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HAWERCHUK FEELING LIKE A ROOKIE AGAIN DUDLEY ENVISIONS VETERAN CENTER IN DYNAMIC PAIRING WITH VAIVE AND HOGUE

Rick Dudley liked what he saw when he scanned the initial reaction to the Buffalo Sabres' acquisition of Dale Hawerchuk last week.

"One thing I noticed at the draft table was our arch rivals were not real pumped up when they heard the trade announced," the Sabres head coach said. "We looked at the Boston and Montreal tables and they did not look thrilled.

"If I was sitting there and Dale was added to Montreal, all of a sudden you're thinking you can't just check (Stephane) Richer's line," Dudley said. "Now you have to check another one, and that's pretty tough. I'm sure that's what they were thinking."

Dudley was in an optimistic mood Friday and so were several other Sabres who showed up for the team's formal introduction of Hawerchuk at a press conference at Memorial Auditorium.

The 27-year-old center, acquired on draft day in the deal that sent Phil Housley, Scott Arniel and Jeff Parker to Winnipeg, is the key to what the Sabres hope will be a more potent, diversified offense next season.

Hawerchuk, who has scored 40 or more goals in seven of his nine NHL seasons, said he looks upon the move as a new lease on life.

"I feel like I'm a rookie again, except I'm obviously not as young and I've lost a few more hairs," he said.

"The biggest reason I'm excited is I think we have a chance to win a Stanley Cup ring," he said, drawing cheers from interested bystanders Mike Foligno and Clint Malarchuk.

The deal has created plenty of hot-stove speculation on how the Sabre offense will shape up. Dudley was willing to offer some insights.

"He's a player capable of making the people he plays with better," the coach said. "He always has. Now you have two players of that ilk (with Pierre Turgeon). You're almost assured of having two good offensive lines."

Dudley was quick to point out that it's very difficult to size up line combinations 2 1/2 months before training camp opens.

But it would be realistic to expect Pierre Turgeon and Dave Andreychuk on the first line, and Hawerchuk and Rick Vaive on the second.

"At this point, we certainly want to keep Turgeon and Andreychuk together because they were so successful and they know each other so well," Dudley said. "So, therefore, you say 'What are your next two offensive weapons?' I could see Dale with Rick Vaive on the right side. I think as much as anybody, Vaive may benefit most from this trade. I think Dale Hawerchuk is the type of guy who can get Rick Vaive a lot of goals. If you can get Vaive the puck, he will score."

Foligno and Alexander Mogilny would be obvious candidates to fill the other spots on the first two lines.

"The only line that looks right now like a (complete) logical line is (Christian) Ruuttu, (Darrin) Shannon and (Dave) Snuggerud," Dudley said. "That's a line that we think can contribute offensively but obviously is a great defensive line.

"It would appear now like we're going to shape up to be a three-line team with a fourth line that may not play as much as it did last year," Dudley said. "When you've got people that talented, you have to find them ice time."

If that happened, it could prompt the shifting of one of the Sabres centers to a wing.

"It's certainly a thought," Dudley said. "One for sure would be Benny Hogue. If Benny showed a capacity to play the wing, he would add another dimension. That great speed on the wing is tough to handle, especially if he could find an affinity to play with Dale. You could envision all kinds of things. You look at a line of Hawerchuk and Vaive and Hogue. That's kind of a nice thought."

Hawerchuk said he has no qualms about being a "No. 2 center" behind Turgeon.

"I've had a lot of questions about that, about playing second fiddle," he said. "It doesn't matter to me. I don't have a problem with being the so-called No. 1 or No. 2. That's not my make-up. My make-up is to win. You need a full team to win."

Hawerchuk, who has two years left on a contract that reportedly pays $600,000 to $650,000 in Canadian money a year, is regarded as an excellent puck-handler and scorer, deadly around the net because of his great hands. He has decent, but not great, skating skills.

"I like his playoff numbers," said Dudley, referring to Hawerchuk's 13 goals and 28 assists in 31 playoff games.

"His ability to make the play in traffic is one of the most impressive things to me," Dudley said. "Not only can he be a 40-50 goal scorer when he wants to shoot the puck, but in traffic he's about as good as there is. That's a talent you can't acquire. You can work on it but you're either good at it or you're not.

"Before we made this deal, we watched him on film in a couple of games against us," Dudley said. "That was one thing we really noticed -- how many quality plays he was able to make with great pressure on him."

"It has been a tough couple of years for me in Winnipeg," Hawerchuk said. "I'm really looking forward to the start of camp."

Considering the new look the team will have, so are Sabres fans.

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