Alexander Sulzer spent nearly five seasons trying to fit in with an NHL team. After getting dealt to the Buffalo Sabres in February, the defenseman finally found his match.
The Sabres felt the connection, too.
Sulzer and the Sabres have agreed to a one-year contract extension worth $725,000. Sulzer, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, earned $700,000 last season while splitting time between Vancouver and Buffalo.
His season took off when he was shipped to the Sabres with center Cody Hodgson for right wing Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani at the trade deadline. Sulzer had been a healthy scratch for more than six weeks for the Canucks, but an injury allowed him to join the Buffalo lineup.
He responded by playing 15 games for the Sabres, recording three goals, eight points and a plus-2 rating. Sulzer, who turns 28 next week, spent most of his time skating alongside fellow German Olympian Christian Ehrhoff.
"He fit in well," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier said Monday in First Niagara Center. "He played very well with Christian. I think the other thing you really noticed is his composure out there, his ability to not only break up plays, which is the most important thing defensively, but to make plays offensively and the patience that he showed.
"We were surprised, pleasantly surprised, with his play."
The 6-foot-1, 204-pound Sulzer has played 89 NHL games with Nashville, Florida, Vancouver and Buffalo. He has four goals, 12 assists and 16 points.
The signing gives the Sabres eight defensemen under contract for next season: Tyler Myers, Robyn Regehr, Ehrhoff, Jordan Leopold, Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber, Brayden McNabb and Sulzer. Blue-liner T.J. Brennan will be a restricted free agent.
"It allows us to not only look at our defense, and we feel comfortable there, but it gives us an opportunity to look at the movement maybe up front as well," Regier said.
The GM said the Sabres have or will tender qualifying offers to all their restricted free agents, including center Tyler Ennis. Pending RFA center Paul Szczechura has signed to play in the Czech Republic.
The center position will continue to draw the attention of Regier.
"The right center ice is a priority," he said. "The real unknown here is what the trade market will hold. Nothing has started. It doesn't get started until after the playoffs. Teams begin to talk, and then it really builds as you go into the draft. It's tough to know what will be available, but if we can find the right centerman it would help."
The Sabres' top three centers are Ennis, Cody Hodgson and Derek Roy, who is entering the final year of his contract.
"We expect him back at this point," Regier said, "and we expect him to have a good season at this point."