BUFFALO – Winger Vinnie Hinostroza said he reads Twitter, so he knew all about the negativity surrounding the Sabres.
But while exploring his options as a free agent last summer, Hinostroza, 27, saw an opportunity in Buffalo. He talked to Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams and coach Don Granato and learned about their vision for the team.
Hinostroza liked what he heard, and he signed a one-year, $1.05 million contract.
The American had a good feeling about joining the Sabres, his fourth team in three seasons. Then he walked into the dressing room in September.
“Until you’re in the locker room, you don’t actually realize how close it is to being something really good and what they’re building here,” Hinostroza said prior to Wednesday’s 4-3 shootot win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at KeyBank Center. “Just seeing that from the outside and you have a different perspective. …
“You don’t get to see the inside of the locker room and really how close-knit this team is and how close it is to being something really special. I think being a part of it is something really cool.”
Hinostroza wants to stay put and help the rebuilding Sabres reach another level.
“This is a place I want to be,” he said. “I don’t want to keep moving around. I want to be somewhere that I love and I love it here.”
Adams likely could’ve traded Hinostroza before Monday’s deadline but elected to keep intact a group that has recently showcased growth. In praising Hinostroza’s impact on the Sabres, Adams said he’s open to re-signing him.
“I know a lot of guys might say coming here they’re super excited to be here and they want to be here, but that’s truly something I took pride in,” Hinostroza said. “I want to be here. They took a chance on me and I’ve loved it here so far. I like playing for Donny, I love the team.”
Hinostroza has quietly been productive, registering 10 goals and 21 points in 43 games this season entering Wednesday’s contest. He has just one point, a goal, on the power play, so he has been dangerous at even strength.
But much of Hinostroza’s value comes from his leadership and the strong example his tenacity sets for the Sabres’ young talent. Granato said he’s a relentless self-starter.
“Some guys are really competitive but they need to be punched in the head for the competitiveness to start, kick in,” he said. “We can all picture playing in our minds like, once the fuse hits the guy really competes. Vinnie’s a worker and a competitor because he’s working all the time. He’s never not working. That has helped us in practice, pick up the pace and tempo in practice, because we need to develop guys. Our guys need to develop. And he’s really helped us there.”
When a lower-body injury recently sidelined Hinostroza 18 games, Granato said the Sabres felt his absence.
“We missed that guy that kind of drags others into the fight because he just plays at such a high pace,” he said. “If you’re his two linemates and you’re not ready to play at a high pace, you’re either gonna hear from him or you’re not going to be able to keep up.”
Hinostroza has recently been skating at right wing beside center Dylan Cozens and Peyton Krebs, two 21-year-olds expected to help lead the Sabres’ revival.
“They’re going to be superstars,” Hinostroza said. “They can be superstars. They’re great right now but it’s their decision if they want to be superstars, and I know they both want to.”
Granato likes Hinostroza’s ability to communicate with the youngsters and offer them perspective. The trio has also performed well on the ice, combining for four goals and six points March 13 in a 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Heritage Classic.
“It’s a good position where I’m kind of an older guy and not one of the leaders of the team, but kind of a secondary leadership role where I’ve been through so much adversity in my career,” Hinostroza said. “So whenever one of these young guys like Cuzzy, Krebsy, whatever, is going through something I can talk to them and be like, ‘OK, you missed a couple shifts here, it’s not the end of the world.’
“I’ve sat out for 10, 15 games in a row, so you’re always gonna have adversity in your career.”
Notes: The Sabres made one lineup change Wednesday, inserting defenseman Mark Pysyk for Will Butcher. … Prior to the game, the Sabres honored goalie Craig Anderson for earning his 300th win March 10, presenting him with a gold stick with “300” engraved on it and a framed “Anderson 300” jersey. … The Sabres also scratched winger Anders Bjork (healthy) for the eighth straight game.