It might not happen out of training camp, but Jean-Sebastien Dea is a good bet to play with the Sabres this season. And when he's not in Buffalo, the 25-year old figures to be one of the main cogs at center for the Rochester Amerks.
If the Sabres want an upgrade of speed and skill to their bottom six forwards, Dea could be an answer. Particularly if he makes an impact in exhibition games.
"My role in the NHL won't be a goal scorer and I know that," the 5-foot-11 Dea said after practice Monday in KeyBank Center. "Even if I don't play on the first two lines, I can still bring a lot of speed and bring offense and play with energy.
"Those games will be very important for guys like me. I'm excited to play in them. Practices are good to see that you're in shape, but now it's game on and I'm excited for the challenge."
Dea is expected to get his first chance in the Buffalo lineup Tuesday night when the Sabres travel to meet the Columbus Blue Jackets in Nationwide Arena. Dea, who also can play right wing, has been on a line with Scott Wilson and Arttu Ruotsalainen in camp. Dea has spent most of the last six years in the Pittsburgh organization and it was Sabres GM Jason Botterill who signed Dea as a free agent out of juniors for the Penguins in 2013.
Botterill and Dea agreed to a two-year, $1.4-million deal this summer. Of note, it's a one-way deal so he makes $700,000 whether he's in Buffalo or Rochester. Poor play or injuries here likely would make Dea one of the first recall candidates if he starts the season with the Amerks.
"It's great to be back with 'Botts' again and when they called me this summer, I was very excited," Dea said. "My goal was to get a one-way deal because I felt I had shown I was able to play in the NHL as well, so that was a major objective for the summer. When Buffalo called me and offered me two years, I was really excited and I couldn't pass on that deal."
Dea was a two-time 40-goal scorer for Rouyn-Noranda of the Quebec League but went undrafted before Pittsburgh signed him. Dea has averaged 18.3 goals and 41 points per season last four years in the AHL, with a high of 20 goals at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2015-16. He scored 17 last year between the Pens' affiliate and Florida's Springfield team.
"I've kept a good attitude. I'm fortunate and grateful to be able to play hockey, happy to be at the rink every day," he said. "I know it's a business and it's never easy. Some guys have an easier time with that, my situation might be a little harder. But I work hard and I trust myself and think I can make it."
One thing that keeps Dea pushing forward is the fact he's always had teams wanting him. He's already been sent to the minors five different times in his career, waived three times and traded once. But he's been claimed off waivers twice and now has signed his first free agent contract with the Sabres.
"I always have the feeling somebody is going to want me and keep giving me my chance," he said. "That's why I keep working hard, be a good teammate and I think good things will happen."
Dea has five goals in 29 career NHL games, 20 of which came last year with New Jersey after getting claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh.
"It was my first time being in the NHL for a regular period, a couple months," he said. "I kept telling the media how grateful I was to be there and that was true. It's how I feel today. To be able to perform in the NHL is something a lot of kids dream of and I don't take it for granted. It gave me confidence I can play in the NHL."