If John Scott wants to ingratiate himself with his new team’s fans, he’s off to a good start.
“I hated the Leafs,” said Scott, the Buffalo Sabres’ burly new forward, talking this week about the rivals from up north. “I grew up watching the Sabres all the time.”
The 30-year-old has fond memories of coming down from his home in St. Catharines, Ont., to see games at the Aud with his father. He’s fielded plenty of ticket requests this week from family and friends eager to see the 6-foot-8 forward slip on a blue-and-gold sweater for the first time. That could come as soon as Sunday afternoon, when the Sabres host the Philadelphia Flyers in the season opener at First Niagara Center.
“It is kind of neat to come home,” Scott said. “I’ve been so far away in the Western Conference for my whole career so to come back to Buffalo is exciting.”
The four-year NHL veteran has bounced from Minnesota to Chicago and had a brief stint with the New York Rangers last year. He signed a one-year, $600,000 contract as an unrestricted free agent with Buffalo last July.
He harbors no illusions as to why he’s in Buffalo.
“I know my role. ... I’m a fourth-line guy,” he said. “Protect the team and keep the other team honest. Play physical.”
With that attitude, hating the Toronto Maple Leafs isn’t the only thing that will endear Scott to Sabres fans. A physical presence will be a welcome sight for a team that had its toughness questioned several times last season — most famously after goalie Ryan Miller was run over by Bruins tough guy Milan Lucic.
“We all know what John’s going to bring,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “He’s a real character. He’s been great in the room, great on the bench. He knows what he’s here for. He can add the toughness that’s needed.”
No doubt about that. Scott has 236 career penalty minutes in 146 games. His career points total is five — one goal and four assists.
“Way to bring that up,” he joked with a reporter who asked how sharp his memory was of the goal. “It was at Carolina. Rebound goal. I guess it’s not hard to remember one.
“It took a little bit of time to get used to me being an enforcer. I wanted to see if I could be a defenseman or forward, chip in with the goal scoring. I’ve embraced it the last few years. My job is to protect the team. I enjoy doing it, I enjoy going out there and fighting and protecting my teammates.”
Scott’s presence should especially make life easier for a player like Patrick Kaleta, who in turn will be counted on to make life miserable for opposing teams.
“It should help Marcus Foligno, should help Patrick Kaleta, should make Steve Ott even a tougher guy to play against because he has some cover behind him,” Ruff said. “It can make Kaleta more of a pain because if somebody on another team who might be bigger and stronger wants to start any rough stuff, he’s got John to deal with,” Ruff said.
“Teams come in and don’t run around even if he doesn’t fight. When you have a player of his magnitude when it comes to the physical sense and somebody does something really stupid against your team, they know they’re going to have to deal with somebody who’s really tough.”
There’s a good chance Scott could be in the lineup Sunday against the notoriously tough Flyers. But his chances to play won’t be limited to meetings with the Broad Street Bullies. Across the Eastern Conference, the tough guy is back.
Boston has Lucic, Shawn Thornton and Zdeno Chara. The Islanders claimed 6-foot-8 defenseman Joe Finley off waivers from the Sabres this week. The Maple Leafs have Colton Orr. The Canadiens signed Brandon Prust, the Panthers got George Parros from Anaheim.
“It’s good for me. More enforcers, the more chances I’ll play,” Scott said. “I think you see that from year to year, the shift from West to East, with the tough guys. I think last year all the tough guys were in the West, and the West did pretty well, so the Eastern Conference teams wanted to bulk up and be a little more physical. ... It’s good. I enjoy going up against the more physical guys.”
The Sabres on Thursday waived 28-year-old defenseman Adam Pardy, who was acquired along with Ott from Dallas for center Derek Roy.
If no team claims Pardy by noon today, the Sabres will assign him to AHL Rochester. Buffalo has 26 players on the roster and needs to be down to the NHL limit of 23 by noon today.
It’s possible forwards Nathan Gerbe and Cody McCormick could be placed on the injured reserve list to help get down to the roster limit.
Buffalo also put Rochester forwards Kevin Porter and Nick Tarnasky on waivers.