BUFFALO – Minutes after his first practice with the Sabres ended, a smiling Marco Scandella entered a media scrum and could hardly contain his excitement.
“Coming to a new team, it feels like my first year again,” the loquacious defenseman said Friday following the first sessions of training camp inside HarborCenter.
The grin never left Scandella’s face during his brief chat, his first here since the Sabres acquired him with winger Jason Pominville from the Minnesota Wild on June 30.
“He’s a great guy,” Pominville said. “What you saw is the way he is pretty much all the time. He’s very outgoing, he shows his emotion.”
Leaving the Wild was a bit emotional for Scandella, who spent his first seven seasons in St. Paul. But Scandella, 27, had a feeling he would be traded.
“You don’t want to think about it too much,” said Scandella, who will earn $4 million this season. “But at that time, it was wearing on me a little bit.”
The Wild, a team pressed against the salary cap, had a surfeit of puck-moving defensemen. The Sabres needed one badly, so they dished wingers Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno for Scandella and Pominville, the Sabres’ former captain.
The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Scandella, who’s living downtown by the water, has already developed an affinity for Buffalo. He said having Pominville around has helped him.
“A lot of green space, very beautiful place, a lot of good restaurants,” Scandella said of Buffalo. “I’m excited.”
He added: “So far, the weather’s been great. Everyone says it’s going to be terrible weather here. … It’s a small town (that has) really friendly people.”
Scandella’s friendliness might make him a fan favorite. So could his aggressive style of play.
“He’s a big boy, he’s got a long reach, he can shoot the puck 100 mph, he’s a guy that’s annoying to play against,” Pominville said. “I think the people of Buffalo will definitely enjoy seeing him play.”
Scandella, of course, is the biggest piece of the Sabres’ revamped blue line, which also features newcomers Victor Antipin and Nathan Beaulieu, two other puck-movers.
Even after playing 373 NHL games, the Sabres believe Scandella possesses growth potential. General manager Jason Botterill said in June he envisioned a larger role for Scandella – a spot in the top four and power-play and penalty-kill duty – than the one he had last season, when his ice time dipped to 18 minutes, 20 seconds a game.
Scandella and Sabres coach Phil Housley, however, wouldn’t get into what kind of role they expect.
“I just want to show what I can do on the ice,” Scandella said.
Scandella, who practiced with defenseman Zach Bogosian on Friday, formed a strong offensive duo with Jared Spurgeon before last season, Pominville said.
“Him and Spurgeon were arguably our top two guys to be on the ice with, they would join the rush, they would create offense pretty much on their own, and they’d be really fun to play with,” Pominville said.
Then, Pominville said, Spurgeon mostly played with Ryan Suter in 2016-17.
“So (Scandella) was kind of bouncing around and really wasn’t able to find that stability with a partner, didn’t play the minutes that he maybe should’ve,” he said. “He stuck with it and had a great playoffs for us. Hopefully, here he can take it to that next level.”
Scandella’s performance in the Wild’s opening-round loss to the St. Louis Blues impressed Housley.
“He was probably one of their better D-men, got up in the play well, defended well,” he said. “He’s got a lot of grit to his game.”
Naturally, the idea of playing the fast style Housley plans to showcase excites Scandella.
“He wants some north-south hockey, he definitely wants the D to be involved, so I feel like I have pretty good skating ability, so I think I’m going to mold really well into the system,” Scandella said.
Scandella underwent offseason hip surgery, so he said he just started skating again and getting “into hard battles.”
“Feeling good,” he said.