There is an ongoing battle for the Buffalo Sabres’ seven defensive roster spots, and Chad Ruhwedel does not want to be the odd man out.
Ruhwedel’s first campaign in the NHL included seven games, zero points, no penalty minutes and an even plus-minus rating. Barely noticeable.
For a young player getting acclimated to the pro game, some might argue that is a good thing. But now that he is entering his sophomore campaign, Ruhwedel is going to need to make an impression to stick with the big-league team that has become dense on defense.
“He’s a good player,” said Sabres head coach Ron Rolston. “He played really well for us coming up. But he’s got to continue to grow, too, as a player. He’s really smart. Obviously you can see his feet out there.
“Good stick skills. Good at the offensive blue line. He’s going to have to continue to get stronger and work on that part of things before camp.”
Asked following the Sabres’ development camp if he thinks he has gotten adjusted to the professional game yet, the 23-year-old Ruhwedel retorted quickly.
“Oh no, I’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “I think I know that. I’m humble enough to realize that I’ve got a lot of work to do. Yeah, I got some good experience. Can’t deny that. But there’s a long way to go, for sure.”
Buffalo has been stockpiling defensemen and now has eight with NHL experience, in addition to first-round pick Rasmus Ristolainen.
“The organization feels like they had to make some moves, and they made some big ones this summer,” Ruhwedel said.
If nothing on the roster changes (some have presumed a trade is in the works, given the Sabres’ defensive surplus, even if it takes until training camp for such a deal to be made), it seems Ruhwedel and Ristolainen would be in a group of six players competing for three spots. The four locks seem to be Tyler Myers, Henrik Tallinder, Christian Ehrhoff and Mike Weber.
Ruhwedel signed with the Sabres two days after his three-year college career with the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks ended in the Frozen Four with a loss to eventual national champion Yale. He hastily went from first-team All-American to first-time NHL skater when he signed his two-year, entry-level contract April 13.
“It was pretty much a whirlwind up here last season,” said Ruhwedel, who had 23 points in 41 games his junior year with UMass-Lowell. “Kind of got thrown into the fire. I played a few games, had some good experience, learned a lot from the veteran guys. Coming back, now it’s just time to work hard this summer, improve yourself, try to earn a spot.”
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound defenseman was looking forward to finally going back to San Diego – where he lives 10 minutes from the beach and used to go bodyboarding frequently – after the Blue-Gold scrimmage. He hadn’t been home in over a year. Ruhwedel will return to Buffalo in August to begin preparing for the season.
While Ruhwedel’s pro exposure has been minimal, he was one of the veterans at the development camp. He was one of only four players at the camp with NHL experience – the others being Mikhail Grigorenko, Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk – and was five years older than some of the prospects.
“It’s fun to see all the guys coming in, the next wave of players coming in, proving themselves on this stage,” Ruhwedel said. “It’s exciting to see how they’re going to blossom. It’s kind of cool to, in a sense, be a leader, too.”
Ruhwedel said in addition to his usual work on improving as a defender, he’s trying to add an attacking dimension to his game – “trying to be offensive, being dynamic on the offensive blue line,” he said.
Ruhwedel seemed to be making progress when he beat goalie Cal Petersen for a goal in the Blue-Gold shootout after the scrimmage, though he said he “got lucky” and “kind of blacked out for a second.”
He said the team has not been distracted by the recurring rumors that superstars Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller want out of town and the Sabres are exploring trade options.
“No, not at all,” Ruhwedel said. “That’s going to get sorted out. Whatever happens, happens. It’s up to us to get our bodies in shape, get us ready to go. And I’m not focusing on anything else happening. It’s all getting yourself ready to go and try to make the team.”