ROCHESTER – After years of battling hip injuries, Buffalo Sabres prospect Sean Malone enjoyed a healthy senior season a year ago, helping Harvard roar to the semifinal of the NCAA Tournament.
On April 8, two days after Malone’s college career ended, he debuted with the Sabres just hours after signing his entry-level contract. In July, the West Seneca native participated in his first Sabres development camp since 2013.
Then when rookie camp began in September, Malone was absent again, felled by an undisclosed injury. Malone, 22, missed all of the Prospects Challenge tournament and training camp.
Instead of impressing Buffalo’s new regime during camp, the Sabres sent the speedy center to the minors Sept. 30. He played his first AHL game with the Rochester Americans on Oct. 20.
“Missing all of camp, it’s really tough, because you want to make a first impression when you’re there,” Malone said Monday inside Blue Cross Arena. “It would’ve been my first training camp for this organization. I really thought it was going to be a good start for me because I missed a lot of time in the past due to injury.
“This just set me back a little bit more. But I’m here to battle my way back in.”
On a stacked Amerks team, Malone has earned regular duty in what he called an “energy role,” playing the last 37 games. Like a lot of youngsters entering pro hockey, he has a history producing offense. He scored a career-high 18 goals and 42 points in 36 games last season with Harvard.
But if Malone wants to play in the NHL again, he must evolve. While he possesses skill, his future is likely as a third- or fourth-line checker. So far, he has compiled two goals and five points with the Amerks.
Malone, a sixth-round pick, 159th overall in 2013, said he has adapted his “whole life.”
“No matter where I’m playing, I’m able to adjust to a certain role,” he said following the Amerks’ 2-1 shootout loss to the Utica Comets. “In college, I was a top-two line guy, so I was expected to put up points. But at this level, it’s a little different. I think you have to sort of take it with a grain of salt.
“You have to do the little things well when you’re on a bottom-line role, and then when you get your opportunity, play the same way and good things happen.”
Malone centered Hudson Fasching, one of the Sabres’ top wing prospects, and Garrett Ross on Monday, perhaps the Amerks’ third line.
The pro lifestyle, of course, feels different for Malone, who’s finished with school.
“Guys handle themselves in and out of the rink, it’s a lot different from college,” he said. “You see these veteran guys who have been able to do this for 15 or so years, the amount of work they put in and just maintaining their bodies, I’ve really noticed.”
For the first time ever, Malone can give hockey his full attention.
“You don’t have a lot of distractions away from the sport and you’re able to focus on one thing,” he said. “It’s something I want to do. It’s nice having time to really focus on it throughout the day. But at the same time, it can be a mental challenge.”