The Sabres named Jack Eichel an alternate captain Thursday. ©2017, Hickling Images, Olean Times Herald

Sabres want to spread leadership around

BUFFALO – Sabres general manager Jason Botterill wasn’t kidding when he said he believes leadership is a collaborative effort.

Thursday morning, hours before their season opener, the Sabres named four alternate captains: defenseman Zach Bogosian and forwards Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo.

Botterill said Wednesday the Sabres wouldn’t begin the season with a captain.

“Our coaches sat down and really evaluated the situation,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said prior Thursday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens inside KeyBank Center. “We felt the guys that we named, we have total confidence, and in just talking with Jason, he was very comfortable with the decisions.”

With no captain, three players can wear the ‘A’ each game, so Housley plans to alternate. Bogosian (lower body) was scratched Thursday.

The Sabres rotated the ‘A’ throughout the preseason. O’Reilly has worn the letter the past two seasons. Okposo, meanwhile, occasionally wore it last season.

“We’ve got a lot of good leaders in this room, there’s many guys not wearing a letter that still contribute in so many ways,” O’Reilly said. “Obviously, it’s nice to wear something, but there’s responsibly with that. On the ice, you got to have good communication with the refs, whether it’s staying on them or talking things out.”

Eichel, 20, is the youngest player in the leadership group.

“To be a leader of this team and the organization, it’s a tremendous honor,” said Eichel, who signed an eight-year, $80 million contract extension Wednesday. “I don’t really want to change too much. I want to be myself around the rink every day, having the same attitude, work ethic and personality.”

The Sabres didn’t re-sign former captain Brian Gionta.

When the Sabres signed Matt Tennyson to a two-year contract as free agency opened, it was assumed the defenseman would see NHL action this season.

After all, Tennyson, 27, spent most of the last two seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes and San Jose Sharks, playing 74 NHL games and only 14 AHL contests. Still, few figured Tennyson would crack the Sabres’ lineup early.

Thanks to an impressive training camp and some injuries, Tennyson was the most surprising name among the six defensemen the Sabres dressed Thursday.

“His play speaks for itself,” Housley said. “He really understands our system, especially defensively. … He’s done a terrific job. He also really picks his spot well adding to the rush, making the good first pass. It’s good to see him. He’s earned his spot.”

Housley leaned heavily on Tennyson throughout training camp, playing him in a few roles. Injuries to Bogosian and Justin Falk (undisclosed) helped Tennyson move up the depth chart. But he has also surpassed Josh Gorges, a 13-year veteran the Sabres scratched Thursday.

“It doesn’t really mean anything,” Tennyson said of playing in the opener. “The work starts now.”

Why does 6-foot-2, 205-pound Tennyson fit well with the Sabres? His two-way style works in their aggressive system.

“A lot of d-men are offensive nowadays, but I think defense for me is important and (I) jump up in the play accordingly,” Tennyson said. “But (I play) strong defense first, get the puck into the forwards’ hands.

The Sabres snatched up Tennyson early July 1. A second year – he has a two-way contract this season and a one-way agreement in 2018-19 – certainly sweetened the deal.

“It looks to be a pretty good fit so far,” said the undrafted Western Michigan University product.

Tennyson played beside Marco Scandella, another newcomer.

Scratching Gorges, Housley said, is “very difficult.” The veteran is a heart-and-soul player.

Gorges, 33, isn’t a slick puck-mover. He has carved out a strong 13-year career as a stay-at-home defender by showcasing grit and tenacity.

Housley, of course, wants his defense to drive possession and aggressively move up the ice. So Gorges sat out the opener against the Canadiens, his old team. Gorges was never a healthy scratch in his first three seasons with the Sabres.

“I know Josh isn’t playing tonight, but he’s going to be ready for his opportunity,” Housley said. “I respect the veterans that are not playing tonight, obviously. …

“But moving forward, you never know what could happen. Changes may come Saturday, changes may come Monday, but he understands where he’s at. He’s a terrific person. He has great work ethic, so you never know when that decision will come.”

Notes: The Sabres also scratched winger Matt Moulson (healthy). … A franchise-record 10 Sabres who didn’t play for the team last year dressed Thursday. … The Rochester Americans named forward Kevin Porter their captain Thursday. Porter was the AHL club’s captain in 2012-13. He returned to the organization this season.

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