BUFFALO – A positive trend has developed in the last few months for the Sabres. Each time they recall one of their forward prospects from the Rochester Americans, the youngsters make a strong case to stick around.
Rookies Justin Bailey, William Carrier and Evan Rodrigues have all seized their opportunities and started earning regular NHL duty.
After speedy winger Nick Baptiste’s impressive performance in Saturday afternoon’s 3-2 win against the St. Louis Blues – he scored his third NHL goal and recorded his first assist – the second-year pro could join that group.
“That’s kind of the development process we have started in Rochester,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “The coaches down there have done a great job of getting these guys ready to come up and play and be prepared to add, and you can see that with almost every call-up we’ve had.”
The Sabres summoned Baptiste prior to the tilt because winger Sam Reinhart was ill. Baptiste got the call about 9 in the morning, and instead of busing to Binghamton with his AHL teammates, drove 75 miles to KeyBank Center.
Bylsma immediately plugged Baptiste into Reinhart’s spot beside center Jack Eichel and Evander Kane.
Baptiste was on the ice for St. Louis’ goal 91 seconds into the game, but he tied it at 9:34, taking Eichel’s nifty pass and backhanding the puck between St. Louis goalie Jake Allen’s legs.
“It was a great play,” Baptiste said of Eichel’s dish. “He does it all the time. He made a good move to the inside. I was able to kind of read it, get inside the D’s shoulder and he made obviously a great backhand pass to me.”
He added: “When I play with Jack, I want to just open up space for him, give him the puck and get to the net and use the shot to my advantage.”
Bylsma believes Baptiste’s legs created the goal, too.
“It’s Nick’s speed pushing the pace through the middle, it opens up some space,” he said.
Baptiste, a 2013 third-round pick, looked impressive at times during 12 games earlier this season, his first NHL run.
“It gave me a confidence boost,” said Baptiste, who skated 11 minutes, 52 seconds.
Still, after the Sabres sent Baptiste back to the Amerks in mid-November, he didn’t sulk when he was bypassed for recalls.
“We’re young guys, just 21 years old,” Baptiste said. “There’s a lot of time. This is the process for a lot of guys, and it’s going up and down and how you kind of handle it. You got to go down there and play with confidence and work your way back up.”
Considering Baptiste has 19 goals and 30 points in 42 AHL games, another NHL look seemed likely.
More efforts like Saturday’s could mean regular action. Baptiste also assisted on Kane’s goal.
“When you can have guys come up here and contribute like that, it shows the depth in the organization,” Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly said.
Bylsma said Reinhart became ill Saturday morning. The Sabres also host the Chicago Blackhawks tonight.
“We’re doing everything we can to get him ready,” Bylsma said.
With defenseman Cody Franson back Saturday after a bruised left foot sidelined him four games, the Sabres waived Taylor Fedun prior to the game.
Now, will Fedun, 28, get through waivers to the AHL, or will a team looking for depth add the Princeton product? Fedun makes only $600,000 on his one-year contract and is a right-handed shot.
Defensemen are always in demand at this time of year.
Update: Fedun has cleared waivers and been assigned to the Amerks.
Fedun meshed well with the Sabres, producing seven assists in 25 games. He occasionally played on the power play and averaged 13 minutes, 39 seconds of ice time. He sat five of the last eight games as a healthy scratch, however.
Notes: The Sabres scratched defenseman Justin Falk. … Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen’s assist on O’Reilly’s goal was his 100th NHL point. … With center Derek Grant (shoulder) out, winger Nick Deslauriers skated sparingly as the fourth-line pivot.