Buffalo Sabres forward Tyler Ennis is the longest-tenured Sabres player on the roster. The 2008 first round pick (26rd-overall) came to Buffalo via a draft pick acquired when Brian "Soupy" Campbell was traded to the San Jose' Sharks at the 2008 trade deadline and since that time Ennis has witnessed almost a complete turnover of the hockey operations at the foot of Washington St. He and Marcus Foligno have witnessed an ownership change, are on their third team president, second GM and fourth head coach.
Through it all the 5'9" 160 lb. Ennis has remained remarkably consistent. From his first full season in 2010-11 to the 2014-15 season, he was able to hit the 20-goal mark three times and was on pace for another one (15 goals in 48) games in 2011-12 before being sidelined by an ankle injury. In his three full seasons he's averaged about 20 goals and 22 assists with the key word being 'full.'
Ennis missed all but 23 games last season because of two concussions suffered in six-week span late in 2015. He first got dinged by 6'4" 215 lb. St. Louis defenseman Robert Bortuzzo then was steam-rolled by a 6'3" 239 lb. Alexander Ovechkin. Ennis totaled only 23 games played for the team last season.
Injuries or not, Ennis was having a pretty rough go of it last year, the first one under new head coach Dan Bylsma. He was on a 14-game goal-drought at the time of the Ovechkin hit and he didn't get much love from his GM, Tim Murray either. Murray said at the time, via a Bill Hoppe piece, "Maybe the time away makes him a better player. Maybe it makes him a harder worker."
It was the second time Murray intimated that a veteran player wasn't putting in the amount of work he expected. Murray had mentioned prior that forward Matt Moulson might not have been in the best of shape to handle the Bylsma's up-temp system.
Ennis knows how to play the game and largely stay out of trouble in the midst of behemoths. He has a jitterbug quality to his game and had been described by former coach Ruff as "greazy" with the way he can slickly get himself out tight situations. He can stick handle in a phone booth as well as finish and although he plays an east-west game, he's been able to make it work. He has played on all three lines throughout his career and can play either wing with Bylsma using him on the right side last season.
With the acquisition of RW, Kyle Okposo and with C, Sam Reinhart emerging as a top-six right-winger last season, that side is pretty full unless they use Ennis on the third line. However, there is a need on the left-side. Evander Kane is the team's top-line left-winger but after that neither Moulson, Zemgus Girgensons or Foligno were able to stake a claim to the second-line LW spot last year. The only other possibility right now is Alexander Nylander whom the Sabres drafted with the eight-overall pick in this year's draft.
Speaking of the draft, which was held in Buffalo, Ennis was said to have been on the trading block this past June as Murray was in search of an elusive, top-pairing, left-handed defenseman. Teams shied away because of his recent concussion problems. Being on the block was something new to him. “It was the first time (he’s heard trade talk,)" Ennis told Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal in late August. "I don’t have anything in my contract that says I can’t get moved. It’ll probably happen at some point … most players play on more than one team but my plan is to stay in Buffalo forever. It feels like home and I feel we’re close to winning."
That they are.
It's been a hellacious road for Ennis over the past few seasons. The team bottomed out two years running, yet he was able to hold his own in a top-line role, but when they began the climb out of the abyss Ennis found himself struggling then on IR. This year the team is looking to take the next step and become a playoff team yet were it not for his concussion, he may have been shipped out already. Whether his concussion issues end up being a God-send in keeping him in Buffalo is yet to be determined but one thing we do know is that there's an opening for him should he choose to work harder as Murray mentioned.
Goalie Robin Lehner has already turned over a new leaf, touting "new choices, new me," according to a Hoppe piece from yesterday. He lost weight, cut his hair and spent the entire summer in Buffalo rehabbing his ankle and training for the upcoming season at the expense of the World Cup of Hockey. Lehner was quoted as saying that he's really excited about what's going on with the team and he's showing that he really wants to be a part of that through his off-season dedication.
For Ennis, being the longest-tenured Sabre is a double-edged sword as the culture has changed immensely since his first years in the league. Although there is the respect factor for being in Buffalo longer than any other player, he also was reared in the country club setting of "The Core" years which is totally different that the culture he's in now. Those days are long gone and anything less than all-in is a ticket out the door.
Did Ennis get the memo?
Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Evander Kane/ C, Ryan O'Reilly/ RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis/ C, Jack Eichel
D, Rasmus Ristolainen/ D, Dmitry Kulikov
G, Robin Lehner