Marc-Andre Gragnani spent last summer preparing to play for the Buffalo Sabres this season, but an injury on the opening day of training camp quickly derailed those plans. He finally got his chance to wear Blue and Gold on Thursday night in Boston, and he walked into TD Garden eager to prove he should stay with the Sabres.
"I've got to do what they ask," he said. "Whatever they need me to do or ask me to do, I'll try my best and hopefully they'll be happy and keep me around."
It took Gragnani about one second to show he really would do whatever the Sabres ask.
The defenseman said he was told in the morning he would make his NHL season debut as a forward, a position he hadn't played all season with the Portland Pirates. He had a brief run upfront for the minor-league club last year, but he's hardly accustomed to straying from his blue-line role.
"As long as I get a chance I'm happy. I'm not going to complain," said the 23-year-old, who played his seventh NHL game. "It's always like the first time you get called up. You're excited like a little kid."
Gragnani practiced as a forward during the morning and pregame skates, but once the game started he returned to his normal blue-line spot as the Sabres' seventh defenseman. The Sabres used 11 forwards.
The Sabres are thin upfront because they returned center Luke Adam to Portland this week and are without injured right wing Drew Stafford (groin). Rather than call up a center or winger, they went with Gragnani because he's been playing well. He has seven goals and 30 points in 38 games with the Pirates.
"There were a couple recommendations, but Marc's name was right near the top," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who used Gragnani on the power play. "I just want to see him play. We feel like it's his opportunity.
"You try different things. It's not whether we like it or not. We're looking at if he plays defense maybe he can add a little offense to our game five-on-five. Power play, maybe he can add a strength we don't have."
Gragnani finished with two shots on goal and one penalty in 13:17 of ice time.
Gragnani is in his fourth season with the organization. He played two games for the Sabres in 2007-08 and four the next season. The offensive-minded blue-liner was expected to push for a spot with the big club until the knee injury sidelined him.
"Physically it was a month, and then mentally probably two months," Gragnani said. "You work all summer and then you get to training camp and the first day you're out for a month and there's nothing you can do about it but rehab. That was hard, but I got over it and I'm feeling good right now."
Stafford injured his groin early in Tuesday's 2-1 overtime victory over Montreal. He is also expected to miss tonight's home game against the New York Islanders in HSBC Arena. He skated in a noncontact sweater during the Sabres' optional morning skate.
"It was fine," Stafford said. "Just went for a twirl, just trying to get on the ice to test it out. It's better. I'm making progress. It's just one of those things I want to take care of it so it's not nagging."
The right winger has been productive when healthy, with 15 goals and 23 points in 30 games. He has missed 16 games with shoulder and groin injuries.
"I'm not throwing my hands up and saying, 'Woe is me,' " Stafford said. "I'll just take care of it and hopefully be back sooner than later."