Pouliot: What hap­pened in Ed­mon­ton can hap­pen here

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - By John Vogl

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.”

Mark Mul­ville/Buf­falo News

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