For better or worse, Sean Malone is used to playing catch-up.
He spent two summers undergoing hip surgery and the ensuing rehabilitation process, hampering the starts to his junior and senior collegiate seasons at Harvard.
Malone thought all that was behind him after participating in the Buffalo Sabres development camp in July. But injury got the best of him again, and Malone sat out the Prospects Challenge, training camp, and the start of the season.
While he's behind on the learning curve, he's back in the lineup. Malone has now played five games with the Rochester Americans and is working his way into the lineup in his first full season as a pro hockey player.
"You can see improvement," Rochester coach Chris Taylor said about Malone. "He's by far behind the eight ball, behind everybody else with missing prospect camp and training camp and the start of the season. ... It's definitely tough. Everybody's got a head start on you. They've got games, they've worked hard all summer for it. He battled back hard and these last few games has played really well. I'm happy with his development."
Saturday night in Rochester, Malone played his fifth game of the season on the fourth line with Dalton Smith and Adam Krause. Through those five games, he has one shot on goal and two minutes worth of penalties as he searches for his first professional point.
"I'm just really getting back in the swing of things," Malone said. "I had a lot of time off with injury. It's always hard coming back from being out for a while. I'm in a new environment with new people. I think it's going pretty well. I've been getting better and better each game."
That's Malone's approach, one step at a time. The West Seneca native was drafted by the Sabres in the sixth round (159th overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The 22-year-old went on to play four seasons at Harvard where he dealt with his nagging hip injury.
His senior season was a breakout year. Malone set career highs in goals (18), assists (24) and points (42) while helping the Crimson to the ECAC Championship, the Ivy League Championship, the Beanpot title, and a run to the semifinals at the Frozen Four.
When that was done, he signed his two-year, entry-level contract with the Sabres and made his NHL debut on April 8, tallying one shot over 12 minutes of ice time in a 3-0 Sabres loss at the Florida Panthers.
Malone had a solid summer of training for the first time in two years. But injury struck again. Under the care of the medical and training staff in the Sabres organization, Malone was able to return to the ice faster than planned and so far feels good.
"Fortunately for me I have a good staff here working with me and I was able to get back a lot sooner than expected so I'm happy with the way things turned out," Malone said, adding that the challenges along the way only strengthen his resolve to play.
"Physically and mentally it's always tough taking a lot of time off," Malone said. "You want to be out there, you want to be competing for a spot at training camp and unfortunately I wasn't able to do that. But I'm just happy to be playing right now. I put a lot of work in to get here. I've dealt with it in the past so I've learned from my past experiences and try to stay positive."
Rochester Americans: The Amerks took four out of a possible six points this past week. Rookie C.J. Smith enters the week tied for the team lead in scoring while ranking 11th among all AHL rookies with six points (two goals, four assists) in his first eight games.
In other Amerks injury news, Alexander Nylander still has yet to play a game this season, but coach Chris Taylor said the forward has been skating.
"Just a lower body (injury) and he's getting there," Taylor said. "He's skating. He's on target where we expect him to be back hopefully soon."
Rochester plays four of its next five games on the road, starting Wednesday at Utica. The team returns to Blue Cross Arena to host the Hershey Bears on Nov. 3 then returns to Utica Nov. 4 with two games at Belleville Nov. 10-11.
Vojtech Budik (defense, Prince Albert Raiders): Has one goal and three assists through 13 games.
Brandon Hagel (forward, Red Deer Rebels): On a seven-game point streak with two goals and eight assists over that span. Through 14 games he has 18 points with one power play goal.
Cliff Pu (forward, London Knights): Had a three-point night Oct. 27 in London's 8-2 win over the Flint Firebirds. Pu had a power-play goal, which proved to be the game-winner, and two assists. In 14 games he has 10 points (three goals, seven assists).
Austin Osmanski (defense, Peterborough Petes): The East Aurora native has three assists in his last four games. Through 15 games he has eight points, already tying his mark from last season.
Vasily Glotov (forward, Shawinigan Cataractes): Finished October with eight goals and three assists during the month. That includes a three-goal performance on Oct. 22 in a 7-4 win over the Moncton Wildcats.
William Borgen (defense, St. Cloud State): The junior has four assists to start the season as the Huskies are off to a 5-0-0 start.
Christopher Brown (forward, Boston College): Scored a power play goal, the only BC tally of the game, in a 6-1 loss to Denver on Oct. 28. Brown has two goals and one assist as the Eagles are off to a 1-5-1 start.
Jacob Bryson (defense, Providence): The sophomore had an assist and six shots on goal in the Friars 3-0 win over Boston University. He has five assists for Providence (5-2-o).
Ivan Chukarov (defense, UMass): Will be out for four to six weeks with an upper body injury. He enters his junior year at UMass with five career goals and 11 points over 72 games.
Casey Fitzgerald (defense, Boston College): Assisted on Christopher Brown's power play goal in a 6-1 loss to Denver on Oct. 28. Leads the Eagles in points with five (two goals, three assists) as BC is on a four-game losing streak.
Connor Hurley (forward, Minnesota): After three seasons at Notre Dame, Hurley transferred to the University of Minnesota. He will sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules and have one year of college eligibility left for the 2018-19 season. In 98 career games for the Fighting Irish, Hurley had 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists).
Casey Mittelstadt (forward, Minnesota): Had a three-assist weekend for the Gophers as they swept Clarkson Oct. 27-28. Mittelstadt is second on Minnesota in scoring with seven points (two goals, five assists) in seven games.
Brett Murray (forward, Penn State): The sophomore has one assist in seven games for the Nittany Lions, who are 4-4-0.
Philip Nyberg (defense, UConn): Was injured in the season opener against Maine and has missed the last seven games with a lower body injury.
Judd Peterson (forward, St. Cloud State): The senior has five assists in five games as the Huskies are off to a 5-0-0 start.
Linus Weissbach (forward, Wisconsin): A native of Sweden, the 19-year-old freshman has three goals and two assist through seven games. He missed this past weekend's series with St. Lawrence with an upper body injury.
Maxwell Willman (forward, Brown): Began his senior season by picking up two assists as Brown split its opening weekend with Yale.
Rasmus Asplund (forward, Farjestad BK): Has three goals and six assists in 15 games.
Marcus Davidsson (forward, Djurgardens): Has one goal and three assists in 12 games games in the Swedish Hockey League. He has three goals and an assist in three games played with the Djurgadens Under-20 team in the SuperElit League.
Oskari Laaksonen (defense, Ilves): Has seven assists and one goal in 20 games in the Under-20 league (Jr. A SM-Liiga).
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (goalie, LeKi): In 10 games he has a 2.90 goals against average and a .911 save percentage.
Victor Olofsson (forward, Frolounda HC): Has six goals and three assists in 14 games in the Swedish Hockey League.