Ryan Johnson earned a long look from Buffalo in the preseason. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

After surprise recall, Sabres rookie Ryan Johnson stands out in win in Toronto

TORONTO – Ryan Johnson’s Saturday began in Rochester, where he was preparing to hop on a bus and play with the Americans in Syracuse. It ended in Scotiabank Arena, where the rookie celebrated a win with the Buffalo Sabres and his first NHL point.

Having lost Mattias Samuelsson to a lower-body injury Friday, the Sabres needed another defenseman, and they chose Johnson, 22, over more experienced options.

Johnson said when Rochester’s coaches told him he had been recalled after just nine pro games, he “was just like super surprised.” He took a car service to Toronto and arrived before the game.

The Sabres dressed seven defensemen for their 6-4 win over the Maple Leafs, so they eased Johnson into his NHL debut, playing him 8 minutes, 20 seconds.

In the second period, he fed winger Jeff Skinner a stretch pass from the Buffalo zone across the ice to the far blue line. Skinner beat goalie Joseph Woll from the left circle at 11:56, putting Buffalo up 3-2.

“The puck was up in the air and just grabbed the puck, moved to the side, kind of shielded it and passed to Skinner, and then Skinner just took a really nice slap shot,” Johnson said. “I was surprised it went in.”

Sabres coach Don Granato said throughout the play, Johnson’s body language illustrated “he knew somebody was open and he knew he could get the puck there.”

“It was obviously tape to tape,” he said. “Very big goal at a big moment.”

Skinner called it a “heads-up play.”

“I was able to snake behind their D and good for him for giving me a nice hard, flat pass,” he said.

The Sabres moved the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Johnson around, giving him action beside different defenders, including Rasmus Dahlin and Erik Johnson.

“Playing different situations was cool,” Ryan Johnson said. “Obviously, I was spotted in at certain times, but it was cool to play a lot. It was a lot of fun just to have those shifts … with Dahls or whoever it was, E.J.”

Johnson, the 31st overall pick in 2019, impressed the Sabres during a long look in the preseason, and it seemed like he would earn a recall at some point.

“Even the day we sent him down we were thinking about … we look forward to his opportunity,” Granato said.

Johnson, who played four years of college hockey Minnesota, has compiled four assists with the Amerks.

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