Thursday, December 7, 2017

The "Scott Wilson-era" in Buffalo has begun. Kind of.

Published by, 12-6-2017

When the news broke that the Buffalo Sabres had traded a 2019 fifth round pick to the Detroit Red Wings for forward Scott Wilson, the first question on the minds of many in Sabreland was, "who?" followed by, "why?" It wasn't a blockbuster deal by any means but the reasoning behind that trade, and the moves made in concert with it, was made clear as there was a pronounced effect on the Sabres in last night's game at Colorado.

Wilson is a former Pittsburgh Penguin with two Stanley Cup rings to his name and Buffalo GM Jason Botterill, who had spent the previous 10 years in the Pittsburgh organization, knew him well. The seventh-round pick out of UMass-Lowell was selected 209th overall in 2011 and after leaving college Wilson spent parts of two seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins before moving up to the big club full time last season. He was dealt to the Red Wings on October 21 after playing three games for the Pens.

On Monday after the trade was announced, Botterill addressed the gathered media saying, "We are very happy to add Scott to our roster. [He] is a hard-working, young player that will be a great fit for our club. As a two-time Stanley Cup Champion, his experience will be an asset both on and off the ice."

Wilson played 14:19 for the Sabres last night, including 2:16 of PK duty, was a plus-1, had a shot on goal and was credited with two hits. That's pretty much what your going to get from him on the stat sheet although he did score eight goals and 26 points in 78 games for the Penguins last season. What doesn't show up in the boxscore is his motor, which was in overdrive all the time and that kind of controlled, balls-to-the-wall play is what was severely lacking in Buffalo for most of the season.

The Sabres were noticeably faster last night and harder on the puck than we're accustomed to. Wilson lead the charge on that, but he wasn't alone. They called up Evan Rodrigues from Rochester in conjunction with the trade for Wilson and he added much needed speed and quickness to the lineup.

Rodrigues, a free agent signee out of Boston University in 2015, had a strong training camp and looked like he ready for full-time NHL duty. But a hand injury caused him to miss the first part of the season and when it healed he was sent to Rochester. In eight games for the Amerks this season, Rodrigues had five goals and five assists.

Hudson Fasching was called up before Saturday's game at Pittsburgh and he immediately added size and a net-front presence to the Buffalo lineup. Fasching was acquired by the previous regime for those attributes but it looks as if he's gotten quicker and is playing the game at a much faster pace. Although he hasn't scored yet, Fasching has created more crease-havoc in two games than most Sabres have created all season.

Both Rodrigues and Fasching are products of an Amerks team that demands they play the right way. There's a lot of talent and depth in Rochester team and if you want to play, you've got to work. Wilson came from the Pittsburgh organization, the model Botterill is building his Sabres upon. "Nothing is given to you," said Wilson to the media in Colorado yesterday. "We were lucky to have a good team in Wilkes-Barre when we were down there. It kind of just so happened we came up all together to Pittsburgh and that definitely made it easier. But 'Bottsy' didn't give us anything up front.

"We really had to work for it and he told us that. He's the guy to create that culture of guys competing against each other. Us young guys competed hard for ice time and Botterill let us know that's how it's going to go from here on out in the NHL. He's been a calming influence on me and he's helped me out, so I'm grateful for that."

The Sabres beat a good Colorado team last night 4-2 on the road and looked like a different team in the process. They scored three 5v5 goals (one empty-net) and added a short-handed goal while the Avalanche's two goals came on the powerplay. Buffalo really brought a lot of speed and tenacity to the game last night and were rewarded with a win. It wasn't perfect but it did show what the team can do when they play the right way, doing so for a full 60 minutes, and everyone did their part.

The "Scott Wilson-era" in Buffalo began with a win last night. Sure, he's no Jack Eichel, Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, but hopefully this marks a the beginning of a better era. A wise man once said, "the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step." The moves that Botterill made on Monday represent a pretty good first step, and that includes the acquisition of Wilson.

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