TORONTO – A preseason concussion deprived Johan Larsson of showing folks in Buffalo whether he was ready to claim an NHL spot. He can show the fans tonight.
Larsson will lead the Rochester Americans into First Niagara Center for an American Hockey League game against Hamilton. The 22-year-old is tied at the top of the Amerks’ scoring list with three goals and eight points in eight games.
Larsson, acquired in the 2013 trade that sent Jason Pominville to Minnesota, split last season between Buffalo and Rochester. In 28 games with the Sabres, he put up just four assists. He shined in Rochester with 15 goals and 41 points in 51 games, and he’s boosted that pace in the early going.
Larsson, who can play left wing or center, was expected to compete for a forward spot in Buffalo until suffering the concussion against Toronto in the fourth exhibition game.
Another name familiar to Sabres fans is tied with Larsson for the Amerks’ scoring lead. Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel has reached the score sheet in all eight games, recording six assists and eight points.
Two of the top prospects in the Sabres’ organization – first-round picks Mikhail Grigorenko (2012) and Joel Armia (2011) – have been playing together. Armia has two goals and five points in six games, while Grigorenko has three goals and four points.
“They’re here to learn to play the right way,” Amerks coach Chadd Cassidy said. “They have to learn the consistency and how hard it is to create offense.”
The Amerks (4-2) are in second place in the Western Conference’s North Division, one spot ahead of the 2-2-2 Bulldogs.
A large portion of Toronto fans moved Josh Gorges up their most-hated list when he refused a trade to the Maple Leafs during the summer. Those fans were not in Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night.
In contrast to the rude welcomes that accompany foes or former players in Buffalo, not a peep was made when Gorges touched the puck for the Sabres. The defenseman chose Buffalo over Toronto when Montreal decided to trade him, and he stands by the decision. He couldn’t envision himself giving his all for the enemy.
“I really honestly believe that,” Gorges said. “The only reason I ever got to this league is because I had to be a ‘heart and soul, give everything I’ve got every time I’m on the ice’ type of player.
“Could I have given that to Toronto? Maybe over time, but I don’t think I could have done it right away, and it wouldn’t have been fair to them.
“I believe every day you come to work you give everything you’ve got. Win, lose or draw, at least you can feel good about yourself with what you’ve done. If I come to a team where I don’t feel like I’ve given everything I’ve got, how do I feel at the end of the day? It’s not a good feeling.”
Sabres rookie Sam Reinhart played his eighth NHL game, leaving him with one more tryout before his entry-level contract kicks in. The clock will start ticking on Reinhart’s three-year deal if he appears in a 10th game.
The Sabres can return the 18-year-old to his junior team before then, which would slide the start of his contract to next season. Coach Ted Nolan said no decision has been made by General Manager Tim Murray about the fate of the second overall draft pick.
“Not yet,” Nolan said. “We’ll sit down with Tim in a little bit, and we’ll decide then.”
Edmonton has decided to keep forward Leon Draisaitl, the No. 3 pick. First overall pick Aaron Ekblad is the only other 2014 selection to appear in the NHL.
The Sabres have been conducting optional morning skates on game days, but Nolan made a point of putting everyone on the ice Tuesday. The coach noticed sluggishness during the Sabres’ Monday practice, their first after spending six days on the West Coast.
“Hopefully, that will get the jet lag out of us,” Nolan said.
There are a lot of benefits to playing in hockey-mad Toronto. There are drawbacks, too, especially if the Maple Leafs are losing.
Center Joffrey Lupul’s weekend plans took a hit after Boston embarrassed the Leafs, 4-1, Saturday.
“You don’t feel like doing too much in this city when you have a poor performance like Saturday,” Lupul said. “I would have loved to go out and watch football and have a beer on Sunday, but I had to do that from my couch. It’s never a good feeling.”