BUFFALO – When Jack Quinn took Alex Tuch’s spot at right wing alongside center Tage Thompson and Zach Benson during Monday’s practice, it appeared he was simply filling in on the Sabres’ top line.
Since Quinn, who tore his Achilles tendon training in late June and underwent surgery, returned to practice earlier this month, he has been sharing reps or subbing for someone.
But it turns out he was ready to graduate to a larger role.
In fact, Sabres coach Don Granato said Quinn, 22, could return for tonight’s home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“He looks ready to go,” he said following Monday’s session in KeyBank Center.
Granato said if Quinn doesn’t play against Columbus, he will return soon. The Sabres also play Thursday at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Saturday on the road versus the New York Rangers before beginning a three-day Christmas break.
“It’s very close,” he said.
Quinn hasn’t played an NHL game since April 14, last season’s finale. He was expected to be ready around Jan. 1 – about a six-month recovery – so he’s on schedule or even a bit ahead.
Practice time has been limited this month, so having a full session Monday featuring battle drills was important.
“Today was a real good test for him in a way we weren’t able to test him much in the last month, really,” Granato said. “And he was real good with it.”
The Sabres have sorely missed Quinn, the eighth overall pick in 2020, during the first 32 games. So far this season, they have a weak 13-16-3 record. They’ve scored just 90 goals, 2.8 per game. Last year, they scored 293 goals, 3.6 per contest.
After scoring 14 goals and 37 points in 75 contests as a rookie last season, the Sabres expect the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Quinn will keep developing.
Winger JJ Peterka, who’s also in his second season, has already scored 12 goals, equaling last year’s total in 45 fewer games. It’s not unreasonable to think Quinn would’ve displayed similar early-season growth if he had remained healthy.
“Jack Quinn is a highly intelligent hockey player,” Granato said. “Yeah, he can add a lot. The faster we can get him up to speed, the better. We’ve been missing him and what he brings. But he is one of our more intelligent, cerebral hockey players along with a whole lot of skill. And, obviously, (by) virtue of his age, he’s in that range of he’s just improving by the minute, it seems.”
Having gone nearly seventh months without playing – he represented Team Canada at the World Championship after Buffalo’s season ended – a conditioning stint with the Rochester Americans might’ve seemed like the next step in his recovery.
But Granato said he “might have more reservation with him playing games in Rochester.”
“There’s more chaos down there by virtue of the age and level,” he said of the AHL. “You go down there, he was a target as a rookie (in 2021-22). But who knows? He’s the type of player that can get himself ready to play right here.”
Of course, the Sabres want to ease Quinn into the lineup.
“That’s a challenge and that’s a read,” Granato said. “… I will be watching the minutes and the response.”
In other injury news, Granato said he expects Tuch, who recently pulled his hamstring, to face Columbus. He said he had a maintenance Monday day for a “nagging issue” that won’t go away until he gets more rest.
Granato said the final decision on Tuch’s status will be made following this morning’s skate.
“As long as we don’t feel it’s going to go in the wrong direction and he can play through some nagging without making it worse, he can play,” he said.
Meanwhile, Granato said winger Jordan Greenway, out the last eight games with an upper-body injury, is day to day.
Greenway, who practiced Monday for the first time since getting injured Dec. 2, said he’s “not trying to rush anything.”
“His progression has been good all the way to the final component, and that final component, we’re just waiting for that to resolve,” Granato said. “It could resolve tomorrow, it might not resolve tomorrow. But it impedes him too much to play.”