BUFFALO – Instead of being relied upon to produce offense, ex-Sabres winger Tyler Ennis is now a fourth-liner.
Sure, Ennis, 29, skates on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ second power-play unit. The former first-round pick even started the season on the No. 1 line beside center Auston Matthews and Patrick Marleau.
But Ennis is no longer the ultra-slick presence from his early days. The concussions he suffered in his final seasons with the Sabres helped stymie his career. He hasn’t surpassed the eight-goal mark since scoring 20 times in 2014-15, his second consecutive 20-goal season and third in five years.
Four or five years ago, as the Sabres tanked, he was perhaps their best player. These days, he has a different role in Toronto.
“Providing depth,” Ennis said after the Leafs prepared for tonight’s tilt against the Sabres inside KeyBank Center.
The 10-year-veteran fought just to make the Leafs, whose depth dwindled during the offseason. He beat out about four or five others for a roster spot.
“It’s a fun team to be on, it’s a younger team,” said Ennis, who has scored four goals and eight points in 24 games. “I try to provide some leadership and a good attitude and good work ethic.”
So far, Ennis, who has been a healthy scratch three times this season, has fit in well, according to Matthews, who said his new teammate is “hilarious.”
“Everybody likes being around him,” Matthews said. “He’s been a good guy to have in the locker room. He doesn’t take things seriously all the time. He likes to keep things light. I think that’s good for our locker room.”
The energy Ennis possesses is important because his playing time often remains under 10 minutes.
“He’s a really good person,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s got good energy about him, likes the game, likes life, and that stuff’s contagious.
“Sometimes on the fourth line you don’t get to play as much you like, so being energized and upbeat every single day is really important to a team. He’s done that. He’s chipped in some goals for us. He’s got some skill and you can move him on different spots.”