Jacob Bryson sat out as a healthy scratch earlier this season. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres notes: Jacob Bryson standing out following stint in Rochester

BUFFALO – When the Sabres sent defenseman Jacob Bryson to the minors for the first time in almost three years, he knew the assignment would be temporary.

Playing in the AHL could help Bryson, 26, find a groove after sitting out 29 of the first 32 games as a healthy scratch, and return to Buffalo ready to contribute.

“That was the plan,” he said prior to Thursday’s 4-0 loss to the Florida Panthers in KeyBank Center.

So far, the plan has worked. Injuries to defensemen Mattias Samuelsson, who’s out for the season, and Owen Power have forced the Sabres to rely heavily on Bryson.

In Tuesday’s 7-0 shellacking of the Los Angeles Kings, he played a season-high 19 minutes, 17 seconds, his highest total since March 17, 2023. It marked just the second time in his last 49 NHL outings entering Tuesday that he skated more than 19 minutes.

“That stretch that I did in Roch for sure helped,” Bryson said of his 10-game stint. “I went a lot of games there where I wasn’t playing. So I feel like it’s always tough to come back in the lineup when that happens. But it was nice to go down there, kind of refreshing and play some top minutes down there and then come back here with more confidence and be able to jump right into the lineup.”

The 5-foot-9, 174-pound Bryson did more than eat up minutes Tuesday. He registered two assists, his first points this season, including a nifty feed from the point on winger Zach Benson’s highlight-reel goal. He also recorded a plus-4 rating.

Last year, as he struggled and fell out of the lineup, he compiled a team-worst minus-24 rating.

On Tuesday, Bryson showcased instant chemistry alongside Connor Clifton in their first game together.

“He’s so smooth with the puck, with his skating, his gap control is just elite,” Clifton said. “So it was easy to play with him. … We had one practice we were really good, so we were banking on that, right?”

Coach Don Granato said Bryson has “kept himself ready and really progressed in his career.” The Sabres were 6-0-0 with him in the lineup this season entering Tuesday.

“He had to buy some time to get in the lineup this year,” he said. “But in the process we saw a much more mature player by virtue of the challenges he went through last year and really the work this year to address those challenges to become better.

“I think you’re just seeing him as a better hockey player. That’s the difference.”

Three former Sabres with the Panthers – wingers Sam Reinhart and Evan Rodrigues and defenseman Brandon Montour – have all enjoyed much more success in Florida than they did here.

Reinhart began Tuesday having scored 39 goals, the league’s second-highest total, and 64 points in 53 games. He never surpassed 25 goals or 65 points in Buffalo. Rodrigues, who’s in his first year in Florida, has compiled 32 points, three more than he ever had in Buffalo. Montour was quietly one of the league’s best defensemen last season, scoring 16 goals and 73 points.

“It’s just age,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said prior to the game. “It takes a long time to develop a player. First of all … those are unusual players. They’re not prototypical in some ways. Like, Sam isn’t the fastest guy, Monty is an incredibly fast guy but there’s some motion to his game. At times early on trying to figure out how to apply that motion, they just get it when they’re a little older.”

The Sabres had one healthy scratch, winger Eric Robinson.

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