Jack Quinn will play right wing tonight. ©2021, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres to utilize line of Dylan Cozens, J-J Peterka and Jack Quinn

BUFFALO – In a year or two, after  wingers J-J Peterka and Jack Quinn acclimate to pro hockey, they could flank center Dylan Cozens on the Sabres’ No. 1 trio.

But right now, the intriguing line is simply an experiment for tonight’s preseason opener in Columbus against the Blue Jackets. Instead of putting the talented youngsters beside veterans, Sabres coach Don Granato wants them to learn on their own.

While Cozens, 20, played 41 NHL games as a rookie last season, Peterka, 19, and Quinn, 20, will be making their preseason debuts.

“It’s exciting to think we have three very talented, young players like that in our organization,” Granato said this morning inside KeyBank Center. “And I say talented and skilled, not yet experienced. They’re just going to gain experience in every situation. … There’s certainly things they can do from a skill standpoint.

“I don’t think anybody would be surprised if they scored, but there’s a lot of details that I think they’re going to pick up on just by playing together.”

By putting them together, Granato said “there’s nobody to bail them out for their mistakes tonight.”

“So we need to take that video and show them that whatever they see they can make improvements on,” he said. “I’d rather have them exposed right now so know exactly what we need to work on than having someone cover up for them and it’s maybe they need to work on and maybe they don’t.”

Quinn, the eighth overall pick last year, switched to center late last season with the Rochester Americans and remained there during rookie camp. He likes the idea of playing his first NHL preseason game as a winger.

“I’ve played a little more wing than center in the past year, so a little more comfortable there maybe,” Quinn said. “So I think it’s a good thing I’m starting there tonight.”

The Sabres have eased Quinn, who underwent hernia surgery in April, into the new season. They sat him out of the second Prospects Challenge rookie game and rested him early in training camp.

“I got a little sore, a little tight after Prospects Challenge,” Quinn said. “So I took a few days and rehabbed it. I feel great now.”

Quinn’s move back to wing, of course, is not permanent.

“I think it’s going to be movement,” Granato said. “These guys have to learn how to play different positions. Again, in our business, crunch time, the way injuries happen, the way things happen, the more experience you get at more positions the better and that’s part of the process with him playing center.

“We know he can play wing and we know he’s good there and has real good potential there. We, especially now when he’s taking so much in and learning and adapting and adjusting, threw that at him. Whether he does it three weeks from now, we don’t know. But getting him that experience we feel is valuable right now.”

Having spent the last two seasons against men in Germany and Austria, Peterka has played 84 games as a pro, the most of the group. In North America, he’s learning his skills can only take him so far. He must develop better habits.

“There’s lots of details that he hasn’t had to pay attention too, quite honestly,” Granato said. “It’s good that he’s played in a men’s league overseas. That’s helped and shortened his window adapting to the NHL whenever that is. It’s made it sooner than later I think when you’ve gone through that.

“For all of these guys, the highest end skill, they’re not held accountable at the lower levels. They just get by on their skill, so they don’t have to pay attention to any details and that’s a big part of the process once they try to enter the league. For him, he does have an awareness that, ‘OK, I’m going to have to catch (that).’ There’s a consciousness there of, ‘OK, what do I have to adapt to?’ The games like tonight are important for a guy like that.”

In other news, Granato said goalie Aaron Dell will be starting tonight and be relieved by Dustin Tokarski halfway through the game.

Here is the rest of tonight’s lineup:

Forwards (from left to right)

Anders Bjork, Zemgus Girgensons and Vinnie Hinostroza

Brett Murray, Arttu Ruotsalainen and John Hayden

Linus Weissbach, Ryan MacInnis and Michael Mersch

Defense (from left to right)

Will Butcher and Ethan Prow

Brandon Davidson and Casey Fitzgerald

Jacob Bryson and Oskari Laaksonen

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