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Ennis moved by shift; Sabres' fast forward enjoyed switch to center

There's still no getting around the facts. Tyler Ennis remains a terrible, terrible mini-stick player.

Thankfully for Ennis and the Sabres, the team has finally found a position in hockey at which he excels.

The decision to switch Ennis from left wing to center in late January stands out as one of the Sabres' top moves of the 2011-12 season. He added depth to a position that desperately needed it. He became an offensive catalyst who enjoyed the defensive responsibilities that accompany the pivot position.

Ennis enters the offseason as a top-six forward who has the ability to grow into a first-line force.

"It was a lot of fun for me," he said. "Every game was just enjoyable. It was just a confidence builder, too, because I felt like my game just kind of rounded out. I had the puck a lot more than I did at wing. I had more touches. I was breaking the play out. I was kind of controlling the play. That's what I wanted. I just really enjoyed it."

Success, of course, is something to be enjoyed. Ennis had plenty. He needed seven games to get used to the position, but from there he looked like a natural.

In his 26 games in the middle, Ennis put up 27 points, recording 11 goals and 16 assists. Other centers in the point-per-game category include Ottawa's Jason Spezza, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos and Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin.

Most of Ennis' points came during his 13 games in the middle of left wing Marcus Foligno and right wing Drew Stafford. Ennis had eight goals and 11 assists as the linemates combined for an astonishing 21 goals and 49 points in just more than a dozen games.

One of the most important traits of a successful center for coach Lindy Ruff is the ability to play well at both ends of the ice. Ennis finished at plus-11, the highest plus/minus on the Sabres.

Ruff said multiple times the line was successful because it got trapped in its own end so long that the opponents got tired out. He was only half-joking. One thing that wasn't a laughing matter to foes was the ability of the Ennis line to create odd-man rushes.

"A lot of our goals that he's created have come from our D-zone faceoffs, where they've been able to play in their end a little bit and obviously come out of our end with speed and creativity," said Ruff, who wasn't sure the move to center would work but fully embraced it with assignments against potent forwards. "There's no hiding him. I haven't tried to hide him. I think he's played pretty well."

Ennis has not, however, played well during the mini-stick games at the house of teammate Nathan Gerbe. The wiry Ennis, listed at 5-foot-9 and 157 pounds, doesn't cover enough of even a small knee hockey net to be successful. Gerbe routinely smoked him, and teammate Cody Hodgson joined in handing out regular beatings.

"I don't think I've won a game," Ennis said. "I really don't."

The 22-year-old is heading home to Edmonton and will try to put on weight, something that should benefit him in ice and carpet hockey. He also wants to work on faceoffs now that draws will be a regular assignment. He won just 45.9 percent.

"I'm going to have to work a lot on faceoffs," he said. "I think I can really focus on it. It's kind of like a science to it. I can learn a lot about it. It's kind of new to me."

The center had two other new experiences, neither of which he'd like to endure again. He's not accustomed to missing the playoffs, and he wasn't used to missing games. Ennis played only 48 games because of left ankle sprains.

"It was a tough injury," he said. "It was a good perspective for me to watch the game from the top and see how important it is to just play with energy. I tried when I came back just to play as hard as I could and try to make a difference.

"Confidence is a big part. When I came back I just felt fast and felt like I could make a difference. That's the way I'm going to have to play from here on out."