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Erik Rasmussen isn't going to make people forget Pat LaFontaine, Michael Peca or even all the veteran Buffalo Sabres centers who are in front of him in his first NHL training camp.

He's just hoping people remember him, especially the people who wear suits and stand behind the Buffalo Sabres bench.

That wasn't too difficult Thursday night.

In a game that seemed to have more coaches, scouts and media types in attendance than fans, Rasmussen was a standout performer. He set up both Buffalo goals, showed an ability to make plays in tight places and called on his generous and seemingly well-matched amounts of size and speed to make things happen whenever he was on the ice.

It wasn't lost on head coach Lindy Ruff.

"He played a real strong game, his best so far," Ruff said. "He's played a lot of hockey so far . . . and I thought he made a real statement tonight. If he can do that on a regular basis, that's NHL-caliber stuff."

A nice tip of the hat from a coach who didn't appear overly pleased with his team's inability to hold a lead and notch its first win of the preseason.

"I saw good things out there from that whole line," Ruff said. "I might play them together again tomorrow night."

Good strategy. Ruff may be a rookie head coach, but he knows the ways of the NHL and the problems college kids have adjusting to it. Kids coming out of college hockey don't normally make the leap right away. College hockey is practice, practice, practice, followed by back-to-back games on the weekends and an occasional tournament or two. An 82-game schedule is about as foreign to them as boos from the home crowd and paychecks every second week.

If by playing Rasmussen, a University of Minnesota rookie, a lot now, Ruff will have a working knowledge of whether or not he can count on his rookie even when his body aches, his lungs burn and his legs have the feel of overcooked pasta, the coach will have answered a question that goes beyond assessing his natural talent.

He will have learned if Rasmussen is NHL ready.

It's something Rasmussen thinks about as well.

"I'm not trying to think too far ahead, because I don't want to get ahead of myself," he said. "Playing and practicing and playing like they do here is different, but so far I think I'm learning from all of it. I'm also getting used to it. With every game, I think I'm getting a little better. I'm certainly learning more things and I'm hoping all those things add up. As the camp goes on, even the practice parts of it, I feel more and more like I'm getting (the hang of) it."

Rasmussen is by no means overconfident. He's straddling that thin line that scares so many rookies. On one side is the growing sense of being able to compete with people who are far above him on the experience scale. On the other is the fear of making the kinds of mistakes, mental, physical or with his mouth that sets him off in the wrong direction.

"If you know what the right mix is let me known," he joked Thursday. "I've heard all kinds of horror stories about what can happen to rookies in a pro camp, but so far the guys have been pretty good to me."

Thursday night, Rasmussen did a little more to be a part of that. He teamed with Michal Grosek and Curtis Brown and didn't look out of place. He made the primary assist on Brown's goal. He also made a nifty pass to send Grosek in one-on-one on Potvin and then followed up in case there was a rebound.

Away from the puck he played his position well. He got some time on the power play and in the latter stages of the first two periods.

It wasn't the kind of night that guaranteed him a spot on the roster, but it was good enough to earn him a longer look.

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