BUFFALO – If center Tyson Jost clears waivers and reports to the AHL – he has two goals and a $2 million salary, so teams will likely pass – he will begin his first stint in the minors in five years.
Jost, 25, fit in nicely on and off the ice last season after the Sabres plucked him off waivers from the Minnesota Wild, and he earned a new one-year contract.
But like many of his teammates, he has struggled this season, occasionally getting scratched. Now, with the Sabres trying to create roster space, he has lost his spot in the NHL.
The Sabres are under the salary cap, so they could carry an extra player through the league’s holiday roster freeze. But they had to reach the 23-man roster limit Thursday.
Update: Jost has cleared.
In addition to placing Jost on waivers, they assigned center Tage Thompson to the non-roster list for personal reasons.
The moves give the Sabres 22 players on the active roster and create a spot for winger Zemgus Girgensons, who is close to returning from a lower-body injury that has sidelined him the last 16 games. The Latvian must be activated from injured reserve.
The Sabres have sorely missed the tenacity Girgensons, 29, possesses.
“At his core, he’s a competitive, hardworking guy, and where we’ve been challenged is in that area,” Sabres coach Don Granato said following Thursday’s practice. “We need more high-energy, working guys. It’ll be big to get him back.”
Granato said Thompson, 26, could be an option for Saturday afternoon’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at KeyBank Center. The Sabres must make a roster move to activate him, so another player could soon be placed on waivers.
Thompson was a late scratch for Wednesday’s 4-1 home loss to the Bruins for personal reasons.
Jost, who practiced Thursday in LECOM Harborcenter, began Wednesday’s contest in Thompson’s spot on the No. 1 line between Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch before Casey Mittelstadt replaced him.
The 5-foot-11, 187-pound Jost played just 6 minutes, 53 minutes against the Bruins, his second-lowest total this season. He has compiled four points and a minus-7 rating in 29 games this year.
If he reports to Rochester, he would become the third established NHL player to clear waivers this season and join the Americans.
The Sabres assigned defenseman Jacob Bryson, 26, to Rochester earlier this month and defenseman Riley Stillman, 25, to their top affiliate following training camp in October.
Under general manager Kevyn Adams, the Sabres had been spending less money on veteran players in Rochester. But Bryson ($1.9 million), Stillman ($1.35 million) and Jost earn a combined $5.25 million.
Established players in Rochester can also take valuable ice time away from Buffalo’s prospects.
Jost, the 10th overall pick by the Colorado Avalanche in 2016, has played just 13 career games in the AHL.
Players returning from a major injury like the torn Achilles tendon Sabres winger Jack Quinn suffered sometimes need weeks of game action before they truly recapture their regular form.
But Quinn, 22, has stood out through his first four outings, scoring two goals. While he went pointless Wednesday, he was arguably the Sabres’ best forward, pumping four shots on goal during a career-high 19 minutes, 58 seconds of ice time.
“It usually does take a little bit of time, but I think it’s, obviously, evident of his work ethic and off-ice work or rehab work,” Granato said. “But what I’ve said all along is he’s an extremely talented guy that is a key guy for us, and you see him upon entry how effective he is, how good he is. That’s evidence of how skilled he is.”