BUFFALO – In Monday’s 5-1 road win over the New York Rangers, the NHL’s best team, Sabres rookie Zach Benson played a career-high 18 minutes, 28 seconds.
Benson, 18, spent the night skating left wing on the second line alongside center Dylan Cozens and JJ Peterka and on the second power-play unit.
“In a game like that against a top team in Madison Square Garden, he was calm, he made a lot of plays, he was in on scoring chances all game, and we’re excited about it,” Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said prior to Wednesday’s practice in KeyBank Center.
Just 12 games into his career, Benson, the 13th overall pick this year, has become a huge asset.
It seems unlikely the Sabres will let him join Team Canada next month for the World Junior Championship. Adams said he talked to Scott Salmond, Canada’s vice president of hockey operations, on Tuesday.
“They would love to have him,” said Adams, whose Sabres play a road game tonight against the St. Louis Blues. “I just told them, I don’t want to close any doors right now. I want to monitor the situation because … in this league week to week things can change or where are you. But the way I look at it, we’re going to do what’s right for the Buffalo Sabres and Zach Benson first.”
Canada is scheduled to hold its selection camp Dec. 10 to 13 in Oakville, Ontario. The tournament runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Gothenburg, Sweden.
The Sabres decided last week to let Benson play his 10th game and allow the first year of his entry-level contract kick in.
Adams acknowledged the Sabres talked to South Buffalo’s Patrick Kane before he signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract Tuesday with the Detroit Red Wings.
Kane, 35, was a free agent who underwent hip resurfacing surgery June 1.
“What I think I would probably be comfortable saying is that he knew we were interested dating back to July 1,” Adams said. “And the conversations I’ve had with (agent) Pat Brisson dating back to summer were that we’re very interested and keep us posted. As he was progressing from not just the medical side but where he’s at, where his head’s at, we did do a meeting with him. Pat, myself, Donny (Granato), others were on the call.
“He asked a lot of questions, we answered questions, we asked him questions. Ultimately, when you get into situations where free agents are going to have a choice, that’s it. They make their choice and, obviously, he’s going to a division rival. And it’s time to turn the page and now look for how we can find ways to beat the Detroit Red Wings.”
Kane, a future Hall of Famer, could make his Detroit debut Tuesday in Buffalo.
Adam said Sabres center Tage Thompson, out since suffering a hand or wrist injury blocking a shot Nov. 14, recently underwent more imaging and is doing “good.”
Thompson, who has missed six games, is officially week to week. The Sabres have said they expect him to be sidelined less than two months.
“Hopefully he’s on the shorter end of the timeline but still a little ways away,” Adams said. “But definitely in a good spot.”
Meanwhile, Adams said winger Jack Quinn, out since tearing his Achilles tendon in late June, should be on track to return around Jan. 1.
Quinn participated in the Sabres’ morning skate last Wednesday in Washington.
“It was great he came on the road,” Adams said. “I think that was two things: one, mentally, just to get him there. And then, two, just to be a little bit on the ice with the team. He is right on schedule.”
Adams also said winger Zemgus Girgensons, out since suffering a lower-body injury Friday, is week to week.