BUFFALO – Off the ice, rookie Nick Deslauriers usually has a smile etched on his face. The affable Sabres winger can often be found joking and laughing with his teammates in the dressing room.
“He’s always got something to say, always joking around with the boys,” defenseman Mike Weber said Saturday prior to the Sabres’ 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers inside the First Niagara Center.
But on the ice, the 6-foot-1, 209-pound Deslauriers possesses a fearsome edge. Just 85 games into his career, the 24-year-old has developed a reputation for his toughness and fighting skills.
“He can go,” Weber said. “He’s an angry little Frenchman sometimes. He’s real tough, real strong. You can see the size of him. He’s still relatively young, he’s built like a man.”
In a miserable season, Deslauriers, who played 17 games after being acquired late last year, has been one of the Sabres’ biggest surprises and most dependable presences, playing a hard-nosed third- or fourth-line role.
Deslauriers has a team-high 217 hits and seven fights. He fought again Saturday, a ferocious scrap with Tanner Glass. He also has five goals and 14 points.
“Just 17 games last year was not a lot to prove myself,” Deslauriers said. “I told myself that I just need to bring the hardworking type of guy I am every day and try to be in the lineup every game.”
Incredibly, the gritty Deslauriers is the only Sabre to appear in all 68 games this season. He had a close call Feb. 24, when the flu nearly forced him to miss the Sabres’ 4-2 win in Columbus.
“Knock on wood, I thought in Columbus, I had the little flu there, I was going to miss one,” Deslauriers said. “(I) came back from the death there, had a good nap.”
Playing hockey for a living might be a lot easier than the work Deslauriers experienced growing up in Quebec. His parents, Penny and Stephane, own a moving company. Watching them build it from the ground up taught Deslauriers some life lessons. So did helping out with some moves.
“I just became a hardworking guy just from looking up to my parents, just starting from almost nothing and building ourselves up when I was young,” he said. “That’s the type of family we are. We don’t take what’s for granted.
“Whatever we do, I think we’re already lucky not to work from 8-4 every day. … I just need to bring (the) hardworking guy all day.”
But Deslauriers, who played defense until Los Angeles moved him up front early last season, has “got a lot of skills,” Weber said.
“He’s probably the most athletic guy I’ve ever played with, whether it’s watching him play soccer or any sports he picks up around there, he’s extremely, extremely athletic,” Weber said. “He picks up everything pretty easily. He’s an energy guy in the locker room.”
Sabres coach Ted Nolan believes Deslauriers “brings that certain energy every game.”
“He hits a lot,” Nolan said. “I think guys are aware when they pass the puck, Nick’s going to finish the hit. I think that’s how they could be aware of Nick.”
These days, oft-injured Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta feels “like a new man” after undergoing surgery last month to remove a bone chip from his knee.
The chip – Kaleta said it’s like having a rock in your shoe – hampered the 28-year-old all season, he said Saturday morning. He couldn’t straighten his knee or bend it all the way. Still, he kept playing with it and planned to get it cleaned out after the season.
“There’s nothing I could do,” Kaleta said about the injury after skating with his teammates for the first time in weeks. “There was not a specific time that it happened. It just happens maybe as a result from the ACL surgery.”
Injuries have ravaged Kaleta in the last two seasons. He tore his ACL last season. In one of his first appearances back, a slap shot essentially broke his face Sept. 28. He finally made his regular-season debut Nov. 13.
“I’ve been proud of the way I’ve been able to come back from the injuries I have,” Kaleta said.
When Kaleta had surgery a month ago, the Sabres said he would be out four to six weeks.
“Four to six is a number,” Kaleta said. “Hopefully, I’m back on the sooner part rather than the later.”
Nolan added: “It’s always good to see Patty. He brings that boyish enthusiasm to the game, which is contagious.”