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Sabres' Rodrigues hopes increased speed gives him a leg up

Evan Rodrigues takes pride in his self-evaluation. He's a speedy player, but he knew he needed to get even faster to earn a spot with the Sabres.

When he got back to Boston during the summer, he joined Jack Eichel and a few other former college teammates for off-ice workouts. Their trainer designed a program to build leg strength, and the group bought in.

"That was the one thing I really put all my focus in this summer," Rodrigues said Monday after recording two assists in Buffalo's 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. "It's the new-age NHL. It's speed. That's what it is.

"Guys used to be able to skate up the wing 100 mph and put the puck in the net. Now they can do that, but they can make plays at the same time. You've got to be able to keep up."

Rodrigues was often a step ahead during the Sabres' preseason opener. The center position is crowded, and the performance was needed for him to have a shot at opening night in Buffalo.

"He's been terrific, not only in this game," coach Phil Housley said in KeyBank Center. "His work ethic has been really, really good. You could see tonight he's very poised with the puck. His lateral movement is really good. He had some quality chances. He made a heck of a play on that first goal."

As the puck-carrier on a two-on-one, Rodrigues faked out the defenseman and fed Seth Griffith to make it 1-1. His second assist came when he sprung defensemen Taylor Fedun and Jake McCabe on a rush that McCabe finished.

The two helpers equaled the number he recorded in 30 games with Buffalo last season.

"It'll be nice to look at him as we move through the training camp," Housley said. "I liked what he brought to the game."

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Rodrigues, who was a restricted free agent, signed a two-year deal during the summer. While the second season pays $650,000 no matter where he plays, the first year is a two-way deal. He'll make $650,000 in Buffalo and $225,000 in Rochester, according to

Money is a factor in who stays and who goes down, but Rodrigues hopes his faster wheels are a bigger factor.

"A lot of it was just explosive power squats, dead lifts, a lot of lighter weight and quicker bursts," he said. "I think that's helped my first few steps a lot, and once I kind of get those few steps under my belt I feel like I can get going pretty good."

Rodrigues' competition for a center spot includes Johan Larsson and Jacob Josefson. His versatility can help. He's spent much of the last few years at left wing, and Housley said he may try Rodrigues there, too.

At the moment, he's not favored for a starting job in Buffalo, but that's nothing new.

"I've always been an underdog my whole life," said the 5-foot-10, 183-pounder. "Didn’t really get drafted, was a smaller guy.

"I'm starting to catch up. My pace is there. My speed is there. My strength is there. I've always felt like I have a brain for the game, so I'm just trying to show that to the people in the stands and do what it takes."

More importantly, he's trying to show the new bosses.

"This is such a competitive league that even if you have the same coach or the same management you always have to prove yourself," Rodrigues said. "If you kind of relax and take it easy a little bit, there's a guy right behind you wanting to take your spot.

"I'm just coming into this trying to prove myself again, trying to show that I deserve to be on this team and doing whatever it takes."

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