BUFFALO – Minnesota Wild winger Jason Pominville thought for a moment, scanned his mind for some names. The former Sabres captain came up with two.
“Uh, like, Foligno, Ennis,” Pominville said this Thursday prior to the Wild’s 4-0 win inside KeyBank Center. “Umm, that might be it.”
“There’s not a lot of guys left,” Pominville said.
Pominville, 33, was the first big name to go. His trade signaled the Sabres planned to gut their veteran team and begin a long rebuild.
Three and a half years later, the Sabres are still struggling, trying reach the postseason for the first time since 2011. Pominville, meanwhile, has participated in the playoffs the last four seasons.
“They struggled for a little bit, and now they’re slowly turning a corner,” Pominville said of the Sabres. “So I think the city can be excited about this team and the future.”
Pominville spent eight seasons with the Sabres, developing into an NHL All-Star and arguably their best all-around forward. Returning here, he said, is “always a little weird.”
“It will always be,” he said. “I think the first time was always the most awkward one.”
Pominville’s role has changed in recent years. He struggled badly early in 2015-16, starting the season with a 21-game goal drought.
He’s no longer a first-liner. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau called him a “jack-of-all-trades.”
“Put him in on third, fourth or second line,” said Boudreau, who’s in his first season with Minnesota.
Pominville, however, has recently started killing penalties again and played on the power play Thursday for the first time this season, manning a point.
“He’s a guy that has experience that takes whatever assignment he has very seriously, and he does a good job with it,” Boudreau said.
Naturally, Pominville’s numbers suffered because of his career-worst stretch early last season. After scoring 18 goals in 2014-15, the first full season he didn’t score at least 20 times, he dipped to a career-low 11 goals.
“I couldn’t do anything (early),” said Pominville, a notoriously slow starter. “Nothing was going my way. I was able to turn the corner later on in the year. I had a great end to the year, had a great playoffs.”
Pominville had four goals and seven points in his final four regular-season outings. He then enjoyed his best postseason ever, scoring four goals and seven points in six games.
He has two goals and three points in eight games this season.
“I still want to play,” Pominville said. “I still feel good. I still feel young. I still feel like I can help the team. I’ve been kind of bouncing around with new coaches, new systems, new line combos trying to figure out, get a feel for the team.
“But at the end of the day, I’m playing hockey. That’s what I want, and I still feel like I can do it at a high level. That’s what’s most important for me.”
Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson made his second straight start subbing for Robin Lehner, who’s still sick. Lehner has been home four days. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said he’s improving and could join the team today.
Nilsson impressed in his first start this season Tuesday, stopping 38 shots in the Sabres’ 4-3 shootout loss in Philadelphia.
Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who turned 22 years old Wednesday, also played his 200th NHL game.
“It happens more and more in our league, where players are playing their third and fourth and fifth years when they’re under the age of 23, and Rasmus is one of those guys, he’s turning 22 years old,” Bylsma said. “I’m trying to look back where I was at when I was 22 years old, and it wasn’t at 200 games in the National Hockey League, that’s for sure.”
When Bylsma was 22 in 1992-93, he played for the ECHL Greensboro Monarchs, compiling 25 goals and 60 points in 60 appearances. He even earned two AHL games with the Rochester Americans.
Notes: Twenty-five years ago Thursday, Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine made his Sabres debut, scoring one goal and three points in a 5-1 win against the Hartford Whalers at Memorial Auditorium. … The Sabres honored equipment manager Rip Simonick with a video tribute for his 3,500th game, a milestone he reached last week. … The Sabres scratched rookie defenseman Casey Nelson for the fifth straight game. … Former Sabres forwards Zac Dalpe and Chris Stewart played for the Wild.