The Buffalo Sabres finalized their opening night roster Tuesday and, as expected, their most unlikely choice at forward is free-agent signee Seth Griffith.
Griffith, who split time last year between Toronto, Florida and the minors, saw time on the top line in the third period of Friday's preseason finale against the New York Islanders. He was back with Jack Eichel and Evander Kane at practice Sunday and skated Tuesday in HarborCenter with Sam Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons.
"I think every day you've still got to prove yourself, prove your worth and work hard," said Griffith, 24. "At the same time, I think we're getting ready to get a season going here. We want to come out strong.
"In the preseason games I've played a lot more here than I have in the past and I was able to show my abilities on the ice. I was always confident in what I could do but I'm grateful they gave me the opportunity so I could show them."
Griffith had no goals in 24 NHL games last year between Toronto and Florida. He had 10 goals and 44 points in 38 games for the Toronto Marlies and had nine points in seven playoff games for the Leafs' top affiliate.
He said he didn't waste a lot of thought on the roster decision, which was made easier by the injuries suffered by Alex Nylander and Sean Malone, as well as the ineffectiveness of Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste and Hudson Fasching.
"I just tried to bring my confidence the first day of camp," said Griffith, who had a goal and an assist in four preseason games. "I tried not to think about it too much. Camp is a long process. I tried not to think about it, just come to the rink every day and work hard and not dwell on the day I had or line combinations."
The Sabres assigned Nylander and Malone to Rochester. Neither player participated in training camp, as Malone reported injured and Nylander was hurt in the first game of the team's Prospects Challenge. The team got down to the 23-man roster limit by placing defenseman Justin Falk and forward Evan Rodrigues on injured reserve.
Nylander, in particular, lost out at a chance to make the club out of camp with the injury. Last year's No. 1 pick looked strong at summer development camp but never got into competition for one of the open slots on the wing.
Malone, the West Seneca native who made his NHL debut in April after joining the club from Harvard, was likely ticketed for Rochester this season. Nylander has an undisclosed lower-body injury while Malone has been dealing with a hip problem.
The final roster looks like this:
Goalies (2): Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson.
Defense (8): Rasmus Ristolainen, Nathan Beaulieu, Jake McCabe, Victor Antipin, Marco Scandella, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Matt Tennyson.
Forward (13): Evander Kane, Jack Eichel, Jason Pominville, Kyle Okposo, Ryan O'Reilly, Benoit Pouliot, Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart, Seth Griffith, Johan Larsson, Jacob Josefson, Jordan Nolan, Matt Moulson.
According to CapFriendly.com, the Sabres' cap payroll is just over $69.5 million and the team has slightly more than $5.4 million in cap room.
The shuffles on defense caused by injuries continued on Tuesday:
* McCabe returned to the ice and practiced for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury Sept. 22 in Toronto.
"Today's practice was a good measure," said coach Phil Housley. "There was a lot of battling and competing. He looked great out there. Good to see him being engaged and testing it out."
"I'm feeling good. Today was a good day," McCabe said.
* Scandella continued to practice fully, making it multiple days in a row on the ice for him on the road back from offseason hip surgery. Scandella did not play in an exhibition game, as a hedge against any further trouble cropping up so he would be ready for the opener.
"I think Marco has been doing great," Housley said. "We said it was going to be a process with him and his progress is going in a great direction. The last two practices were pretty intense. There was a lot of battle and he did great out there so that's promising."
** Bogosian seems to be in danger of missing the opener. He suffered a lower-body injury in the third period of Friday's game against the New York Islanders and hasn't been seen since. Meanwhile, Falk was apparently injured in practice Sunday and did not skate Tuesday.
McCabe skated on the second pair with Antipin while Scandella was on the No. 3 pair as Gorges and Tennyson rotated. The top unit was Ristolainen with Beaulieu.
Final preseason numbers: Eichel led the Sabres with four points, including a team-high three assists. Pominville was the only player to score two goals. Kane was the leader in shots on goal with 14. Lehner had a 2.29 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in goal over three games. Backup Johnson was at 3.71 and .882 in his two games. Rochester starter Linus Ullmark had a 1.48 GAA and .956 save percentage while playing 81 minutes over two games.
Moulson will continue to be the benefactor for the Tickets for Troops program, providing a pair of seats to a miliary member each home game of the season. In addition, Original Pizza Logs will also donate four 100-level tickets to a local veteran who will be recognized on the ice prior to the national anthem.
Moulson’s seats are also located in the 100s and each soldier recognized will receive a Sabres jersey. All active or veteran military personnel are eligible. Fans can register for either program at Sabres.com.