BUFFALO – For years and years, the cycle repeated itself. Taylor Fedun would earn a recall to the NHL as an injury replacement and eventually return to the AHL.
“Normally every opportunity I’ve had at this level, once guys get healthy, it’s just kind of the way it’s gone,” said Fedun, a Dallas Stars defenseman who played two full seasons in the Sabres organization. “I’m the guy that got sent back down.”
Despite compiling some strong numbers, Fedun, 30, could never stick. He shuttled back and forth for five seasons, playing 43 NHL games with three teams, including 34 for the Sabres.
But by earlier this season, he seemed out of the Sabres’ plans.
Thanks to a surfeit of defensemen in Rochester – the Americans had 10 at one point – Fedun sat out some games as a healthy scratch.
“Something had to give there,” Fedun said prior to Tuesday’s 2-0 win over the Sabres inside KeyBank Center. “It was a point where they had a lot of bodies on D. I had kind of fallen out of the spot where I was playing all the time and would have an opportunity to get called up.”
On Nov. 10, the Sabres traded Fedun to Dallas for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2020.
After playing three times with the Stars’ AHL affiliate in Texas, Dallas, which desperately needed defensemen, recalled him.
“It was perfect timing,” said Fedun, who has scored 49 goals and 179 points in 349 career AHL appearances with four organizations.
When the injured defenders returned, Fedun stayed put. After they added two blue-liners, he kept playing.
Fedun has been in Dallas since Nov. 22. While the Princeton graduate sat out Tuesday’s game, he has compiled three goals and 10 points in 43 NHL games this season.
“It’s been awesome,” Fedun said. “I’ve been saying 30’s the new 25 for me.”
How valuable has Fedun been to Dallas? Stars coach Jim Montgomery said Fedun and defensemen Miro Heiskanen and Roman Polak “really saved our season.”
“What allows Taylor to be so effective for us is his hockey sense, his compete and his understanding positionally of how we want to play,” Montgomery said. “And he’s a great teammate in the locker room.”
Of course, leaving Rochester, where Fedun spent most of the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, was tough. The city is close to his heart. His wife, Katie, is still living there as she completes her nursing degree at the University of Rochester.
The couple made a lot of close friends and felt settled. Fedun said he “loved” the coaching staff and his teammates with the Amerks.
“(I liked) literally everything about the situation except for the fact that I wasn’t getting an opportunity,” Fedun said.
Now, Fedun feels like he has finally found a home. He just needed an opportunity.
“From a career standpoint,” Fedun said of the joining the Stars, “it’s been unbelievable.”
After playing three straight games, Sabres defenseman Casey Nelson sat out Tuesday’s contest as a healthy scratch.
Why? Well, Sabres coach Phil Housley said Nelson was scratched mainly because his play “has dipped the last couple games.”
“We’ve got some other guys there available and we haven’t had a lot of success, so we’ve made some changes,” Housley said.
But there could be another reason Nelson, who recently played his first NHL game since Dec. 4, has become a healthy scratch again.
After Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov drilled Sabres captain Jack Eichel after the whistle Saturday afternoon, knocking him into the boards and ripping off his helmet, Nelson offered a tepid response.
Nelson, who was first on the scene, glided up and didn’t go after Zadorov. Soon, the rest of the Sabres on the ice sparked a short melee.
Would Housley have liked a stronger response following the hit? No one fought Zadorov.
“I’m not going to get into that,” Housley said. “We had a discussion with (Nelson). We’ll just keep that in house.”
Matt Hunwick, a scratch the last two games, replaced Nelson.
The Sabres also scratched winger Zemgus Girgensons. Tage Thompson moved in after being scratched for the 3-0 loss in Colorado.
Eichel served the first game of his two-game suspension for his illegal check to Colorado forward Carl Soderberg’s head.
Girgensons called Montgomery, his coach with the junior United States Hockey League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, a “hell of a coach.”
“He keeps everyone honest, he keeps everyone accountable, he gets guys working for him,” Girgensons said. “I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Girgensons and Montgomery, who’s in his first year with the Stars, won a championship together in 2010-11.
Montgomery was teammates with Housley as a rookie with the St. Louis Blues in 1993-94.