Thomas Vanek spent the first nine seasons of his National Hockey League career with the Buffalo Sabres.
Since then, he's been on a nomadic hockey adventure which seems to have landed him in the right place at the right time with the Detroit Red Wings. The forward entered Friday’s game in KeyBank Center on a seven-game point streak with five goals and five assists in that span, proving he still has the offensive touch that Sabres fans loved watching.
“We’re talking about some of the softest, most velvety hands in the league,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said about Vanek Friday morning. “He can make plays, he can dish it. … On their power play right now he’s making plays, he’s dangerous and I don’t think that’s changed over the past couple years. He’s, I think, brought into Detroit to be that kind of player for them and he is.”
Vanek was tied for the team lead in points with 31, and that includes missing 11 games with a lower-body injury from Oct. 27 to Nov. 18.
“Everybody in Buffalo knows he’s a real talented player,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “The thing he brings to our table is he’s got size. We don’t have lots of that type of size and skill combination. He’s scored goals. He’s made plays. What we’ve liked about him, for me he’s been a big-time winner. He’s played the right way the majority of the time. When he hasn’t, I’ve showed him and he’s held himself accountable. He wants to win more than anything else. I think he’s been excellent for us. He’s been an excellent leader for some of our young players. He’s made sure they hold themselves accountable. He’s been a real bright spot for us.”
The fit with the Red Wings has been good for Vanek. He said the Detroit system has him playing closer to the net, especially on the power play, and has given him license to use his creativity.
It’s a better situation than his time with Minnesota Wild. Vanek went back to the Minnesota in 2014, 10 years after he made his North American mark playing collegiate hockey with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Last year he had a career-low 18 goals and the Wild bought out his contract, allowing him to sign with Detroit. But Vanek has no regrets about his time with the Wild.
“It’s fine. I tried it,” Vanek said. “Looking back you always make mistakes but again it’s something I wanted to do. I’m glad I did it even though it didn’t work out. But again, that’s part of the business. I understand it. No hard feelings there.”
There are certainly no hard feelings with Buffalo, a city and organization he still raves about. Vanek was traded in 2013 to the New York Islanders, where he played on the top line with Kyle Okposo, now with the Sabres. Vanek went from the Islanders to Montreal to Minnesota to Detroit. The journey opened his eyes to new things in the hockey world.
“The only thing that’s changed is I’ve made a lot more friends over the years,” Vanek said about the number of moves in the last four years. “Buffalo is awesome. I always say it to other people. Before Kyle signed here I talked to him. I said you’re going to love it. It’s a great place. Did I want to leave? No. But again at the time I just didn’t know which direction the franchise was going. I had a few questions. None of them got answered so I guess I was selfish and wanted to move on.
“Again, it hasn’t been easy but it has opened my eyes in a few different things on how different organizations run things. I think it will benefit me once I’m done with my playing career and moving forward.”
Matt Moulson didn’t even realize he was approaching his 600th NHL game until his wife mentioned something to him earlier this week.
“I think we’re very fortunate to be able to play in the NHL for a living,” Moulson said Friday morning in KeyBank Center. “It’s something you grow up dreaming of and I don’t think you really appreciate it I guess until you’re a little older. ... As you get older you understand how fortunate you are to play in the NHL no matter how you got here. I think little milestones along the way are always special.”
It took Moulson a few seasons to find his NHL footing. Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003, he played out his four-year collegiate career at Cornell and signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings. He spent his first pro season with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League and vividly remembers his first NHL game with the Kings against the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 7, 2007.
“I was lucky enough to score in my first game getting called up against San Jose,” Moulson said. “I think that’s always a moment when you realize what you’ve worked for up until that point has finally come. I still remember getting called into,” head coach “Mark Morris’ office in Manchester. I thought he was going to yell at me to be honest. He told me I was getting called up. I don’t think I ever smiled so much with anything to do with hockey than that day getting called up.”
With Tyler Ennis back in the lineup, Nicolas Deslauriers was a healthy scratch for the second time in the last three games. Deslauriers missed 19 games this season with a knee injury.
“It’s always difficult to scratch players, not put them in the lineup,” Bylsma said. “Nic in particular is a guy who had some injury situation and worked his way back and he’s been in and out of the lineup but you can only put 12 in there and Nic, while effective at some points in some situations, he’s not going to be in there tonight.”
The Ottawa Senators announced they were shutting down forward Clarke MacArthur for the season. The 31-year old has been dealing with symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. His latest concussion came during a training camp scrimmage in September. It was his fourth concussion in 18 months.
Senators’ General Manager Pierre Dorion told reporters traveling with the team that “Clarke is devastated by this news. He didn't have any symptoms. We all thought Clarke was going to play, including me ... so this came to us as a bit of a shock."