BUFFALO – Placing rookie Zach Benson on the top line with center Tage Thompson and Jeff Skinner for tonight’s preseason game isn’t a reward, coach Don Granato said.
“He’s a good hockey player,” Granato said after the Sabres prepared for the Boston Bruins in KeyBank Center. “He’s earned it in the sense that he might only be 18 years old, but he’s developed himself enough to be able to keep up with those two in … preseason.”
Benson, the 13th overall pick this year, has quickly earned the Sabres’ trust in his first NHL training camp. The winger has been practicing with Thompson and Skinner.
“He absolutely has shown in practices he can keep up with the pace, he can keep up cognitively,” Granato said.
He added: “We want to put him in situations where he can learn a lot, gain a lot of information.”
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Benson said having an opportunity to play with Skinner and Thompson is “surreal.”
“The one thing that stands out is how nice they are as people,” he said. “If I have a question for them, I can ask and they’re totally open to share their answer and express to me what they think is the best thing is to do.”
In Sunday afternoon’s preseason opener in Washington, Benson scored in a 4-3 shootout win over the Capitals. He showcased instant chemistry playing with center Tyson Jost and Jordan Greenway for the first time.
“I can’t give enough credit to Josty and Greener for just calming me in,” Benson said. “I was nervous going into the game and about 10 minutes in, I felt settled down.”
In other lineup news, winger Alex Tuch will be scratched for tonight’s game and replaced by rookie Olivier Nadeau. Tuch, who’s on the game roster the Sabres released Monday, has been dealing with soreness, Granato said.
“He’s fine, no issue at this point,” Granato said.
But after Tuch skated this morning, Granato told him he doesn’t need to risk playing tonight.
The rest of the line combinations and defense pairings from the morning skate are below.
– Jiri Kulich, Casey Mittelstadt and Tuch
– Brandon Biro, Tyson Kozak and Isak Rosen
– Filip Cederqvist, Mason Jobst and Brett Murray
– Mattias Samuelsson and Rasmus Dahlin
– Riley Stillman and Joseph Cecconi
– Mats Lindgren and Kale Clague
Devon Levi is scheduled to start in goal and be replaced by Devin Cooley after the second period.