Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Ya gotta give Buffalo Sabres forward Tyler Ennis a ton of credit. Despite the malaise surrounding him the past two seasons, he's managed to eek out consistent, solid production during a despondent time in Sabres history. And with that in the rear-view mirror, he heads into the new season with plenty of optimism. "It seemed like a really long two years, but in the grand scheme of things [the rebuild] could be pretty quick ," Ennis told Derek Van Diest of nhl.com this summer. "[Those two years] might not be as long as you think, but those 160 games felt like 10 years."
It's an era us Sabres fans are ready to put behind as well, but it's something we won't forget either.
The Sabres used the 26th pick (acquired from San Jose in the Brian Campbell trade) in the 2008 NHL Draft to land Ennis who was coming off a 43-goal, 91-point season for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the rugged Western Hockey league. The 5'9" 164 lb. Ennis finished second in goals and fourth overall in scoring that season. He would return to Medicine Hat in 2008-09 and finish with 43 goals in 65 games good for sixth in the league. Of note, the Sabres Evander Kane scored 48 goals in 61 games that season for the Vancouver Giants. Ennis also added 19 points (8+11) in 11 playoff games.
Despite his size Ennis managed to keep pace with the bigger, stronger players in the AHL for his first pro season. He finished 20th in the league in scoring that season for Buffalo's AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates. His 23 goals, 42 assists and 65 points lead all rookies that year and he was awarded the 2010 Dudley "Red" Garrett trophy for AHL Rookie of the Year.
An injury to Sabres center Tim Connolly gave Ennis an opportunity late in the 2009-10 season and he played in 10 regular season games for Buffalo scoring nine points (3+6.) He would continue that production in the playoffs as he added a goal and three assists in a six-game playoff series loss to the Boston Bruins.
Ennis had an excellent 2010-11 rookie campaign in Buffalo scoring 49 points (20+29) and he followed that with two goals, including an overtime-winner in game-5 at Philadelphia, in the playoffs that year.
During Ennis' pro tenure, the Sabres franchise has gone through a multitude of changes from ownership to GM to coaches, but he's always managed to keep an even keel. He's had an array of linemates and was moved back and forth from center to wing, yet has maintained steady production. He's been through injury (2011-12) and the NHL lockout (2012-13,) heightened expectations and dismal finishes as well as the two-year bottoming out period the team just finished last season, but his sense of optimism remains intact.
"We're going to be better than last year but there is still a long way to go," he told Diest. " But I really like the pieces and where we're headed."
Those pieces include his probable linemates to start the season--C, Ryan O'Reilly and LW, Kane. Not to take away anything from the job LW, Matt Moulson, RW, Drew Stafford and C, Zemgus Girgensons did as Ennis' top-line mates last season (when he played center and wing,) but O'Reilly and Kane might be better suited to go against the oppositions top checking line. Two other pieces who will make their presence known in the near future are second-overall picks Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart both of whom are centers who strengthen the middle.
"Since I've been in Buffalo the biggest weakness on our team has been at center, so now we have four or five really solid centermen, which is kind of the foundation you need to move forward, and they're all young," he in the Diest piece. "It's really exciting. We still need some pieces, but I think we're definitely moving in the right direction fast."
From the numbers, here's what Ennis was able to accomplish over his pro career in Buffalo thus-far:
--three 20-goal seasons including the previous two seasons when the Sabres challenged the modern mark for scoring futility.
--his 89 goals in 345 games averages out to 21 goals/82 games
--he also tallied 123 assists in 345 games averaging 29 assists/82 games
--that 21 goals and 29 assist average is just about where he ended his rookie season
And did I mention that he managed during a time of great change and turmoil in the organization?
Ennis has to be drooling at the prospects of playing on the top line with O'Reilly and Kane who will create plenty of space and opportunities for him and there's no reason to believe he won't take advantage of the opportunity. Is he a true top-line forward? The books still out on that. But the "greazy" forward who's proven non-believers wrong throughout his career has, in the very least, solidified his status as a top-six forward.
Building the Buffalo Sabres 2015-16 roster:
LW, Evander Kane C, Ryan O'Reilly RW, Tyler Ennis