OTTAWA – William Carrier had already gone to bed when his phone rang at midnight. The call telling him he was headed to the NHL was so good that he woke everyone else up, too.
The Sabres recalled Carrier from Rochester early Friday morning, and the 21-year-old is expected to make his NHL debut Saturday when Buffalo visits the Ottawa Senators. The Quebec native will be only a couple of hours from home, so most of the family members he called in the middle of the night will make the journey to Canadian Tire Centre.
Carrier will get his initial big-league look after scoring three times in the Amerks’ opening seven games, including the last two.
“It’s great, especially early in the season,” Carrier said after practice in KeyBank Center. “I had a good start in Rochester, so it’s pretty fun.”
The Sabres thought enough of Carrier’s potential to acquire him in the trade that sent Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to St. Louis. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound winger was one of the stars of development camp and the prospects tournament, but he couldn’t carry it into the preseason.
“You’re always disappointed when you don’t make the team out of training camp, but I proved myself down there, practiced hard, had a good start, and now I’m back here,” Carrier said.
In addition to the scoring touch, Carrier is responsible defensively (he led the Amerks at plus-14 last season) and plays with an edge. He practiced as the left winger for center Derek Grant and right wing Nicholas Baptiste.
“Will’s been playing the best and really been demanding a call-up with his play,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “What I like about his game is speed and tenacity. He’s been a hard, physical guy and has been a guy that’s had a presence at the net.”
The Sabres sent left wing Justin Bailey back to Rochester after two games. Bailey skated just 7:02 during Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Toronto, recording one shot attempt and one hit.
Bylsma said the 21-year-old simply didn’t play to expectations.
“It would seem odd that you send a guy down if that wasn’t the case,” the coach said.
Left wing Evander Kane skated on his own for the fourth straight day in his comeback from cracked ribs. He may return to the lineup next week.
“He’s skated now four days quite hard, quite extensively, got good conditioning in his skates,” Bylsma said. “He’s added some physicality to it, and he needs to continue to add more of that to see how he’s going to feel and react to the physicality.
“He’s going to be dealing with some discomfort and pain coming back from it. … It can be with you for a while.”
Fellow injured forward Jack Eichel watched practice from the stands. He’s been out three weeks with a high-ankle sprain that is expected to sideline him for up to eight weeks.
“He’s been really quite good, quite patient about his recovery,” Bylsma said. “He’s with the team every day. He’s been at practice multiple times, sitting in the stands and watching, but he also understands he’s got some time with this injury.
“We know it’s going to take time, but I like seeing him in the stands. I like having him around. I like his focus is wanting to get back here, wanting to get back as part of the group.”
Goaltender Robin Lehner will likely play at least 10 of the Sabres’ 14 games in November. The former Ottawa netminder is 3-3-1 with a .922 save percentage and 2.30 goals-against average. Anders Nilsson (1-1-1, .937, 1.95) will get three or four starts.
“They’ve done a very good job of netminding for us,” Bylsma said, “really giving us a chance almost every night to win a game.”