BUFFALO – Before Sabres prospect Sean Malone knew it, his short taste of the NHL, the finishing touch on his whirlwind season, was over.
On April 6, the West Seneca native played his 115th and final game with Harvard, a 2-1 loss to Minnesota Duluth in the semifinal of the NCAA Tournament. Two days later, Malone debuted with the Sabres, skating 12 minutes, 12 seconds in their 3-0 road loss to the Florida Panthers.
Yes, Malone’s 2016-17 campaign was wild from start to finish.
“It was my best experience playing hockey,” Malone said Sunday inside HarborCenter. “We were able to win the ECAC championship, Ivy League championship, the Beanpot (Cup), (go to) the Frozen Four. It was basically the perfect season until the end there, coming up short (for) the national championship.”
After battling hip injuries for years, the center rebounded to compile 18 goals and 42 points in 36 games as the Crimson roared through its schedule.
Malone’s splendid senior season also solidified his prospect status. Thanks to his injuries – the 2013 sixth-round pick is participating in his first development camp since 2014 – he was often one of the Sabres’ overlooked youngsters.
But the Sabres, of course, were keeping tabs on Malone. He signed a two-year, entry-level contract the morning of his NHL debut.
“It’d be a surprise for any kid coming from college to make that jump right away,” Malone said of going from Harvard to the Sabres so quickly.. “I just treated it like another game. … I adjusted pretty well to the speed. … It happened so quick for me, before I knew it, it was just gone. It was fun.”
Malone, 22, spent just two days in the NHL, sitting out the Sabres’ season finale. Still, he used the time to learn as much as he could from his new teammates.
“I was fortunate to talk to some of the guys on the plane ride,” he said. “Zach Bogosian was really helpful, I had some good conversations with him. Even Jack (Eichel), we played juniors together for a little bit. He was sort of showing me the ropes there.”
Malone will almost certainly learn the ropes of pro hockey next season in the AHL with the Rochester Americans. Right now, he’s just happy to be preparing normally for a season. He tore his labrum in both hips and underwent surgery two straight years.
Now, Malone said he feels great again. He spent the last two summers rehabbing and couldn’t skate.
“I’d get to school and start skating and try to get ready for the season,” he said. “It’s nice building up some strength over the offseason, actually feeling some strength going into the season.”
Like most of the other prospects in development camp, Malone must show his worth to the Sabres’ new regime of general manager Jason Botterill and coach Phil Housley.
Malone said former GM Tim Murray’s dismissal April 20 was tough for him. They had just had a good conversation.
“But I know Jason Botterill’s familiar with me as a player, so that helps,” he said. “Phil Housley, I feel like wants to institute a game I think I can fit in. I’m excited for the changes and everything.”
Housley wants to play fast, a style that favors Malone’s game.
“I excel in areas around the net,” he said. “I like to get to the net and score greasy goals. I think my strengths are probably my speed, and I feel up-tempo and I feel good now. The way the game’s changing right now, I feel like it works in my favor.”
Notes: The New York Rangers officially named former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff an assistant coach Monday, a move that had been expected for weeks. The Los Angeles Kings, meanwhile, named former Sabres star Pierre Turgeon an assistant. Turgeon, 47, has never coached professionally. … Sabres defense prospect Devante Stephens suffered a shoulder injury during drills Monday and could miss today’s three-on-three tournament.