BUFFALO – In his short run here last season, Sabres winger Jordan Greenway rarely performed like he did throughout Thursday’s season opening loss.
Greenway – all 6-foot-6 and 231 pounds of him – couldn’t be missed during the 5-1 setback to the New York Rangers at KeyBank Center. He played aggressively all night, enjoying perhaps his best outing since his arrival from the Minnesota Wild.
By the end of game, he had skated 16 minutes, 56 seconds – two seconds more than star center Tage Thompson.
“Overall, it’s game one, so for game one I was pretty happy,” Greenway said following Friday’s practice.
Still, the game held significance for Greenway, who joined the Sabres on March 3 in a trade with Minnesota. For the first in more than a year, he played healthy, having recovered from a shoulder injury that hampered him all of 2022-23.
Greenway, 26, struggled much of last season. The Canton native missed time after undergoing shoulder surgery and re-injured it in his first game back.
After the Sabres acquired him, he only showcased flashes of being a heavy power forward while scoring four goals in 17 games.
“Trades are never easy, per se,” said Greenway, whose Sabres play a road game tonight against the New York Islanders. “But it was pretty smooth when I came through it. But the entire year, I don’t think the trade was the defining point. The entire year for me last year was pretty difficult … because of, yeah, some of the injuries.”
At his best, Sabres coach Don Granato said, Greenway’s “physically engaging.”
“He’s using his reach, his athleticism to kill plays, disrupt plays, and he has a presence when he’s on his game,” said Granato, who also coached him in junior. “There’s a real presence to him. … He’s got hockey sense, he knows where to get a puck, his spatial orientation is really good, and he’s an athlete. He’s agile for a big guy and so when he’s on his game, he’s all of that.”
These days, following a long offseason to recover and rehab, Greenway looks more like that player. By the end of the summer, he said he finally started feeling normal again.
“I’m not making any excuses, but it was tough,” he said of the injury. “But now it’s nice. I feel like it’s kind of in the past for me.”
He just finished his first training camp with Sabres, so his comfort has increased.
“Coming into camp being healthy, I think he’s thriving with different players and personalities around here,” Granato said last week.
Greenway spent opening night thriving at left wing beside center Casey Mittelstadt and rookie Zach Benson, 18, on the Sabres’ third line. He also killed penalties.
“We each bring a different part of the game, which I think complements us very well,” Greenway said of his linemates. “I try to bring the physical presence, get on the puck first, create some space for them. And then they can usually find a way to get the puck to the net while I’m around there.”
The 5-foot-10 Benson’s fearlessness has wowed Greenway.
“I remember my first year, I was so nervous,” he said. “I was the same size. I was 6-6. He’s a small kid, he’s 18 years old. He doesn’t back down. He’ll go into the dirty areas. And on top of that, he’s got a skill set that’s great. He can score. He can do a lot of good things. So the sky is the limit for him.”
The Sabres believe Greenway, who joined the Wild out of Boston University in 2017-18, has untapped potential. Granato cautioned not to judge him on last season.
Granato, who “pounded the table” for the Sabres to acquire Greenway, general manager Kevyn Adams said last season, first coached him at the US National Team Development Program.
Greenway said his support has been special.
“He’s been in my life for a while now and he’s really helped my career,” he said. “Now, in the past, he’s been a great influence for me. And the fact that he’s still kind of pulling for me, has the confidence, it’s a great thing for a player. That’s not always the case on a lot of teams. And yeah, it’s a beautiful thing that he has that confidence, and I just got to continue to do what I need to do to allow him to keep that confidence.”