for a Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh.
“We just got to do it again,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “No one’s going to feel sorry for us come game time.”
How was Tampa Bay able to overcome Stamkos’ absence?
“We’ve got a great group of guys, and you lose your captain, you lose a leader, another guy steps up,” Cooper said. “I think that’s first and foremost, they lift each other up in there. We’ve got some pretty dynamic players, too. We’re deep and in a sense we’ve been here before.”
Stamkos has missed a lot of games. He also broke his femur in a gruesome incident Nov. 11, 2013, an injury that cost him his coveted Olympic spot on Team Canada’s entry at the Sochi Games.
With Stamkos limited to 37 games, the Lightning still earned 101 points in 2013-14.
Notes: Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly (mid-body injury) missed his third straight game. … Bylsma coached his 500th NHL game. Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges played his 700th NHL game. … The Sabres have named popular former agitator Patrick Kaleta the team’s youth hockey ambassador. Kaleta, who played with Rochester last season, will implement the Sabres’ Learn To Play Program.