Nick Baptiste has played well in his first NHL games. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres rookie Nick Baptiste ready for hometown debut

OTTAWA – As a native of nearby Barrhaven, about a 10-minute drive from the Canadian Tire Centre, Buffalo Sabres rookie Nick Baptiste will have quite the cheering section tonight for his sixth NHL game.

“There’s going to be a lot of people here tonight – a lot of family, friends, teachers, people in the area,” Baptiste said after the Sabres’ optional morning skate. “My brother’s whole hockey team is coming. There’s going to be quite a bit of people. I got to try to channel as much as I can and just play.”

What’s quite a bit? Perhaps 50?

“Oh, I think 50 is like a real understatement,” Baptiste said. “I might have 50 people just wanting to see me after the game. It’s going to be in the 100s, I assume.”

Baptiste, 21, might give them something to cheer about. The speedy winger has been noticeable at times, even earning a promotion to the top line beside center Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo in Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Toronto. Baptiste’s ice time has increased in the three games since his second recall Oct. 30.

“I feel a little bit of confidence, when you get more minutes and you get out there with guys like that, it kind of jumpstarts you a little bit,” Baptiste said.

The 2013 third-round pick will likely start tonight on the right side with center Derek Grant and William Carrier, who will make his NHL debut.

Tonight won’t be Baptiste’s first appearance at the Canadian Tire Centre. He said he played an Ontario Hockey League game here and also won the Bell Capital Cup, a national youth tournament, about nine years ago.

“Those two definitely jump out,” he said. “But those will be the most memorable, for sure.”

Check back later for more on Baptiste, who has been impressing Sabres coach Dan Bylsma.

The rink should be emotional tonight, which is Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night.

Senators goalie Craig Anderson, whose wife Nicholle is fighting cancer, is back with the team and will start.

“When he’s here, he’s in,” said coach Guy Boucher, whose Senators have started the season 7-3.

Anderson has been taking short leaves of absences to be with his wife. Shortly after Nicholle’s illness was announced, he posted a 37-save shutout in Edmonton.

“His ability to focus is quite impressive,” Boucher said.

In a moving scene, when a teary Anderson returned to the ice for the first star announcement in Edmonton, he received a rousing ovation and was applauded by his counterpart, Cam Talbot.

“It just hits home with their situation,” Bylsma said. “I think we’re all thinking about it. I think we’re all thoughts and prayers to them.”

Clearly, Anderson’s battle has become a rallying point for the Senators.

Sabres goalie Robin Lehner will make his fourth straight start. The Sabres (4-4-2) have won three of the last four games.

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