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Ruff sets consistency as goal for Stafford Winger joins camp with two-year deal

Like most people in sports, Lindy Ruff loves projecting what players can achieve. The Buffalo Sabres coach observes the talent, sees the potential and puts a number on a guy.

Some folks see Drew Stafford as a future 30-goal scorer. The right winger has good size at 6-foot-2, 216 pounds. He has skill. He's also improving, as last season's career-best 20 goals and 25 assists can attest.

But before Ruff predicts perennial 30-goal seasons from his newly signed winger, he wants to see one such season.

"You've got to get there first," the coach said Sunday in HSBC Arena. "We project a lot in our business because it's what we like to do. Nobody ever projects down. We all project up.

"I think he can get there. I think there's still work to do. There's times he looks like he can be that. I put him in that category where he's at that point where his game has to become real consistent. I think when that happens, he can become a lot better than he is right now."

Stafford joined his teammates for Sunday's first full day of training camp after agreeing to a two-year contract worth $3.8 million. He will make $1.5 million this season and $2.3 million in 2010-11.

"If Drew performs the way I believe he'll perform, he'll have more rights in the next contract, and he'll be paid accordingly," said Neil Sheehy, Stafford's agent.

The Sabres and their premier restricted free agent got close to a contract Friday, and Stafford participated in on-ice testing Saturday despite not having a deal.

There was a lot more relief when he laced up the skates Sunday.

"I'm very excited we were able to get a deal done. I couldn't be happier," said Stafford, who divorced himself from the negotiations and was content with a two-year pact. "All I'm focused on is getting ready for the season. Let [General Manager Darcy Regier and Sheehy] take care of that [contract]. I've got a lot more important things like making sure conditioning-wise and strength-wise I have the right mind-set coming in for the season."

Stafford concurred with Ruff on consistency being an important part of his development. The 23-year-old had a streak-filled season. He had two hot seven-game runs, scoring six in one stretch and five in the other. But he also disappeared from the score sheet on occasion. He finished the season with just one goal and three assists in the final 16 games. He also had a skid of one goal in 15 games.

"He expects me to improve in pretty much every facet," Stafford said. "More importantly, making sure I'm competing more consistently, playing every shift.

"Obviously, you're not going to have 82 games where you're playing perfectly, but as far as staying focused and making sure I'm executing on a more consistent level is what he expects, and that's what I expect. We're pretty much on the same page."

Ruff was relieved Regier and Sheehy got on the same page, too.

"It's important that we start camp with the players that we really need to count on," Ruff said. "We're counting on him being a big part of our team. To get him in camp and get him going right off the bat is important for us."

* * *

The Sabres continue to add depth to their organization, and once again the newcomer fills the needs of size and grit.

Brad Larsen, who had four points in 62 games for the Atlanta Thrashers last season, has been signed to a minor-league contract and is in training camp. He and fellow forwards Cody McCormick and Jeff Cowan will compete for spots on the Sabres but more likely will play alongside the young prospects in Portland.

"Right now we're looking at depth, obviously," Ruff said. "There are spots open. [They] could surprise you, but I think when you look at it, you're putting those guys in -- a Cowan, McCormick, guys like that -- you're looking at these players as more depth for your organization."

McCormick is 6-3, 215 pounds, Cowan is 6-2, 205 and Larsen is 6-0, 210. They add needed size to a Pirates roster that will include a pair of 5-9 guys in Paul Byron and Tyler Ennis. Ennis, one of the Sabres' two first-round picks in 2008, is still negotiating a deal.

* * *

Andrew Peters, the Sabres' enforcer the previous five seasons, is attending New Jersey's training camp and trying out for the same position with the Devils.

"I haven't signed but I'm hoping I can come here and do what I've done the last five years in Buffalo: provide that toughness that everybody needs," Peters told the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger. "My goal is to be a New Jersey Devil."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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