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Baptiste ready to prove he's learned defensive responsibility

Nicholas Baptiste built himself into an NHL prospect by scoring goals. He was known for his offense in juniors and had potential to be a key contributor for the Buffalo Sabres rebuild when the team selected him in third round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

But the jump from scoring in the OHL to the NHL isn't always a seamless one.

"It's the National Hockey League though, right? You can't expect to come in here and just score a bunch of goals all of a sudden," Baptiste said in KeyBank Center Friday afternoon. "I've got to find a way to stay in the lineup, and get in the lineup, and do those things to eventually move myself a bit up the chart and be a guy who's here for the long term."

Baptiste may get a chance on Saturday afternoon when the Sabres host the Dallas Stars at 1 p.m. in KeyBank Center. He earned his second recall of the season, taking a spot in Friday's practice as Kyle Okposo was on a maintenance day.

With Jacob Josefson on injured reserve with a lower body injury, the Sabres had just 12 healthy forwards in New York on Thursday where they lost to the Rangers, 4-3.

If Josefson is not ready to go, Baptiste may stay with the team to give the Sabres an extra forward for their three-game western road trip next week with games in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.

"Well we've got some guys that are banged up, some guys taking maintenance days and he's earned his right to be up here," Sabres coach Phil Housley said about Baptiste. "He's done a really job down in Rochester and we need an extra body so he got the call.

"I just think he's doing the things that they're telling him to do. He's tenacious on the forecheck, he's really strong down low, he's getting to the net, he's creating things offensively so that's why he's up here."

Baptiste, a 22-year-old right winger, has seven goals and 17 points in 34 games with the Rochester Americans this season. Those numbers haven't set the world on fire, but he's taken to heart what he learned during his earlier recall this year, when he played four games with the Sabres  from Nov. 7-14.

He didn't have point in those games and didn't get a ton of ice time, logging his most minutes (10:45) on Nov. 10 in a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.

Back in Rochester, Baptiste said he worked on his game away from the puck, so that the Sabres coaching staff could see he was a responsible player in his own zone.

"I've definitely improved my game, I think, defensively and on the walls and penalty killing and all those things," Baptiste said. "I'm up here to show Coach Housley that he can trust me in the D-zone and I think that's part of the reason I'm up here.

"I don't think it's a change in my role. I think it's finding a way to play at this level and being able, if you're not scoring, being able to provide physical play, speed and helping in my D-zone. I think I've just developed my game."

That's exactly what Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill wanted Baptiste to learn when he returned to the Amerks. Botterill isn't concerned only with point production, citing Baptiste and Hudson Fasching in particular when talking about the Amerks last week. Botterill also wants to see Baptiste and his counterparts develop their overall game.

"They're rounding out their game," Botterill said specifically about Baptiste and Fasching. "There are things we've talked to them about when they've had their recalls to the National Hockey League and then been set down – wall play, get to the net, stronger on the forecheck. They're implementing that into their game in Rochester and I think that's going to make them better NHL players."

And better NHL players includes forwards playing solid defensively. That was the message not just to Baptiste but one preached at practice on Friday -- take care of your own end the offense will come.

"I've been up a couples times now so I know what to expect, but in order to stay up here I need to do those things that Coach Housley wants me to do and that's being responsible in my own end and being a guy that can go out there and kill penalties and play five on five," said Baptiste who played 14 games with the Sabres last season. "Do the little things. Play aggressive and use my strengths to my advantage.

"Coach talked today that if we take care of our D-zone, offense will come. That's a message through the whole team, not just myself."

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