Nicolas Deslauriers has been in the Buffalo Sabres organization for less than a year, so there’s still a lot of learning going on for all involved.
One thing seems pretty certain: The Sabres have found a burly, on-the-edge winger who has some offensive skills.
Heading into tonight’s game against the Ottawa Senators in Canadian Tire Centre, Deslauriers has a three-game point streak (two goals, two assists). He’s coming off the best game of his NHL career in Saturday’s shootout victory over the New York Islanders and was central to the Sabres’ comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
Deslauriers scored his fourth goal of the season and added an assist via a perfect stretch pass on Zemgus Girgensons’ short-handed goal. In posting his first multipoint game in the NHL, Deslauriers led the Sabres in both shots on goal (5) and hits (5) while playing a career-high 17 minutes, 51 seconds.
“I’m not a guy who sets goals. It’s more about bringing momentum for teammates,” Deslauriers said after practice Sunday in First Niagara Center. “Linemates are important. I know it’s harder to get goals in the NHL than the AHL. My mentality is more finishing hits and if I have a chance to put one in, I’ll try to do that.”
Deslauriers, 23, is a converted defenseman who just became a full-time forward last year for Los Angeles’ Manchester farm club in the AHL. He’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 209 pounds, although he seems bigger than those figures in person and certainly plays bigger than them on the ice.
He joined the organization in March along with Hudson Fasching in a trade for Brayden McNabb. The 6-2 Fasching, currently playing for Team USA in the World Junior Championships, and Deslauriers are the kind of bulky forwards the Sabres have been lacking for many years.
Deslauriers collected 18 goals and 39 points last year for Manchester. He has four goals and 12 points in 36 games for the Sabres this season and is surprisingly fifth on the team in points. Coach Ted Nolan has been familiar with Deslauriers because his son, Jordan, was a teammate in Manchester.
What kind of offensive player can Deslauriers be? He’s still trying to figure out his ceiling.
“It’s a different game here for me,” he said. “I was at over 20 minutes in the AHL some nights, playing the point on the power play. Goalies are way better and bigger here, the game is faster. I just want to capitalize on chances when I get them.”
Playing on the third line with Brian Flynn and Drew Stafford, Deslauriers had a big bounceback game Saturday. He drew Nolan’s ire for an after-the-whistle roughing penalty that seemed to turn momentum in Detroit’s favor during Tuesday’s 6-3 loss to the Red Wings, but Nolan didn’t scratch him the next game. Instead, the coach went back to Deslauriers and got rewarded for the faith.
“I really believe that everybody makes mistakes and responds to it certain ways,” Nolan said. “Deslauriers is one of those guys who seems to be able to forget about it and move on.”
“I learned that in the AHL that when I had a bad shift or a bad game to not leave it in your mind too long,” Deslauriers said. “Be ready for the next shift when it comes or the next day. It felt good to have a three-day break. ... I felt it was my ‘A’ game.”
Deslauriers’ goal was a quick snap shot from the slot that snaked through goaltender Kevin Poulin and gave him goals in back-to-back games. But he was really thrilled with his pass that sent away Girgensons for the goal that turned the game in Buffalo’s favor.
“The crowd was absolutely roaring in here after that,” he said. “It was awesome. I saw it open up and I just waited for him to really be in the spot where I gave him time to be between the two Ds. I made the pass and he outbattled their guy. Great effort.
“A lot of guys were saying I looked like a D-man out there. That’s something I guess I have some ability to do with the long passes from playing on the back end.”
Deslauriers has proved he can hit and throw punches as well as anyone on the team. But forwards on the bottom two lines also need to be able to play with the puck and produce offense in the changing NHL. His ability to do that seems to have him ticketed for a future spot on this roster.
“Championship teams are built with your third and fourth lines being able to contribute offensively and play a strong defensive game,” Nolan said. “The one thing we’ve been doing with him is a little bit more penalty killing. The goals are nice obviously, but if he becomes that good, solid third-line or fourth-line guy for you that can contribute, it’s a great find.”