Brandon Montour had only been cleared to hold a stick for approximately one week when the defenseman rejoined the Buffalo Sabres for practice Sunday in KeyBank Center.
The 25-year-old does not have a definitive timeline to return to game action – coach Ralph Krueger wants Montour to regain his timing through practice – however, his presence was a significant development for the Sabres before their game Monday night against the Arizona Coyotes.
Montour, after all, had a career-high 35 points in 82 games between Anaheim and Buffalo last season. He can give the Sabres a significant boost at 5 on 5 and the power play. Yet Montour stepped onto the ice shortly after the team announced that defenseman Marco Scandella will miss two to three weeks with a lower-body injury, and winger Jimmy Vesey is listed on the injury report as week to week with an upper-body injury.
With Scandella out and Montour getting acclimated to game speed, the Sabres recalled defenseman Will Borgen from Rochester before practice Sunday. Montour, whom the Sabres acquired from Anaheim last February, expressed excitement for being one step closer to making his season debut.
"I didn’t think too much of it right off the hop but a little more serious than I thought and took, obviously, a little more time than I wanted, but I’m happy to be back," Montour said of his hand injury, which he suffered during a preseason game in Columbus on Sept. 17.
Montour isn't quite sure how the injury occurred. He recalled having trouble gripping his stick and learned through an X-ray the following day that the issue was more serious than expected. The timing was particularly frustrating for Montour.
He spent much of his offseason recovering from an MCL sprain that sidelined him for Canada's run to the gold medal game in the IIHF World Championship. Montour only had four training camp practices prior and played 17:24 during the 4-1 loss to Columbus.
The injury did not keep Montour off the ice for long. He was able to skate with Dennis Miller, the Sabres' head of rehab and development, but did so without a stick for approximately one month.
"You can imagine how frustrating and how tough that was," Montour said. "But at least I can still skate and whatnot. But an injury like this or what happened with surgery and stuff, it’s all about patience and a matter of time before it gets fully healed.”
Montour sat through the Sabres' team meetings while recovering, which provided him with a clear understanding of how Krueger wants them to play defensively. However, he needs to get his timing back and understanding concepts is different than executing them on the ice. The Sabres intend to be patient with Montour. He was one of eight defensemen skating during practice Sunday.
“He’s been sitting in on all the meetings that we’ve had, so he’s up to speed on all the adjustments we’ve made, corrections, what we see as learners and confirmers of how we want to play," Krueger said. "He’s been a part of that. But it’s still a lot different when you have to put it into action.
“It’s day to day to see him get integrated here. We’ve got no timeline on the re-entry. It’s the first day, once again, and we’ll build on this.”
Montour figures to be a prominent part of the Sabres' plans this season. Montour, who was acquired for a first-round draft pick and defenseman Brendan Guhle last February, had 10 points in 20 games with the Sabres. John Gilmour, who played 17:28 during a 2-0 win over Detroit on Friday, is expected to fill in for Scandella until Montour is ready.
"It starts with practice, I guess," Montour said. "This is day one for me. I only had three days of camp with the team, so I’m trying to get in the swing of things as quick as I can. Obviously, it’s going to take time and an adjustment to play at this level again. I think with the skating and the preparation and the staff, how we work together and worked out and got as fit as I can without playing in a hockey game, I think we’re right there.”