BUFFALO – 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’ opening-night lineup.
Thanks to an impressive training camp and some injuries, Tennyson is the most surprising name among the six defensemen the Sabres will dress tonight against the Montreal Canadiens.
“His play speaks for itself,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said this morning inside KeyBank Center. “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 defensemen Zach Bogosian (lower body) and Justin Falk (undisclosed) helped Tennyson move up the depth chart. But he has also surpassed Josh Gorges, a 13-year veteran the Sabres will scratch tonight.
“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 has been practicing beside Marco Scandella, another newcomer.