PITTSBURGH – Nicolas Deslauriers is used to fighting for a roster spot. In four years in the National Hockey League the defenseman turned fourth-line forward has had to make his mark each training camp.
So this year with the Buffalo Sabres under new management, fighting for a spot is nothing new. It also didn't faze him when the Sabres picked up another big, heavy, tough forward in Jordan Nolan.
Deslauriers keeps his head down, works hard, and lets the lineup fall where it may.
He made a good case for himself in his fourth preseason game Wednesday night, scoring in the second period while laying out five hits in the Sabres 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in PPG Paints Arena.
Deslauriers is coming off a career-low season with just two assists in 42 games with an average ice time of just 7:25. His goal, albeit preseason, was his first since March 18, 2016.
But camp is always a fresh start and the 26-year-old is taking advantage of the opportunity.
"For me, I think it was perfect to have a fresh start but at the same time, I think since I've been in the league the last four, five years it's always been come to camp and prove yourself, prove that you can play," Deslauriers said. "I'm trying to prove that I can bring more."
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Deslauriers looked to be the strong, domineering forward to patrol the ice for the Sabres. Then Wednesday afternoon, the team claimed Nolan, son of former coach Ted Nolan, off waivers from Los Angeles. Nolan, a 6-foot-3, 219-pound winger, plays a similar gritty game and will challenge Deslauriers for that role on the roster.
But that's nothing Deslauriers concerns himself with.
"Obviously there's going to be a lot of changes over X-amount of years," Deslauriers said. "I keep telling myself whatever happens, happens. I control what I can control. I think the teammates here are just great. When you see something happen, the head's a little down, but for me I think I'm the kind of guy who pumps up everybody. I always said I was lucky to play in the NHL and whatever happens, happens. I'm here to prove myself and let everything out on the ice."
The Sabres proved quite a bit in their 5-4 loss to the Penguins Wednesday. The team racked up 42 shots on goal. And when they found themselves in a 5-2 hole late in the third period, they pulled goaltender Chad Johnson and scored two late goals for the tight finish.
"We competed," said Sabres forward Evander Kane, who had eight hits, five shots and a goal with 20 seconds left in the game. "It was 5-2 and we did make some mistakes on those goals, but it was good to be able to make it 5-4. You know with three minutes left we didn't give them a shot on goal, which was great. We did some good things 6 on 5, so I think that was a good step."
Trailing by three goals, the Sabres pulled Johnson with 3:12 left in the game. Buffalo kept the pressure on Pittsburgh with Jacob Josefson scoring with 48 seconds left followed by Kane's goal.
While there's plenty to work on, head coach Phil Housley liked what he saw, especially the work ethic in the final minutes of the game. The goals allowed, including two on the power play, were the result of correctable mistakes. Meanwhile the intangibles that can't be taught are becoming finely tuned and were evident in the way the Sabres closed out the game.
"The mistakes that we made, we can correct," Housley said. "They're technical things and we're going to teach and we're going to get back to work tomorrow.
"I really liked that we came back and made it a tight hockey game. It's just about execution. I thought the guys did a great job and they kept competing until the end so it showed a lot of character on their part."