BUFFALO – In the beginning, former Sabres prospect T.J. Brennan followed a normal path to the NHL. The high-scoring defenseman developed four seasons in the AHL before briefly cracking the Sabres two years ago.
Back then, Brennan, who grew up in New Jersey playing lacrosse, didn’t fully understand what it took to make the NHL.
“I’ve always been kind of learn as I go,” Brennan said Wednesday prior to the Sabres’ 4-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs inside the First Niagara Center.
Two crazy years have taught Brennan plenty of lessons. The 25-year-old has been the property of six organizations since the Sabres traded him to Florida on March 15, 2013.
“I don’t know what normal is,” said Brennan, who’s been with Toronto twice. “I guess you do whatever it takes, right?”
Brennan, who calls himself “unique,” likes to embrace the adversity. He enjoys seeing new cities and learning from the different situations.
“As long as people still want you, I guess you’re doing your job,” he said. “For myself, I’ve had to learn some valuable lessons along the way. I’ve had to go through a few different places to learn them.
“Who knows where the next journey will be, if it will be here? Maybe in the summer I get traded. Who knows? I play and live my life day to day. That’s really all you can do, control what you can.”
Brennan’s last two years have been dizzying.
The 2007 second-round pick played 19 games with the Panthers and was briefly Nashville’s property before the Leafs signed him as a free agent in 2013. He had a huge 25-goal, 72-point season with Toronto’s AHL affiliate last season, although he never played an NHL game.
Brennan signed with the New York Islanders in July and appeared to have a roster spot locked up when they traded him to Chicago on Oct. 4. The Blackhawks assigned him to the AHL before dealing him back to Toronto on Feb. 26.
Wednesday was his sixth game with the Leafs and his 46th NHL appearance.
“I guess when you think about getting to the NHL and getting to your dream or your end goal, you obviously have a path designed,” Brennan said. “But I guess it’s too good of myself to think there’s only one way of getting there. Learning that lesson, it’s been a really valuable lesson for myself, and it’s been a great journey for myself so far.”
Andrej Meszaros’ revival started weeks ago, before the Sabres defenseman scored two goals in consecutive games during a three-day stretch.
After months of awful play, the 29-year-old Slovak started showcasing some of his old form, moving around the ice, utilizing his heavy shot and making fans wonder where that play has been all season.
Meszaros struggled from the get-go after signing a one-year, $4.125 million deal July 1.
Why did the former first-round pick have such a hard time adjusting earlier this season?
“Maybe he didn’t work hard enough in the beginning,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said bluntly. “I’m not too sure.”
Meszaros also traces his resurgence to his work ethic.
“I don’t think I changed anything in my game,” he said. “I just maybe started working harder than usual. That’s what it’s all about.”
Right now, Meszaros is playing for his future. The Sabres, of course, likely won’t re-sign him. Given his recent play, someone could offer him a one-year deal for much less money.
“It’s really important,” Meszaros said about next season. “It’s just having fun right now, play for next year.”
Meszaros scored twice in Monday’s 4-1 win in Arizona after scoring twice in the third period of Saturday’s 5-3 loss in Colorado. He had three goals in his first 52 games.
“The last few games the puck just seems to find its way,” Nolan said. “He’s been working extra after practice. And there’s no secret, I think work and productivity go hand in hand. The last month or so he’s stayed on the ice and done some extra skating, extra shooting. In return, his play’s gotten better.”
Meszaros added: “I feel pretty good, nothing special. Obviously, when you get those first two goals, I’m getting a little bit more confidence. I’ve been trying to shoot the puck more. It’s going in, so it’s not like I haven’t been trying. It didn’t go in. So it’s going in for some reason.”
Sometimes, Sabres winger Tyler Ennis said, he has to realize he’s only 5-foot-5 and not a 6-foot-3 behemoth. Trying to thump a larger opponent usually isn’t the best idea.
Ennis, who’s listed at 5-foot-9, went after someone bigger Thursday and paid the price, suffering an upper-body injury. The Sabres’ leading scorer missed two games.
“Maybe I got to tone down the hits,” Ennis said Wednesday prior to his return.
The Sabres did well without Ennis, scoring seven goals and pumping 74 shots on goal while going 1-1.
“Maybe we got a little bit scared without him,” Nolan said. “Maybe we had to do a little bit more.”
Notes: The Sabres scratched defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (sick). Tyson Strachan moved in. … Nolan said center Zemgus Girgensons, out since blocking a shot Feb. 24, is likely done for the season. … Goalie Matt Hackett is still sore, so Andrey Makarov dressed again Wednesday. … The Sabres sent forward Tim Schaller back to Rochester before the game.