BUFFALO – In Minnesota, the standard is much different, nothing like popular former Sabres wingers Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno experienced here.
“You’re coming to a team that’s goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and Buffalo’s still in a rebuild,” Ennis said this afternoon.
Yes, the reeling Sabres rank last in the Eastern Conference, losers of six straight games entering tonight’s tilt. Despite a 9-8-3 record, the Wild are last in the ultra-competitive Central Division.
Still, Minnesota, which has made the postseason five straight years, possesses enough talent to roar up the standings.
Clearly, a fresh start has energized Ennis and Foligno, who will play as visitors tonight at KeyBank Center for the first time since getting traded June 30.
Ennis, 28, fell apart following his third 20-goal season in 2014-15, battling concussions and other injuries. Over his last two campaigns, he mustered only eight goals in 74 appearances. By the end of last season, it appeared he needed a change of scenery.
Meanwhile, Foligno, 26, only tasted success briefly with the Sabres, a short playoff push that ultimately fell short in 2011-12, his rookie season.
In Minnesota, the Buffalo-born Foligno might finally experience the postseason.
“The future is now,” he said. “We have to win. It’s a Stanley Cup-caliber team that we ice and we can put out there. We’ve got great depth and things like that. In Buffalo, it was more taking time to figure our identity out.”
The Sabres haven’t made the playoffs since 2011. In Buffalo, the standard was significantly lower.
“If we put forth a good effort, it was OK,” Foligno said. “Looking at the teams that we had, there were some great players on it, but in this league it’s so hard to win. You need to always have the depth and we didn’t really have that. We always just kind of relied on two lines. Here, you can see the depth is four lines deep.”
When new general manager Jason Botterill dished the Sabres’ longest-tenured players for winger Jason Pominville and defenseman Marco Scandella, Ennis wasn’t surprised.
“When there’s that much turnover every year, it’s almost expected even if you’re used to (the team), you’re comfortable,” said Ennis, a 2008 first-round pick who joined the Sabres in 2009-10. “When there’s that much going on, you’re almost anticipating that something could happen.”
Of course, Ennis and Foligno are grateful for their Sabres careers. Being back in town is special.
“You never forget where you came from with anything in life,” Ennis said. “Buffalo gave me the opportunity to play in the NHL.”
Foligno said: “My time in Buffalo made me who I am today and I owe a whole lot to the organization.”
What kind of reception do they expect from Buffalo fans tonight?
“I don’t know,” Foligno said. “It’s going to be interesting. I’d like to think that they appreciated my time here and I appreciated it here, too. I loved being in Buffalo. It’s my home, being born here as well. Maybe a boo or two, but hopefully nothing too loud.”
Ennis said: “Should be fun. It’s going to be maybe a little emotional but it will be special.”
With the Wild, Ennis said he has “been up and down in the lineup.” He has a nine-game goal drought entering tonight’s contest and just three goals and five points in 20 games overall.
In Monday’s 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey, Ennis skated below 10 minutes for the third time this season.
Foligno has three goals and seven points in 19 contests.