BUFFALO – Watching the Sabres as an opponent over the past two seasons, newcomer Riley Stillman said he noticed something special in the group.
Beyond the talent they possessed – “They’re a team that we didn’t want to play against,” he said – the defenseman saw players who were buying in and showcasing a desire to win for each other.
“You look down the bench from the visiting team and a guy scores (and) they’re just as happy and they had nothing to do with it, right?” an excited Stillman said Wednesday in KeyBank Center. “It’s a team that wants everyone to be successful and wants everyone to grow and get better as a group. It’s intimidating as a visitor and exciting coming in here to have that opportunity.”
Stillman, who was acquired Monday from the Vancouver Canucks, said “those rooms are hard to come by.”
“Those rooms are exciting,” he said. “When you get an opportunity to be part of a group that’s like that, you want to be successful. You want to give everything that you have to the group.”
Stillman, 24, speaks from firsthand experience. Buffalo is his his fourth NHL team, and third this season.
On Oct. 7, a week before the regular season, the Chicago Blackhawks traded him to Vancouver, where he played 32 games for the Canucks. The Sabres dealt prospect Josh Bloom, a third-round pick in 2021, to acquire him before Friday’s trade deadline.
Stillman, who began his career with the Florida Panthers, looks at the movement as a positive. After all, he’s going to places he’s wanted, right?
“Now to come here to a team that’s in the (playoff) hunt is really exciting,” he said. “Mentally, it gives me some clarity, some clearance and openness that, hey, they want me here, I want to be here and I want to make the playoffs and I want to win. … To go to a place that you’re wanted that wants to win, I’m just ecstatic to be a part of it.”
However, Stillman, who’s Canadian, hasn’t joined the Sabres on the ice. He sat out Wednesday’s practice as his immigration issues are sorted out. He watched part of the session with injured defenseman Rasmus Dahlin from the bench area.
Still, coach Don Granato said he would be willing to use Stillman in tonight’s road game against the Boston Bruins if his visa’s finalized.
Update: Stillman has been activated and Dahlin has been placed on injured reserve.
“These guys, the point in the season that they’re at, they’ve played a lot of hockey,” he said. “So I’m not worried at this point yet that he’s been out of practice or away from it too long. I think the adrenaline, excitement can compensate for that in the short window.”
Whenever he debuts, the 6-foot-1, 196-pound Stillman offers the Sabres an intriguing mix of talents. They needed to address their defense depth, and he gives them additional bite for perhaps their third pair.
While he has endured a difficult season, generating a minus-14 rating for an awful, dysfunctional Canucks team, he said his game has recently started trending in a better direction.
He believes the Sabres’ aggressive style plays into his strengths.
“I’m a bit of old school with a new school, right?” he said. “I bring that old school-grit and mentality and toughness and I want to block shots and I want to hit people.”
He added: “It’s something that I can bring, that sort of on-your-toes mentality, the aggressiveness and stuff like that.”
Stillman already sounds comfortable with the Sabres. Some familiarity, of course, will help him acclimate.
His father, Cory, a former forward, played 1,025 NHL games over 16 seasons and was teammates with general manager Kevyn Adams when the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006.
“It’s funny, we talked today, actually, some old memories of when I was kind of buzzing around the room as a kid folding towels and hanging out with the trainers and doing all that stuff and picking his brain,” he said.
The elder Stillman also played with goalie Craig Anderson with the Florida Panthers and winger Jeff Skinner when he returned to Carolina to close out his career in 2010-11, Skinner’s rookie season.
These days, Cory Stillman’s an assistant coach with the Arizona Coyotes.
“I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t part of everything that I am coming through and understanding the game and helping me grow as a player growing up,” said Riley Stillman, who will wear No. 61. “And now, he’s taken a little bit of a backseat to be a dad and wants to let me play and do my thing. But he’s been huge.”