Every autumn The Hockey News releases a top 10 list of each organization's top prospects. This year, Jason Pominville didn't make the cut.
The young winger didn't make the cut out of training camp either. The Buffalo Sabres, overstocked with forwards, waived him. Any of the NHL's 29 other clubs could have picked him up. None bothered.
"We were nervous," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We thought we may lose him, but we were glad we didn't."
Pominville, ignored by practically the entire hockey world four months ago, might be the hottest player heading into tonight's game against the Philadelphia Flyers in HSBC Arena, the Sabres' first home game since he recorded his first career hat trick Jan. 14.
Pominville has seven goals and two assists in the last eight games. Four goals have come on power plays, two while killing penalties.
"He's the kind of player I'd like to have in front of me every night," Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. "He goes out and works hard at everything that he does."
Pominville was called up from the Rochester Americans because of injuries, but it's difficult to imagine him not being in the lineup even if the Sabres returned to full health.
"I went down with the good attitude to work my way up," Pominville said. "Hopefully now I'm here to stay.
"It's not something I'm thinking about right now, but if I were to get sent down and go through waivers again, I think my chances maybe would be a little better right now compared to the start of the year."
Rest assured, several teams are wishing they had snagged him when they had the chance. He's only 23 years old and makes minimum wage.
In the 27 games since his most recent promotion, Pominville has 11 goals and eight assists. Over that span, he has scored as many goals as leading scorer and co-captain Chris Drury. Rookie winger Thomas Vanek, with 13 goals, is the lone Sabre to have tallied more. Only four Sabres recorded more points.
"I knew I could play," Pominville said. "I knew that if I would get my shot I would be able to stick, and I finally did. I had a couple good years in Rochester, and I felt comfortable out there."
Pominville, twice a 30-goal scorer for Rochester, is known mostly for his wicked one-timers from the point. He has shown he can do more than that.
"Most people look at him and don't think much of his size, but he's actually a very strong kid," Miller said. "When he's in there battling he's great on his feet and he's good with his stick. He's coming up with pucks most people don't believe he can get. He's making things happen."
Pominville and multipurpose forward Jochen Hecht are the only Sabres to have scored power-play and short-handed goals this season.
Pominville's second shorty proved the winning goal in Tuesday night's triumph over the Atlanta Thrashers. He made the pass to start Hecht on a rush. The initial shot was turned away, but Pominville made a terrific play by trailing Ilya Kovalchuk. Just as the unsuspecting Thrashers star collected the rebound, Pominville reached in from behind and whapped it into the net.
"He was a dog on a bone there," Ruff said. "He wasn't going to let go of it. He totally surprised Kovalchuk. . . . He just sniffed out Kovalchuk's unawareness and stayed with the play.
In other Sabres news, defenseman Dmitri Kalinin could be out until after the Olympic break with what Ruff called "an upper-body injury." Ruff said Kalinin could miss one to two weeks, but there are only 12 days until hiatus.
Kalinin was injured when Thrashers winger Brad Larsen blasted him in the corner. Initial reports stated Kalinin hurt his upper back. He likely will be placed on injured reserve, but Ruff said he wasn't sure if a reserve defenseman would be summoned from Rochester.
The team returned winger Daniel Paille to Rochester today.