BUFFALO – Instead of being relied upon to produce offense, ex-Sabres winger Tyler Ennis is now a fourth-liner.
Sure, Ennis, 29, skates on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ second power-play unit. The former first-round pick even started the season on the No. 1 line beside center Auston Matthews and Patrick Marleau.
But Ennis is no longer the ultra-slick presence from his early days. The concussions he suffered in his final seasons with the Sabres helped stymie his career. He hasn’t surpassed the eight-goal mark since scoring 20 times in 2014-15, his second consecutive 20-goal season and third in five years.
Four or five years ago, as the Sabres tanked, he was perhaps their best player. These days, he has a different role in Toronto.
“Providing depth,” Ennis said prior to Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win against the inside KeyBank Center.
Ennis’ single campaign in Minnesota went so poorly the Wild bought out the final season of his five-year, $23 million contract. He signed a one-year, $650,000 contract with the Leafs on July 6.
The 10-year-veteran fought just to make the Leafs, whose depth dwindled during the offseason. He beat out about four or five others for a roster spot.
“It’s a fun team to be on, it’s a younger team,” said Ennis, who had scored four goals and eight points in 24 games entering Tuesday. “I try to provide some leadership and a good attitude and good work ethic.”
So far, Ennis, who has been a healthy scratch three times this season, has fit in well, according to Matthews, who said his new teammate is “hilarious.”
“Everybody likes being around him,” Matthews said. “He’s been a good guy to have in the locker room. He doesn’t take things seriously all the time. He likes to keep things light. I think that’s good for our locker room.”
The energy Ennis possesses is important because his playing time often remains under 10 minutes.
“He’s a really good person,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s got good energy about him, likes the game, likes life, and that stuff’s contagious.
“Sometimes on the fourth line you don’t get to play as much you like, so being energized and upbeat every single day is really important to a team. He’s done that. He’s chipped in some goals for us. He’s got some skill and you can move him on different spots.”
Speedy Sabres winger Conor Sheary, who missed four games with an upper-body injury, returned Tuesday.
“I just really liked the speed and tenacity he brought tonight,” Housley said. “He was just a dog on a bone, in on the forecheck, stripping pucks, he never quit on anything. It was great to see him come and just bring that spark we needed.”
To make room for Sheary, the Sabres scratched winger Remi Elie.
Meanwhile, an upper-body injury sidelined winger Jason Pominville a second straight game. The veteran is day-to-day, Sabres coach Phil Housley said.
Upper-body injuries also shelved defensemen Jake McCabe and Marco Scandella.
Sabres defenseman Lawrence Pilut played his second straight game beside Rasmus Ristolainen, a plum assignment for a rookie just three contests into his NHL career.
“He’s making the most of his opportunity,” Housley said Tuesday morning. “Obviously, the speed of the game’s a lot different than the American League, you got a lot of guys coming at you, you got to make decisions.
“Defensively, I think he’s done a really good job. He has a knack for using his instincts to find that little pocket play under pressure and he’s very comfortable with the puck. He’s got good vision, he joins the rush, he’s trying to make a difference. So it’s good to see him in his development where he is right now.
Pilut has three goals and 22 points in 16 games with the Rochester Americans this season, his first in North America after starting his career in his native Sweden.
“When I first saw him in training camp, he was outstanding, the skill set and the skating he has,” Ristolainen said. “He’s going to be real good. It was really fun to play with him (Monday).”
Ristolainen added: “I feel like we had the chemistry right away. I tried to talk to him a lot. Actually, he talked to me a lot too. I just try to make him feel comfortable and let him do his thing.”
Three Sabres prospects – goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and defenseman Oskari Laaksonen (Finland) and forward Matej Pekar (Czech Republic) have been named to preliminary rosters for the World Junior Championship.
Housley had no update on Sabres defenseman Casey Nelson, who left the game with an undisclosed injury.
The Sabres also scratched defenseman Matt Tennyson.
Update: The Sabres sent Tennyson back to the Amerks on Wednesday morning.