BUFFALO – Sabres newcomer Eric Robinson acknowledged that, yes, Tuesday’s game against the Columbus Jackets, his former team, possessed “a little extra meaning.”
The Blue Jackets, after all, gave Robinson his big chance, signing him as a free agent out of Princeton in 2018. The New Jersey native grew up in their organization, playing 266 NHL games before the Sabres traded a conditional seventh-round pick in 2025 on Dec. 6 in exchange for the winger.
Robinson, 28, will always be grateful for the opportunity the Blue Jackets gave him.
“They gave me a chance to play in the NHL, something that I never could’ve dreamed of doing,” he said prior to Tuesday’s 9-4 loss in KeyBank Center.
Robinson, like his brother, Buddy, beat long odds to crack the big leagues. Both went undrafted. Both hardly looked like pro prospects in high school.
Still, they’ve combined to play 335 NHL games.
Watching Buddy, who’s four years older, carve out a path told Robinson he could do it, too.
“It’s hard to put into words what he did for me and my career paving the way, being able to see him go through juniors and college and pro all before I did, and talk to him and ask him questions and ask him about his experience,” he said last week. “It was unbelievable for my career and made me even a little naive that I saw my brother playing professional hockey, so I just kind of assumed I was going to do the same thing.”
Buddy played 62 games for four NHL teams, including nine with the Anaheim Ducks last season, before signing to play in the Kontinental Hockey League this year.
His older brother was so unheralded at the end of high school, Robinson said he was debating playing club hockey at a state college in New Jersey. Then his career took off when he earned a tryout in the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Three years later, Buddy was playing college hockey at Lake Superior State. In 2015-16, he made his NHL debut, playing three games for the Ottawa Senators.
“So he was a late-bloomer,” Robinson said.
While Robinson said he was a good player growing up, he stopped growing for a few years. As a freshman in high school, he was just 5-foot-2 or 5-foot-3.
By his senior year, when he committed to Princeton, he had grown to 6-foot-2.
“Took a little bit to grow, so I had a couple years where I wasn’t effective, I guess,” he said.
As a senior at Princeton, the Tigers won the ECAC Championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Robinson scored 17 goals and 31 points in 36 games that season cementing his status as a pro prospect.
After Princeton lost, he made his NHL debut two weeks later.
“I always felt like I could have the game to be able to play after, whether that was the NHL or AHL, I wasn’t sure,” Robinson said.
By the end of the week, the Sabres could have a healthy forward corps for the first time this season.
Winger Jack Quinn, out since tearing his Achilles tendon in late June, made his season debut Tuesday.
“I always had around this time in my head,” Quinn said. “It’s been six months now, about 25 weeks. So I think we’ve given it plenty of time and I’m ready to go.”
Meanwhile, wingers Jeff Skinner (upper body), Zemgus Girgensons (lower body) and Jordan Greenway (upper body) could all return from their respective injuries before the Sabres disperse for their three-day Christmas break.
The Sabres also host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday and play a road game against the New York Rangers on Saturday.
Sabres coach Don Granato said Skinner, out since Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon hit him last Wednesday, is day to day.
“He’s feeling better every day,” he said. “(With) what he’s dealing with, it’s all about how you feel. So he’s progressed. He has not regressed. … If that continues, we’ll see him in four days or so.”
Granato said Girgensons, out the last 13 games, is improving. For a bit, he had stopped progressing.
“There’s potential before the break that he gets in there before the break,” he said. “Potential. If not, I would say right after the break.”
Greenway, out the last nine games, returned to practice Monday.
Buffalo has given forward prospect Jiri Kulich, 19, permission to leave the Rochester Americans soon to represent Czechia at the World Junior Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden, the Sabres confirmed. The tournament starts Dec. 26.
Kulich, whose 16 goals lead the AHL, has represented his country at the last two World Juniors. He won a silver medal last year.
Notes: Sabres winger Alex Tuch, who sat out Monday’s practice for maintenance, played against Columbus. … After utilizing seven defensemen for Saturday’s 2-0 road loss to the Arizona Coyotes, the Sabres dressed six and scratched rookie Ryan Johnson. … The Sabres also scratched goalie Eric Comrie and winger Brett Murray (both healthy).
Update: Murray has been sent back to Rochester.