GLENDALE, Ariz. – When last season ended, Nick Baptiste essentially said it was Buffalo or bust this year. Until this week, the right winger wasn't with Buffalo.
"I have a lot more to give," Baptiste admitted Thursday. "I've got better in me, just all around in my game."
The stark realization came recently in Rochester. He got sent down during training camp after failing to impress in two preseason contests. Then, in the opening five games with the Amerks, he had no points and was minus-3.
"I wasn’t working hard enough in my own end," Baptiste said in Gila River Arena. "I was too worried about scoring and getting points and contributing offensively. I got away from playing hard, playing fast."
It was a disappointing drop for a guy who felt he proved last year he belonged in Buffalo.
"What you think you deserve and what you get are two different things," Sabres coach Phil Housley said before facing the Arizona Coyotes. "I didn't say he had a poor camp. I think the rookie camp he had some good games after a little bit of a slow start, so it's something that he can learn from."
The knowledge sank in for Baptiste on Oct. 25. He had one goal, two assists and plus-4 rating against Laval. He scored twice in the rematch two nights later, with both goals coming in the final 1:35 to tie the game and send Rochester toward an overtime victory.
He was kept off the score sheet Saturday, but the signs of life earned him a recall for the Sabres' road trip.
"The last three games have been better than I started off, but for me it's not really points," the 22-year-old said. "I've got to worry about playing my game well, using my speed, playing hard defensively. I think that's why I got called up. I was playing kind of the right way, and that's what I've got to do."
The Sabres have noticed the difference.
"Just watching him on film, I think he's getting to the net harder," Housley said. "He's cleaning up some second opportunities, which is good because that's an area of focus that we've had."
While the recent success led to Wednesday's recall, it likely won't earn Baptiste a spot in the lineup Thursday. The Sabres are expected to dress Matt Moulson in place of injured Justin Bailey, leaving Baptiste to watch.
"It's an honor to be back up here," Baptiste said. "This team is where I want to be for my career. I want to be playing in Buffalo, and I want to be playing for the Sabres. I've got to work hard to make that a reality.
"I've said this before: I'm not going to come in here and steal someone's job on the top line. I've got to earn my way up. I might start on the fourth line and just work hard and do the little things to help this team win."
Story topics: Nick Baptiste