Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Name the longest-tenured, homegrown Buffalo Sabre on the roster.
Drew Stafford signed his first NHL contract with the Buffalo Sabres on May 6, 2006 after foregoing his senior season at the University of South Dakota. Both he and Patrick Kaleta were taken in the 2004 draft and both signed that May, with Kaleta putting ink to the paper on May 31.
The 6'2" 212 lb power forward made his NHL debut on November 5, 2006 against the NY Rangers and registered an assist on co-captain Daniel Briere's goal. He would get his first goal less than a week later against Philadelphia.
He would finish his rookie campaign with 13 goals and 27 points in 41 games for the President's Trophy-winning Sabres. And in the playoffs that year, Stafford had two goals and two assists in 10 game.
Perhaps he should be called "Stafford, The Young" as he was just one year removed from former GM Darcy Regier's "core." After co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury were allowed to walk, that group of players would take over the leadership reigns.
Being the youngest of that group of forwards, it would seem as if Stafford was easily influenced by the players around him.
There was no doubting his scoring prowess coming out of S. Dakota, and he carried that to the pro ranks with 22 goals and 44 points in 34 games for the Rochester Americans before becoming a fixture in Buffalo that year.
At one point his rookie season he showed he had all the tools to be a dominant power forward in the NHL as he won the NHL's Rookie of the Month Award in March.
And under the tutelage of Briere and Drury, he also looked as if he was being molded into an old-school teammate.
On February 22, 2007, Drury was nailed with a cheap shot from the Ottawa Senators' Chris Neil. As Drury was left bloody on the ice, it was Stafford who immediately jumped Neil and stood up for his fallen teammate.
Stafford would acquit himself fairly well against Neil, a noted pugilist, but regardless of the outcome, he showed that he understood what it meant to be a teammate in the NHL.
At times, and especially in light of that fight, Stafford looked like he was on his way to possibly being named captain down the road.
But when Briere and Drury left, so left their leadership.
Stats-geeks will say that it really didn't matter too much as Stafford would score at a solid pace for a young player still finding his game.
Although the decent stats would be there, Sabres' fans watching the games could see that the intensity he played with just wasn't there on a consistent basis. All the tools of a budding power forward were being stunted under a blanket of complacency.
Regier's core, and those teams from 2007-2009, were good teams who could score goals. But they lacked the intestinal fortitude to rise up when the chips were down.
After losing to the Senators in the ECF in 2007, former Cup-champion Drury remarked that the team didn't know what it took to win. He said that with a bruised face after stopping a shot with it.
Stafford would ride shotgun with "the core" bouncing from line to line based upon his production which varied mightily from game to game.
But it was the 2010-11 season that really got fans salivating about his potential.
Buoyed by four hat tricks that season, Stafford would have a breakout year and go on to score 31 goals in 62 games, his first and only 30-goal season to date.
Expectations were high, and Sabres management took notice as the team re-signed him to a 4yr./$16M contract.
Stafford hit more reasonable numbers the following season with 20 goals and 30 assists, which are reasonable projections for him going forward.
On this Sabres team, numbers like that places him on the top line to begin this season.
Stafford will once have some veteran influences around him as GM Tim Murray brought in former Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta and Habs teammate, Josh Gorges.
Also on board is 30 yr. old, top-line winger--and probable linemate--Matt Moulson.
For Stafford, having players like that on board can only be a positive.
As the Sabres sifted through the rubble of the decimated Regier/Ron Rolston era, Stafford emerged. Mostly on the faith of new head coach, Ted Nolan.
Nolan pulled him up from the fourth line and began giving him big minutes. With the minutes came the opportunities. And even though Stafford wasn't scoring, he was playing much better.
Eventually he would turn two goal, four assist start under Rolston (20 games) into a 16 goal, 18 assist, 70-game season.
Said Stafford back in November, "I’m extremely grateful [to Nolan for the minutes]. It’s one thing, though, that I’m trying to earn that. I feel as though I have, and it’s up to me to continue to earn minutes. I’m not asking for anything. I don’t want anything given to me. I want to be able to earn that spot and those minutes.”
Say what you will about Nolan, but he shows respect to players, especially veteran ones he can place some faith in. “You have to show respect,” Nolan at the time. “One thing with Stafford, he’s been around for a while, and you have to give him players like that respect, let them show what they have.”
That respect should also turn into a letter this year as he's expected to take on a veteran leadership role on the team this season.
And perhaps what he learned from his mentors during his rookie year wasn't so much lost as forgotten or misplaced. “I’ve gotten to the point now in my career," he said to Chris Ryndak of sabres.com in May, "[where] I remember seeing some guys that were my age [now] and I was seeing what they were doing on and off the ice, just little things. It might be the smallest thing but it’s something that sticks with you for a long time.
“So I have that responsibility and I’m going to cherish that whatever happens, regardless if you’re wearing a letter or not. That is your responsibility – to be your best and that’s something I’m going to continue to do this summer and get ready to go.”
It sounds like a mature player, who has a good idea as to who he is, what he has going for him and what expectations are being placed upon him.
And he sounds as if he's ready for the challenge.
Building the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Matt Moulson/C, Tyler Ennis/RW, Drew Stafford