Tyler Ennis knows what kind of player he can be. He also knows who the Sabres have asked him to be. Usually, that’s not the same guy.
Right now, however, everyone sees an identical player. It’s up to Ennis to keep it that way.
After long nights on the fourth line, Ennis is back up top for Buffalo. He’s scheduled to skate with center Jack Eichel and left wing Ryan O’Reilly on Monday when the Sabres visit Detroit. The trio also played together Friday during a 2-1 shootout victory in Anaheim.
“When you see you’re playing with Jack and Ryan, it gives you a little excitement,” Ennis said Sunday in HarborCenter. “I’ve got to make the most of it.”
It’s an opportunity that hasn’t come for Ennis lately. During the 17-game stretch from Feb. 11 in Toronto to Thursday in Los Angeles, the right winger skated just 10:08 per game. That included fourth-line nights of 6:04, 6:19 and 7:35 with linemates such as Derek Grant and Nicolas Deslauriers.
During Ennis’ limited minutes, not much happened. He has no points in the last 11 games and no goals in the last 16, leaving him stuck at four goals and five assists in 41 outings.
“It doesn’t get any more frustrating than that,” said Ennis, whose season was interrupted by sports hernia/groin surgery. “It’s been a tough go, but there’s a lot worse things in life. You’ve got to work yourself out of any rut you’re in. You’ve got to work yourself out of any situation you’re in.
“I can’t complain right now. I’m with Jack and Ryan.”
The players are expected to provide offense for a team that has totaled two goals in the last three games. Offense is what Ennis expects out of himself, but it wasn’t Job One when he was skating on the fourth line. He hasn’t handled those differing mindsets well.
“The toughest thing this year is just finding a common ground between playing how I think I can play, how I should play personally, and how if I’m on the fourth line I should play,” Ennis said. “I’m a player that I think brings a lot of creativity, skill, offense. In certain situations like on the fourth line, you have to focus on getting it in and getting it out and simplifying your game. Simplifying has probably been difficult for me.
“When you’re not playing as much and things aren’t going as well, it can be tough. You want to go out there and do what you know you can do. That’s been the toughest part.”
Ennis feels better after skating 17:17 against the Ducks, his highest total since he got 17:37 during the season opener.
“It was nice to play a lot of minutes and kind of get in that groove of things again,” he said. “You’ve got to dig yourself out of whatever rut you’re in, believe in yourself, know that you’re a better player, know that you can contribute a lot, know that you’re a really great player. That’s the mindset that I have.”
Ennis took just one shot Friday, but coach Dan Bylsma saw things he liked.
“I saw some work,” Bylsma said. “I saw some compete. I saw some tenacity on the puck. That’s what he needs to keep doing here with the time he gets.”
Time is a big thing with Ennis. He knows it may be running short.
This is his eighth season in Buffalo, and he has two years left on his contract. He professed his love for the organization and city prior to the trade deadline. He did it again Sunday, but he also admitted to wondering about life elsewhere after those nights nailed to the bench.
“That’s the fine line you have between the loyalty you have to a team and a city, and the loyalty that you have to yourself,” Ennis said. “I want to do whatever I can to help the team. There’s nothing I want more – and there’s nothing I’ve wanted more since the day I put a Sabres jersey on – than to win a Stanley Cup for this city. It’s only grown every day since I’ve been here, getting to know the people, being in the community. I know how desperately this city needs a Cup and how fun it would be to have a celebration in this town."
There won't be a Cup this spring, but Ennis will have a chance to turn around a disappointing season during the last 10 games.
“My plan," Ennis said, "is to get better and dig myself out of it, and enjoy playing with Ryan and Jack.”