Pouliot: What happened in Edmonton can happen here
Benoit Pouliot has seen a team rise from the depths. The Edmonton Oilers were a laughingstock in 2014. They were a goal away from reaching the Western Conference final last season.
Pouliot sees no reason why the Sabres can’t do the same thing.
“In Edmonton when I got there, I think it was the worst year I’ve ever had playing in the NHL,” the left winger said Saturday. “We were so down. The coach got fired during the year, and things weren’t going well.
“But we had so many good draft picks. We had so many young guys coming up and learning experience. I think the situation here is the same.”
Pouliot quickly pointed out how Jack Eichel can make an impact like Connor McDavid. He likened Sam Reinhart to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Essentially, Pouliot is a believer in Buffalo. “Things can turn around quickly, especially when you get new management, new coaches and everything,” he said in HarborCenter.
Pouliot joined the Sabres on July 1, signing a one-year deal after the Oilers bought him out. The 30-year-old was perennially in the 15-goal, 35-point range, but he struggled with just eight goals and 14 points in 67 games last year.
The Sabres hope they got a bargain at $1.15 million.
“Last year was a tough year personally,” Pouliot said. “It was my worst one ever. It was a frustrating year, long year. The only good thing is we went pretty far in the playoffs and it was a good jump for the team.
“My role is the same as I used to play, create the speed, push their D back, (make them) turn the puck over. The young guys are going to stickhandle. For me, it’s just turning the puck over, go in front of the net and create some chances.”
Pouliot spent the first two days of training camp with Reinhart as his center and former Kontinental Hockey League scorer Stevie Moses on the right wing. As someone who used to have McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins as his centers, Pouliot has been impressed with Reinhart.
“He’s very intelligent with the puck,” Pouliot said. “That’s nice when you get a chance to play with a guy like that because it makes your game a little easier. You just put yourself in a good position and he’s going to get it back to you or put some pressure on their D for me and then he’ll make the play.”
Pouliot sees the potential. He hopes it translates when the puck drops for real.
“The past few years haven’t been very good here,” Pouliot said. “It was the same situation as I was in Edmonton when I first signed there, and things got better every year that I was there.” as a studious guy. That’s good because he has little choice.
No Buffalo player is experiencing more of a culture change than Antipin. The defenseman from Kazakhstan arrived with almost no knowledge of English. Having played his entire career in his Russia, he’s adjusting to a smaller rink and completely different style of play.
Needless to say, it’s a lot. The 24-year-old is handling it better than could be expected.
“He’s a student of the game,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said. “He really absorbs a lot, likes to watch a lot of video trying to understand our concepts. He’s like a sponge, and it’s great to see.”
On the ice, Antipin (pronounced “an-TEEpihn”) has formed a bond with assistant coach Chris Hajt. Off it, he’s leaning on forward Vasily Glotov, who is from Russia, and Chris Bandura, the Sabres’ vice president of media relations. They’ve helped him learn English and get ready for interviews.
“He wants to learn,” Glotov said. “He wants to be better. He wants to be in the NHL full time. That’s his goal, and if you want to be here you have to have better communication. He’s working on it.”
Glotov is impressed that Antipin doesn’t want to use a translator for his talks. The defenseman wants to dive in and swim on his own, which he did after Saturday’s workout.
“My English is not good, but I learn every day,” said Antipin, who added a similar thought on the adjustment to North American rinks. “In the NHL, it’s more fast, more quick. I think yes, it’s different, but every day I feel better and better.”
During the opening two days of training camp, Antipin was paired with Justin Falk, a stay-at-home defender. It’s a nice complement since Antipin has skating ability and a mind for offense. During last year’s Kontinental Hockey League playoffs, he had seven goals and 11 points in 18 games.
Once he settles in, he should be a solid fit for Housley’s brand of hockey. In fact, during Antipin’s studies, he looked up Housley.
“He was a very good player,” Antipin said. “He played like me. I like to play this hockey.”
The Sabres are using the two-rink pad at HarborCenter to their advantage. They are skating for 45 minutes on the auxiliary rink before immediately moving to the main rink for another 45 minutes.
The sessions Sunday, which are open to the public, are scheduled to start at 9:45 a.m. on the side rink. The Sabres will complete their final workout by 1:15 p.m. on the main ice surface.
“It’s an advantage that we have over other teams,” Housley said. “We get to utilize our resources here at the HarborCenter. I just like it. The execution’s much better. The puck sits flatter. Guys look faster, and they are faster because of the fresh ice. We’re going to utilize that a lot this year.”