Don Granato was hospitalized before the season. ©2019, Hickling Images

Don Granato returns to Sabres; Jimmy Vesey promoted to top line

BUFFALO – Finally, some good news for the struggling Sabres.

Assistant coach Don Granato, who took a leave of absence Oct. 1 after being hospitalized with severe pneumonia, returned to the Sabres today.

Granato, 52, was on the ice for practice inside KeyBank Center and accompanied the Sabres on their three-game road trip, which begins Thursday in Boston.

“That was a real-life story,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. “It’s amazing that was Sept. 28 when that began. The whole team, everybody got a lift today with having Don join us.

“I mean, he needed to be 100% clear before this was going to occur. He has been cleared 100% health-wise and can fully participate again in coaching the team.”

Sabres winger Jimmy Vesey said of Granato’s return: “Everyone was pumped up.”

Granato will start off watching games in the press box with assistant Mike Bales. For now, interim assistant Chris Taylor, the Rochester Americans’ head coach, will remain on the bench.

Krueger said a transition for Taylor is day-to-day.

“We’re just going to see how things go,” said Krueger, who hired Granato in June.

Gord Dineen has been subbing for Taylor in Rochester.

Krueger said Granato, someone he has called a “hockey lifer,” has been picking up video to review. Today was the first time he interacted with the team.

“He’s been able to really watch for a while, so it’s a fresh perspective coming into now to the coaches’ room,” Krueger said. “His experience will definitely help us this situation.”

Right now, having lost eight of the last nine games, the Sabres’ situation is bad.

Fresh off Tuesday’s ugly 4-1 home loss to the Minnesota Wild, Krueger changed up his lines today, moving Vesey, who has scored zero goals, to left wing on the top trio beside center Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.

“More than anything, we have a feeling that his work has been strong and a goal will explode him into a stronger secondary scoring position,” Krueger said of Vesey.

Vesey and Eichel, of course, are both from Boston, meaning that could go into Krueger’s thinking.

“There is some Boston energy in the group right now that is permutating right through the whole team,” Krueger said.

Vesey, a Harvard graduate, said he’s “a little bit of a homebody.”

“I don’t know if I’ve had my best games at the Boston Garden, even in college, but there’s probably no better night for me to have a big game than tomorrow,” he said.

Krueger wouldn’t commit to his new lines, but given the Sabres won’t skate Thursday morning in Boston, it seems likely he will utilize them.

He moved Victor Olofsson, Eichel’s winger most of the season, beside center Rasmus Asplund and Casey Mittelstadt, who normally pivots a line.

Meanwhile, Johan Larsson, out the last three games with an upper-body injury, centered Zemgus Girgensons and Curtis Lazar in his return to practice.

Krueger kept the trio of center Evan Rodrigues, Jeff Skinner and Conor Sheary intact.

In other news, Krueger said center Marcus Johansson, out the last four games with an upper-body injury, could join the team on its trip.

After playing the Bruins, the Sabres face the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Sabres, who have Friday off, want Johansson to have ice so he can skate in Buffalo.

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