BUFFALO – In the more than three months Tyler Ennis spent recovering from a concussion last season, the Sabres’ longest-tenured player learned he needed to approach what he calls a “pretty special job” differently.
“It makes you really not only appreciate what you got, but want to do better the next time,” Ennis said this morning inside KeyBank Center after veterans reported to training camp for physicals.
That’s probably one reason why Ennis, who’s generously listed at 5-foot-9, spent the summer packing some noticeable muscle onto his 156-pound frame.
“All I did was bicep curls and bench press, so I’m ready to go,” Ennis joked. “No. It was a good summer of training.”
Kidding aside, the season-ending concussion Ennis suffered Dec. 30 – his second head injury in two months – changed the shifty winger. As Ennis, 26, watched from afar, the Sabres started winning without him. He also saw the new regime’s expectations and philosophies starting to take hold.
Ennis, a Sabre since late 2009-10, realized he had to change his habits. General manager Tim Murray said following last season Ennis told him he used to practice to have fun.
“I enjoy being out there, but there’s things you can do to make sure your body’s feeling good before every practice, you’re taking every drill,” Ennis said. “You’re trying to get better before every drill. In the past, I probably was just enjoying being on the ice and skating and shooting around rather than maybe focusing on things that I could improve on and get better out of practice.”
A productive Ennis would be vital to the Sabres as they try to end their five-year playoff drought. At his best, Ennis is one of the NHL’s slickest forwards, scoring highlight-reel goals.
But Ennis struggled last season following consecutive 20-goal campaigns, mustering only three goals and 11 points in 23 games. Ennis, who loves to freewheel, was often a non-factor in new coach Dan Bylsma’s rigid system. He hasn’t scored a goal since Oct. 27.
“I was inconsistent and it wasn’t obviously as good as it should have been,” Ennis said. “I’m ready to go. I’m in better shape. I excited. I’m enthusiastic.”
Ennis, like his other teammates who spoke today, is also enthusiastic about the Sabres’ playoff chances.
“Our mindset now is playoffs, and that’s looking to compete and be a real threat,” Ennis said. “We’re growing … but we did a great job toward the end of the year of finding our identity and we added some great pieces.”