BUFFALO – The Sabres’ center depth has become so thin that Riley Sheahan, a fourth-line winger most of the season, centered the top line in Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Sheahan, 29, played center almost exclusively before joining the Sabres this season. When he pivoted the No. 1 trio on short notice after captain Jack Eichel was a late scratch Feb. 25, he scored just minutes into the game.
So Sheahan, the 21st overall pick by the Detroit Red Wings in 2010, feels comfortable in the role. But less than halfway through the season, the hapless Sabres have a checker they brought to training camp on a tryout centering Taylor Hall and Sam Reinhart.
It’s not exactly ideal, especially for a team that lost its 10th straight game Saturday.
The upper-body injury Eichel suffered Sunday afternoon will sideline him for “the foreseeable future,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. Meanwhile, rookie Dylan Cozens, who subbed for Eichel, suffered an upper-body injury Thursday and is day to day, Krueger said.
Sheahan, who has compiled three goals and five points in 25 games this season, knows he must adapt when he moves up to the top line. At the same time, he wants to showcase the style that has made him an effective.
“It’s important to try to keep your game consistent,” Sheahan said on a Zoom call Saturday morning from KeyBank Center. “I mean, I know what I have to do, but I think just being a little bit more aware of making plays and trying to sort of feed off them, get to open areas and think a little more offensively is something that’s fun.
“But just being conscious of the D-zone, being on the right side of the puck and winning my battles try to get the puck into their hands because they’re so dynamic.”
Sheahan has morphed into one of the Sabres’ most reliable and versatile forwards. His checking prowess has helped transform their penalty killing. The Sabres rank fifth in the NHL after finishing 30th last year.
“Riley coming up the lineup, it’s one of the beauties of Riley Sheahan,” Krueger said. “He’s just such a good team player, solid, strong skater with a good vision of the game and he definitely helps solidify the defensive side of any line he plays with but he can add to the offense. He’s been a real pleasant surprise and a utility kind of forward that every team needs a few of.”
Sheahan’s time in Buffalo could be brief. He signed a one-year, $700,000 contract following his impressive camp. He might draw interest from a contender before the April 12 trade deadline or as an unrestricted free agent following the season.
The native of nearby St. Catharines, Ontario, has played for five teams in the last four seasons. He spent last year with the Edmonton Oilers.
“It wasn’t the ideal offseason in terms of signing and whatnot, but I just try to come in here and do what I can and sort of build on the stuff that I did last year on the PK and things like that, try to take it to next level,” Sheahan said. “We got a great group, you’re playing with great players every night. Just try to bring energy … and obviously things aren’t ideal right now, but I just try to do what I can do bring positivity to the room.”
The Sabres recalled defenseman Brandon Davidson from the taxi squad prior to the game and sent defensemen Henri Jokiharju to the taxi squad for the second time in a week.
Jokiharju, who played all 69 games last season, has sat out four of the last five games.
Davidson played his fifth game this season, mostly skating beside Colin Miller.
Sabres winger Tobias Rieder returned after being scratched for Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Penguins. The German skated at right wing beside center Eric Staal and Victor Olofsson.