For the first time in 11 months, Ville Leino gets to play hockey.
The Buffalo forward is set to make his season debut this afternoon when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators. Leino has been sidelined by a hip ailment that may still need surgery during the offseason, but he’s ready to go after a couple of false starts.
“It’s been really annoying, a lot of frustration,” he said in First Niagara Center. “It’s been a tough time, but hopefully now it pays off.”
Leino is expected to leap into a prominent role. The right winger practiced Friday on the second line with center Tyler Ennis and left wing Steve Ott. He also worked on a power-play unit for the second straight day.
“He can offer us a lot,” interim coach Ron Rolston said. “It looks like his energy’s good. He’s skating well out there. His vision, his puck skills and the things he can do offensively will certainly help.
“It’s his job now that he’s ready to go to get in and be in a leadership role. He’s a veteran player, to make sure he’s out there setting the tone and working hard and showing people that the ethic is there and he wants people to follow.
“It’s not coming back to save the day. It’s just to come back and build, build confidence and just start playing the right way and helping our team be successful.”
The 29-year-old struggled in his debut season with Buffalo, recording just eight goals and 25 points in 71 games. He was eager for a fresh start during training camp, but the start got delayed by the lockout and injury.
“I’ll just try to keep it simple and try to play my hockey,” Leino said. “We definitely need to be better. It’s not like one man is going to change anything. We all know that. We need everybody.”
The Sabres cleared a roster spot for Leino by sending rookie Mikhail Grigorenko back to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Their other main options were to send Marcus Foligno or Brian Flynn back to Rochester, but both have been producing lately.
Foligno scored twice in Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers. Flynn, the last call-up, has a three-game point streak. Flynn has two goals and three points in his first six NHL games.
“He’s gotten better every game,” Rolston said. “He’s played exceptionally well for us.”
The Sabres hope Foligno, who had just one goal in the opening 25 games, learned from his successful outing.
“His ability to get two goals last game where before his offense wasn’t created the way he created them the other night, and that was just hard, getting to the net and getting those second opportunities,” Rolston said. “He kind of went back to the game he was playing at the end of last year to get them. Sometimes it’s just finding the way you’re supposed to be playing and then continuing to work hard and focusing on, ‘Am I getting scoring chances? If I am, I’ve just got to keep doing those things over and over, and I’ll get those opportunities.’ ”
Construction has begun on HarborCenter in front of the arena, and the work has resulted in road closings that will disrupt regular traffic routes. Washington Street is closed between Scott and Perry streets, while Perry is closed between Main and Illinois.