Nick Deslauriers was a defenseman until last season. ©2014, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ Nick Deslauriers trying to build on breakout season

BUFFALO – The whole season, Sabres winger Nick Deslauriers said, “was pretty crazy.”

Barely a year ago, Deslauriers was a defenseman in Los Angeles’ organization. Three years into his career, he hadn’t played an NHL game. Then a forward shortage forced the Kings to make him a winger.

Suddenly, Deslauriers became a goal scorer up front, compiling 16 in 60 games for AHL Manchester.

That scoring prowess, coupled with his usual nasty edge, caught the Sabres’ attention. They acquired the relatively unknown prospect March 5.

Still, the 23-year-old had no idea where his career was going.

On Thursday, Deslauriers skated on the fourth line during the Sabres’ 3-1 opening-night loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. For now, he has one of 23 coveted spots on an NHL roster.

“It’s weird,” Deslauriers said Thursday morning inside the First Niagara Center. “Everything happens for something. I’m pretty fortunate that L.A. thought about sending me down and putting me at forward for a couple games just to help out because we were short on forward.

“It kind of went good there. I felt comfortable there. I think it’s just I know the job I have to do. I was a defensemen, so maybe it’s a little advantage to know basically what defensemen like and what they don’t like. So I’ll take that as an advantage for me.”

Deslauriers scored one goal in 17 late-season games with the Sabres. He played 10 games in Rochester after the NHL season ended.

For now, however, his AHL career is on hold. Deslauriers must clear waivers to go back to the Americans. That likely helped him beat out about five other forwards to earn a roster spot out of training camp.

“We’ll continue with Nick’s progress here,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “I think he’s going to be fine in time. But he’s still a young player that has to find his way.”

Deslauriers skated on the left wing beside center Cody McCormick and Torrey Mitchell. The trio, McCormick said, can help the Sabres roll four lines.

“You kind of see the teams leaning toward having a fourth line that wants to contribute more,” McCormick said. “You don’t want to have them guarding the water bottles, I guess. We want to be able to offensively to chip in.

“Looking at those guys, they got the offensive tools to do it. They’re real smooth hockey players.”

Before the Sabres began their skate Thursday morning, Nolan gathered his players in a circle at center ice to begin the franchise’s 44th season.

“I just really believe in the power of a circle and the strength of a unit, and there’s no stronger symbol there is, the symbol of a circle,” Nolan said. “It’s the circle of a drum. It beats mother earth and what have you. It’s just a little, small thing. Every journey begins with that first step. I thought it would be a nice gesture if we take that first step together.”

The Sabres scratched forward Brian Flynn and defensemen Tyson Strachan and Nikita Zadorov (all healthy).

Five players the Sabres let walk following last season – Matt D’Agostini, Zenon Konopka, Ville Leino, Jamie McBain and Henrik Tallinder – are out of the NHL.

D’Agostini has been playing in Switzerland. The NHL suspended Konopka for 20 games in the spring for violating its PED policy. Boston recently released Leino from a tryout. Following a tryout in Arizona, McBain signed a deal in Russia earlier this week. Tallinder went home to Sweden after dislocating his shoulder here during a tryout with Toronto.

Columbus star Ryan Johansen, a 33-goal scorer last season, played Thursday. The center missed training camp and signed a new contract Monday.

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