Odds are good Hudson Fasching will have rediscovered his vocabulary by the time he pulls on his Sabres jersey Saturday. Then again, maybe not.
A whirlwind week that will end with a spot in Buffalo’s lineup left Fasching speechless Friday. The 20-year-old, signed to a three-year contract Monday, will make his NHL debut when the Winnipeg Jets visit First Niagara Center. Coach Dan Bylsma floored the rookie with the news after practice, and Fasching still couldn’t believe it minutes later.
“I’m so excited,” he said anxiously while trying to catch the emotions running through him. “I’m almost speechless. It’s a dream come true for me.”
Bylsma started the life-changing conversation by asking Fasching if the team needed to get his parents to Buffalo. After Fasching said yes, Bylsma said that was good because the right winger was playing.
“I just zoned out,” Fasching said. “It was cool. I’m excited. I didn’t know what to say.”
The Minnesota native hoped his mother, father and girlfriend would make the journey. They’ll see him play alongside center David Legwand and left wing Matt Moulson.
“There’s a possibility he’ll get some shifts in other spots,” Bylsma said. “I think the big thing to see will be an adjustment to the pace and the speed. He’s a good skater, but I think the pace is going to be an adjustment for him.”
Fasching will become the fourth player to wear No. 52 for the Sabres, joining Alexander Sulzer, Craig Rivet and Dave Andreychuk.
“I’m not trying to overthink it too much is my strategy going into it,” Fasching said. “It’s something that I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid, just to play in the NHL. I put a lot of hard work in. My family and I have sacrificed a lot to get here, so it means the world to me.”
Casey Nelson, another player signed out of college this week, will also make his debut. He’ll skate in a defense pairing with Mark Pysyk.
“Against some long odds, against some difficult situations he has carved out his game, has carved out his ability,” Bylsma said. “He’s gone from being a walk-on to a huge part of a team to one of the most sought-after free agents. He’s done that through hard work. He’s done that through development of his game.
“He’s really kind of defying the odds right now in terms of making the NHL, and I think he’s going to find a way to carve out a career for himself.”
The Sabres will once again close their home schedule with “Fan Appreciation Night.” Buffalo’s final game in First Niagara Center will be April 8 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The first 5,000 fans to enter the 19,070-seat arena will receive a free Sabres mini-stick. Select season-ticket holders will receive the jerseys off the players’ back following the game. There will be various food giveaways during the game along with a 30 percent discount at the Sabres Store and discounted concession prices, including popcorn, pretzels, hot dogs and sodas for $2 each.
Tops Markets, which sponsors the alumni plaza, will have food-sampling kiosks set up outside the arena from 5-7 p.m.
The Sabres’ foundation 50/50 raffle will have a guaranteed jackpot of at least $70,000. After the first period, one fan will get a chance to win two round-trip tickets on Delta Airlines to anywhere in the continental United States.
In a pregame ceremony, the Sabres will present their annual awards for Most Valuable Player, Unsung Hero and Rookie of the Year, as voted by the players. Roswell Park Cancer Institute will present the Sabres Foundation Man of the Year Award, and one fan will be given the 7th Man Award.
The Sabres have signed playmaking center Eric Cornel, a second-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, to a three-year, entry-level contract.
Cornel, who began the Ontario Hockey League playoffs with Peterborough on Friday night, finished the regular season with 27 goals, 56 assists and 83 points in 68 games. His assist total ranked eighth in the OHL, while his point total was 13th overall.
The 6-foot-2, 191-pounder has 70 goals and 213 points in 265 games with Peterborough, plus four goals and eight points in 16 playoff games. He won’t join the Sabres’ organization until the Petes’ season ends.
Cornel, drafted 44th overall, signed an amateur tryout contract with Rochester at the end of last season. He recorded one assist in six games with the Amerks.
Sabres goaltender Chad Johnson will start in net for the fourth straight game. He is 6-1 in his last seven decisions.
“He’s earned that success with his play in net,” Bylsma said. “We’re really seeing him be comfortable with the opportunity to take the net and run with the net.”