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Michael Frolik ready for fresh start with Sabres after 'tough year' in Calgary

As Michael Frolik went through the process of securing a work visa Friday morning, the 31-year-old pondered where he could skate in Calgary until he's cleared to travel to Buffalo.

Frolik, a 12-year veteran of the National Hockey League, wants to be ready for what he called a "fresh start." The former Stanley Cup champion had grown frustrated with his role on the Calgary Flames this season and welcomed the trade Thursday that sent him to the Sabres in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick.

Frolik is averaging a career-low 11:56 of ice time in 38 games and had been scratched the final two games before the holiday break. During a conference call Friday, Frolik declined to reveal whether he requested a trade out of Calgary.

However, the pending unrestricted free agent expressed excitement for joining the Sabres and displeasure with his role on the Flames.

"Obviously frustrated, right?" Frolik, who turns 32 next month and counts $4.3 million against the salary cap, acknowledged. "When things don’t go well it’s not easy, and you’re frustrated. I felt that my time here in Calgary probably was getting to be over, and I think it was just time to move on. … I enjoyed my time here and just want to appreciate what they did for me. Obviously it didn’t work out in the end, but I have nothing but great things to say about Calgary. It’s been tough the last couple of weeks, but I hope it’s a good change."

Neither Frolik nor the Sabres are sure when he will be able to join the team, though General Manager Jason Botterill estimated the newly-acquired forward could arrive in Buffalo Monday or Tuesday. Coach Ralph Krueger told reporters following practice Friday he will make a decision on role and playing time once Frolik joins the team.

The likelihood of a prominent role increased for Frolik hours after the trade, when rookie winger Victor Olofsson suffered a lower-body injury that will keep him out of the Sabres' lineup for the next five to six weeks.

Though Rasmus Asplund is likely to receive a first-line audition Saturday against the Florida Panthers, Frolik is the sort of defensively responsible forward the Sabres prefer to use with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.

"He’s just a very smart player in the way he manages his game on both sides of the puck," Krueger said of Frolik. "He can make a play with the puck, but without it, he’s very strong in his decisions as far as positional play is concerned and being responsible for the team. He’ll be an excellent penalty killer for us and also somebody who can mentor this group in managing leads and dealing with in-game situations that we’re still learning to get better at that, in the end, decide the scores."

Since the start of the 2015-16 season, Frolik ranked second among all Flames forwards in ice time on the  penalty kill, an area in which the Sabres ranked 30th in the NHL entering Friday. Additionally, Calgary's 54.79 percent 5-on-5 shot-differential with Frolik on the ice during that span also ranked second among the team's forwards behind Matthew Tkachuk.

Frolik scored 58 regular-season goals while averaging 15:54 of ice time during his first four years with the Flames, only to have his role reduced entering the final season of his contract. He had five goals among 10 points with a minus-10 rating prior to the trade.

Comparatively, Frolik had 19 goals among 42 points while averaging 17:30 for the Winnipeg Jets in 2014-15, which earned him a five-year contract with the Flames.

"It’s tough to say right now," Frolik said when asked what role he envisioned for himself in Buffalo. "New guy coming in. Being (in the Western Conference) for a long time, I don’t know much about the East, but I think going out there and I just heard great things about their group and about the coaching staff. I’m just really looking to go there and be myself, and we’ll see how it plays out. Obviously looking forward to getting more ice time than I was getting here in Calgary and prove to myself that I can be that player I used to be."

The Sabres are not expecting Frolik to contribute offensively at the rate of a first-line forward, though he scored 42 goals over his first two NHL seasons with the Florida Panthers from 2008-10. Krueger wants the veteran to support the team's younger players by providing insight and leadership on how to manage close games, but he also expressed confidence in Frolik's ability to complement any line.

Frolik has scored 15 or more goals seven times in his career, and he provides the Sabres with additional playoff experience. He had three goals among 10 points in the Chicago Blackhawks' run to the Stanley Cup in 2012-13. Frolik has appeared in 47 postseason games throughout his career and produced last season, yet a lesser role made an early exit from Calgary seem inevitable.

"It’s been a tough year here," Frolik said. "When I was here the years before I always, being on that second line with (Tkachuk) and (Mikael Backlund) here, the last few months it didn’t play that way. The ice time was real low, and it’s tough to produce when the ice time is not there, and you’re not on the power play or PK. Your ice time is eight, 10 minutes, it’s not easy to produce, but I feel like lately my game was good. Looking forward to a new opportunity and get the ice time a little bit higher, and hopefully it can help the team. That’s what I’m looking for."

Wilson arrives

The Sabres recalled forward Scott Wilson from the Rochester Americans ahead of a brief practice Friday in KeyBank Center. Wilson, 27, had six goals among 14 points in 22 games for the Amerks, though he missed time because of injury.

A Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016-17, Wilson has been unable to secure a full-time role with the Sabres since being acquired from the Detroit Red Wings in December 2017. He recorded three assists in 15 games with the team after missing the first three months of last season.

"I think the biggest thing is dealing with that, not even developing as a player," Wilson said when asked about what he's learned. "As a person, dealing with those things in the right way. You can kind of go sideways and feel sorry for yourself, but at the same time, I've learned everybody goes through that stuff. At this point, I'm just glad to be healthy and ready to go."

Forward Dalton Smith practiced with the Sabres on Friday after clearing waivers.

Amerks all-stars

Rochester Americans defenseman Lawrence Pilut and goalie Jonas Johansson were selected to represent the North Division at the American Hockey League All-Star Classic in Ontario, Calif., on Jan. 26-27.

Pilut, who was selected to participate in the game last season, entered Friday with 20 points in 27 games. The 24-year-old was tied for 10th among all AHL defensemen with 16 assists, and he had 14 points over his previous 19 games dating back to Nov. 15.

Johansson, 24, had a 10-2-2 record, including two shutouts, and he ranked second in the AHL in goals-against average (2.00) and save percentage (.933). Amerks coach Chris Taylor will be behind the bench for the North Division, and former Sabres forward Matt Moulson, now with the Hershey Bears, will captain the Atlantic Division.

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