EDMONTON, Alberta – It hasn't been an easy transition to North America for Victor Antipin.
The Buffalo Sabres defenseman fell ill with a weight-sapping flu. He's been a healthy scratch more times than anticipated. He's on a losing team after playing for a consistent winner in Russia.
Still, despite it all, Antipin is glad he made the jump to Buffalo and the NHL.
"Yes, of course I'm happy," Antipin said Tuesday. "I like to play here."
For the first time in more than a month, Antipin was actually playing. He returned to the lineup to face the Edmonton Oilers, his first appearance since Dec. 19.
"I've been a long time waiting for this chance," the Kazakhstan native said in Rogers Place. "It's a tough time, but I am ready now."
Antipin watched 13 straight games for the Sabres, sitting some because of illness and others as a healthy scratch. He got his opportunity after Nathan Beaulieu flew back to Buffalo for evaluation for a possible concussion.
While experience is the ultimate teaching tool, the rookie says he picked up a few tips while watching.
"You can learn a lot by watching the game up top and a different perspective," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "He's got to learn to play the game the way he knows how to play the game. He had some really good games when he's bounced back. He's taken charge down low. He's been assertive, aggressive defending.
"But his puck movement and getting back for pucks and making that first clean pass out of our zone, that's what we're looking for, and also adding onto the rush. He picks his spot really well, so we'd like to see him get up and get involved."
Antipin was a point-producer and puck-carrier for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. The 25-year-old has learned it's not as easy in the NHL, recording no goals, four assists and 23 shots in his opening 24 games.
"I like to play aggressive," Antipin said. "Yeah, of course it's difficult. There's more speed with the players and skill."
The Sabres hope Antipin shows his speed and skill now that he's back in the lineup.
Beaulieu's trip to western Canada was a short one. He got hurt just 3:11 into Monday's game in Calgary. After flying to Edmonton following the contest, he hitched a ride back to Buffalo on Tuesday for evaluation and treatment.
It's believed to be the second concussion of the season for Beaulieu, who absorbed a couple of punches and had his chin driven into the ice during a fight with the Flames' Curtis Lazar. Beaulieu challenged Lazar after the forward stuck his leg out for a knee-on-knee hit.
Beaulieu had just returned to the lineup after missing two games with an illness. He missed five games with the flu last month and sat seven games in October and November with his first head injury.
The absences have hindered the development of the 25-year-old, who was acquired from Montreal for a third-round pick and signed to a two-year deal.
"It's been a tough year for him with the expectations coming in to a new team and the start that we had as a group, and then with his struggles with injuries," Housley said.
Beaulieu, who was placed on injured reserve, has one goal, three assists and a minus-14 rating in 33 games.
Since the Sabres had a thin blue line once again, they recalled Matt Tennyson from Rochester to make it fuller. Josh Gorges has joined Beaulieu on the sidelines with an illness, leaving the Sabres with only six available blue-liners.
Tennyson gave them an extra seventh for Tuesday's visit to Edmonton and is an option for Thursday's game in Vancouver. The defenseman started the year in Buffalo, playing 14 games with no points and a minus-8 rating. The 27-year-old has one assist and a minus-7 in 23 games with Rochester.
"It's good to have Tenner up here as another body because being out West here on the road you never know what can happen with injuries," Housley said.
The leading scorers for the Sabres and Oilers are Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid, respectively. It's not surprising to see them together. They've been linked since preparing to go in the top two of the 2015 NHL Draft.
Also not surprising is Eichel continues to downplay talk of a rivalry.
"I don't really know how many comparisons have continued to be made here," Eichel said. "It's two guys in two different situations. It's tough to make comparisons. I'm pretty sure he swept the entire NHL awards last year.
"I'm just trying to do my thing and become the best player I can be. Comparisons are made by you guys, and I kind of just do my best every day to become a good hockey player."
Eichel entered Rogers Place with a six-game point streak, recording four goals and 10 points during the run. Going back further, Eichel had 11 goals and 21 points in his last 15 games. He was on pace for 33 goals and 79 points.
McDavid had a four-game point streak, putting up a goal and five assists. The center ranked 10th in the NHL with 53 points on 15 goals and 38 assists. He was tied for second in the NHL in even-strength points with 39. Eichel was tied for ninth with 34.
The problem for both is their teams have struggled and are out of the playoff race.
"When you go through tough times like this, you really find out a lot about yourself," Housley said. "I think Jack has done a great job going back maybe 20, 25 games where he made a decision about coming to play and playing the right way and playing at both ends of the ice. He's been terrific.
"As a result, he's been on the penalty kill, and you can see his point production and just his creativity in the scoring-chance area has been really solid for us."