Stevie Moses could still be a long way from home, making money and scoring goals in the KHL. But when he turned on the TV in June, he saw friends playing for hockey's top prize and he got the NHL bug again.
Moses' career has been mostly about being overseas collecting a paycheck. He's never played an NHL game and has, in fact, only played 24 games in the AHL. But as he sat and watched at home outside of Boston, there were several former Milwaukee Admirals teammates playing for the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup final.
Forwards Frederick Gaudreau, Pontus Aberg, Colton Sissons and Viktor Arvidsson all had big moments for the Preds in the series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Backup goalie Juuse Saros came on to bail out Pekka Rinne when the starter was getting shelled by the Pens in Games Two and Six.
"When I was in Milwaukee, maybe I was a little naive," Moses said Monday in KeyBank Center, recalling his 16-game stint in the AHL two years ago. "I had a one-way deal and was expecting to be in the NHL and was unhappy. A couple years later, it seemed half the guys who were in Milwaukee with me were playing for the Cup. It was hard to watch. It definitely played a role in my decision to try to make a run."
Moses signed an AHL deal with the Rochester Amerks in July and has been an interesting addition to Sabres camp. In Monday's preseason opener against Carolina, he got a chance on the wing with Sam Reinhart and Benoit Pouliot, two players who will certainly be in Buffalo's opening night lineup.
"I made a lot of decisions over the last couple years about making money," Moses admitted. "That's great and I'm happy for what I did. But I was watching the Cup playoffs and really hadn't made a serious effort to play in the NHL in my career ... I want to give myself a real chance and see where it ends up."
"I've really liked his attitude these last three days," said coach Phil Housley. "He's been playing with a chip on his shoulder. He's got to continue to do that if he's going to get more ice time and more games but I'm very happy with what he's brought the last couple of days. He's quick in the zone, he understands the system pretty well and it will be intersting to see how he plays."
Moses never got much of a chance with Nashville, getting released after scoring just two goals in Milwaukee. At 5-foot-9, he reminds you of a slightly taller version of former Sabre Nathan Gerbe. He's speedy and shifty. Even though Moses had no shots on goal in Monday's game against Carolina, you saw some of that speed in the first period and he got one good chance in tight before his shot was deflected by Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifan.
The size, of course, is what has kept NHL teams away and left him undrafted after a four-year career at the University of New Hampshire. It was no deteriment overseas.
Moses earned a good deal of notoriety in 2014-15 by scoring a then-KHL record of 36 goals for Jokerit, the Finnish entry in the Russian league operated by Hall of Famer Jari Kurri. Moses played on a line with Linus Omark, the Swedish winger who had a cup of coffee with the Sabres during the tank era, and the big season landed him a one-year, $1 million contract with Nashville. But when things went awry in Milwaukee, Moses was able to get a deal with St. Petersburg SKA that paid even more than the Nashville contract.
"It was a great year. I had a lot of fun on and off the ice," Moses said of his explosion with Jokerit. "It's been brought up a lot. It earned me a lot of respect in Europe and gave me a chance to play on the best team outside the NHL with SKA, to play with Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk. That was a good experience. A lot of that is credit to that season in Jokerit. It's been something that's helped me out a lot but you can't live off that forever."
Moses said he learned plenty in his daily interaction with Datsyuk and Kovalchuk although his success on the ice was limited by injuries. He played just 24 games and scored only three goals for SKA last year. There were far more challenges off the ice too.
"It's very different. Playing in Jokerit is a lot like a North American team," he said. " We ran everything in English. We had a lot of Swedes, a lot of North Americans and of course Finnish players. Everyone speaks English and the culture is very similar. Then you go on a 1-hour train ride to Russia and it's a totally different ballgame."
The SKA coach spoke no English and Moses was often in the dark about what was being said on the ice or in the dressing room. It's the kind of situation new Buffalo defenseman Victor Antipin is going through as he joins the Sabres, although Antipin is quickly learning enough English. Moses has gone to dinner with Antipin during camp to continue to help that process along.
"I know how he feels coming here now so it's nice to be able to hang out with him," Moses said. "I understand how difficult it can be to walk around the room and not know what people are talking about or doing drills and not knowing what the coach is saying. It's definitely a challenge."
Moses is one of those players who could certainly help boost the Amerks this season. Seth Griffith, who bounced between Toronto and Florida last year, scored the first goal Monday and also fits that list. The Amerks, remember, are a priority of new General Manager Jason Botterill and the free-agent signings came with the idea of having success in the AHL much like Wilkes-Barre/Scranton did when Botterill was with Pittsburgh.
At this point, Moses doesn't even have an NHL contract but he's been noticeable in camp. You might hear a lot about him in Rochester and after that, who knows?
"I certainly don't plan on trying to change right now," he said. "It's hard to do at 28 years old so we'll see. My expectations are to play as well as I can, show what I can do and let the chips fall where they may."