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Observations: Jack Quinn shows promise in debut, Sabres lose UPL in defeat
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Observations: Jack Quinn shows promise in debut, Sabres lose UPL in defeat

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Buffalo Sabres take on the Tampa Bay Lightning

Buffalo Sabres right wing Jack Quinn (22) looks for the pass while covered by Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) in the first period.

There was a time not long ago that a National Hockey League debut at 20 years old seemed improbable for Jack Quinn.

Quinn wasn’t considered a top prospect until he totaled 52 goals for the Ottawa 67’s in 2019-20 and even that remarkable performance wasn’t enough to win over some of his detractors.

Quinn always believed, though. When coaches and scouts criticized Quinn’s skating stride, he spent years working to make it a strength. And after a difficult first season in the American Hockey League with Rochester, Quinn spent his entire summer on the ice and in the gym with one goal in mind: a permanent spot with the Buffalo Sabres.

Quinn took another significant step toward that dream Tuesday night in KeyBank Center, when the winger stepped onto the ice for his NHL debut. Two of his Amerks teammates, Mattias Samuelsson and Ryan Scarfo, made the trip to Buffalo with Quinn’s No. 22 jersey on backward and banged on the glass as the 2020 first-round draft choice took his rookie lap to begin warmups.

Then Quinn treated the crowd to a preview of what’s to come, using his right-handed shot and speed to challenge the Lightning. While Tampa Bay rolled to a 6-1 win over Buffalo, Quinn showed why he’s considered a significant piece of the puzzle for the Sabres.

"I think it went pretty good," said Quinn. "I think there were a few times where maybe my nerves showed a little. I don’t know if it was nerves, but try to figure out what it’s like in this league to make a play."

Buffalo (10-19-6) is 0-4-1 since the holiday break and hasn’t won on home ice since Nov. 26.

The Sabres are still without four key players because of Covid protocol – Alex Tuch, Kyle Okposo, Tage Thompson and Peyton Krebs – but this promotion was based on merit. Entering Tuesday, Quinn’s 12 goals and 26 points in 20 games ranked eighth and 11th, respectively, in the AHL, despite his nine-game absence for mono.

The call would have come sooner had Quinn not been unavailable for more than a month. He watched from afar as Krebs and JJ Peterka donned the blue and gold for the first time. Quinn wasn’t bitter that he had to wait. As Quinn has done his entire career, he listed the positives instead of dwelling on what could have been and returned to the Amerks’ lineup last week determined to work his way to the NHL.

Quinn had an endorsement from coach Don Granato, who attended the Amerks’ game Friday in Rochester and left with confidence that the Sabres’ eighth overall pick from 2020 was ready to experience the NHL.

"It’s exciting to watch his excitement, honestly," Tuch said following the morning skate. "I think he’s going to have a really good career and it starts with game one."

As Granato typically does, he threw the rookie in the deep end. Quinn started the game with Dylan Cozens and Vinnie Hinostroza, lining up against back-to-back Stanley Cup champions Steven Stamkos, Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman and Jan Rutta.

Quinn didn’t take long to get involved, challenging goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy with a shot through the right circle 4:55 into the first period. Later, Quinn wisely hustled back to try to break up a Lightning odd-man rush and nearly scored on a partially open net, only to have his attempt blocked.

"Jack, I thought, was really good," said Granato. "I liked a lot of things in his game. He created a couple chances. He was very aware with the puck, very in-tune in the game. I thought it was a really good first game for him."

Tampa Bay (24-9-5) led 2-0 at the first intermission after goals by Ondrej Palat and Anthony Cirelli and pulled away with three goals in the second period, including two by Nikita Kucherov, who welcomed Malcolm Subban to the game with a wrist shot that hit twine 27 seconds in. Hinostroza scored Buffalo's only goal, but Kucherov completed the hat trick to make it 6-1.

The Sabres’ defensive struggles spoiled their chance of keeping the game close, but Quinn made his mark with three shots on goal on six attempts in 16:30 of ice time. He came close to scoring in the third on a pass by Hinostroza but had another shot blocked by the foot of Cal Foote. And while it’s unclear how long he’ll be in the NHL, he showed he belonged.

"You want to enjoy it as much as you can," said Quinn. "It only happens once. But at the same time, I think the next game I’ll be able to play there will be less nerves and I’ll be a lot more comfortable. It’s exciting to play the games as much as the first one."

Here are other observations from the game Tuesday night:

1. Another loss

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was removed from the game with a lower-body injury after stopping seven of nine shots in the first period and was replaced by Subban at the start of the second.

Granato didn't have an update on Luukkonen's status or the severity of the injury.

Luukkonen entered Tuesday ranked 14th among qualifying goalies with a .922 save percentage and held opponents to two goals in five of his eight NHL appearances.

2. Early deficit

The Sabres failed to score on their two breakaways in the first period – Victor Olofsson rushed his shot on the first and Vasilevskiy made a stick save on Mark Jankowski’s short-handed attempt – and Tampa Bay capitalized on two significant Buffalo mistakes.

A late line change made Jacob Bryson too late to prevent Palat from uncorking a shot from the slot for a 1-0 lead at 2:16 into the game, and two of the Sabres’ forwards were late to back check on a 3-on-2 that ended with Cirelli’s goal to make it 2-0.

Buffalo has a negative-18 goal differential in the first period this season.

3. By the numbers

The Sabres were outshot 36-18, allowing 27 shots on goal over the final two periods. … Mark Pysyk led the team in ice time (21:17), while Quinn was one of three players with multiple shots on goal. … Buffalo’s power play has scored in four straight games. ... Subban made 23 saves in relief. ... Quinn was the 17th player selected in the first round of the 2020 draft to debut in the NHL. 

4. Next

The Sabres begin a two-game road trip Thursday night in Nashville against the Predators. Puck drop is 8 p.m.

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News Sports Reporter

I've covered the Sabres and National Hockey League for The Buffalo News since November 2018. My previous work included coverage of the Pittsburgh Pirates and University of Pittsburgh athletics for DKPittsburghSports.com.

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