BUFFALO – After clearing waivers and reporting for his first stint in the minors in more than five years, a much-needed opportunity quickly materialized for Sabres winger Vinnie Hinostroza.
Of course, under normal circumstances, Hinostroza, 28, wouldn’t have been assigned to the Rochester Americans.
“Vinnie went to Rochester on circumstance, not on play,” Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said Sunday. “… He’s an NHL hockey player.”
But for about a month, Hinostroza, who signed a one-year, $1.7 million contract in the offseason, was an AHL hockey player for the first time since early in the 2017-18 season.
“It’s been a long month for myself and my family, just staying right mentally, taking care of my body and just staying ready for an opportunity,” Hinostroza said prior to Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at KeyBank Center.
The Sabres’ decision to carry three goalies created daily roster management and forced them to make difficult decisions. After reportedly trying to trade Hinostroza, they waived him Jan. 18.
Hinostroza, who scored 13 goals in 62 games last season, had become a spare part, at one point sitting out 14 of 15 games as an extra forward.
When NHL teams send veterans down, their ice time can sometimes be limited so prospects receive the proper minutes for development. But Amerks coach Seth Appert and his staff awarded Hinostroza a splendid chance, playing him 20 minutes a night, sometimes at center.
“He’s been ultra-competitive and they’ve had high praise for him, specifically … they feel he’s made himself better,” Sabres coach Don Granato said.
Hinostroza needed a few games to adjust – “I started really feeling better, getting more into shape,” he said – before finding a groove.
When the Sabres recalled him Sunday after placing winger Alex Tuch on injured reserve, he had compiled four goals and eight points in his last six games.
“I just felt like myself and continued to progress and focus on the details and just help my game,” Hinostroza said.
In Sunday afternoon’s 7-4 win over the Washington Capitals, his first NHL appearance since Jan. 14, Hinostroza scored his first goal this season and added an assist while skating on the second line.
He said hasn’t been told if he’ll stay in Buffalo for the remainder of the season. Following Friday’s NHL trade deadline, rosters can expand. Teams must remain salary cap compliant.
Hinostroza, who commuted from Buffalo while he played in Rochester, said his wife, Samantha, was his “rock” during a difficult time in his career.
“She was amazing through it all,” he said. “And then my kids, coming home and seeing them every day is obviously a bonus. So I couldn’t have done it without them. But the coaches, the guys down there were amazing as well. I had a great time there and it’s a great group of guys and great coaching staff.
“So, yeah, they knew I wanted to get back here, the coaches, they put me in positions to stay ready and really stay in shape and continue to grow my game.”
Notes: Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who’s day to day with a lower-body injury, missed his second straight game. … Goalie Michael Houser, who on Monday signed a one-year NHL contract, cleared waivers Tuesday and was assigned to Rochester, where he had been playing on an AHL deal. … Sabres goalie Eric Comrie backed up Craig Anderson against the Blue Jackets. Goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was scratched. … Former Sabres defenseman Casey Fitzgerald on Tuesday played his first game for the Florida Panthers, who claimed him Jan. 11.