Jamie McBain is making the most of his fresh start in Buffalo.
The defenseman, acquired via trade after a rough season in Carolina, has taken the first step toward a comeback year. He made the Sabres’ season-opening roster Monday, one of seven blue-liners kept by Buffalo.
It wasn’t easy. The 25-year-old needed to set himself apart from the defensive logjam that included veteran Alexander Sulzer and prospects such as Chad Ruhwedel and Brayden McNabb.
“There were a lot of guys here and obviously a lot of guys you’re competing with, a lot younger, but it’s always a good feeling to be in the spot you want to be right now,” McBain said in First Niagara Center.
McBain practiced as the extra defenseman Monday and likely will be a healthy scratch Wednesday when the Sabres open the season in Detroit. But he’ll play sooner or later, and he’s eager to show that Buffalo was wise in acquiring him and a second-round pick for Andrej Sekera.
“A lot of times it takes that change of scenery in order to find yourself again and find your game again,” McBain said. “You get to prove yourself all over again, and that’s a good thing. Coming in with a fresh start has been a lot of fun.”
McBain played three full seasons in Carolina, which selected him in the second round of the 2006 NHL draft. The first two years went fine: he totaled 15 goals and 57 points in 152 games. He stumbled to one goal and eight points in 40 games last year.
Carolina General Manager Jim Rutherford said McBain arrived out of shape. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder feels better this preseason, when he had two goals and three points in three games.
“Last year was a fluke,” McBain said. “My first two years were pretty solid years for myself. I wanted to continue to improve, and last year was a down year for myself, a frustrating year for myself, one that I’m definitely going to rebound from. Regardless of when that time comes, I’m going to be ready when my name’s called.”
Sulzer, who was waived Sunday, went unclaimed and was optioned to Rochester.
“You can’t say enough about his professionalism, what he brings every day, both off the ice and on the ice,” Sabres coach Ron Rolston said. “It’s just a numbers situation there for us that we had to be at seven on the back end.”
The Sabres’ three defense pairs Monday were Christian Ehrhoff and Mark Pysyk, Henrik Tallinder and Tyler Myers, and Mike Weber with Rasmus Ristolainen.
“We’ve got a lot of diversity,” McBain said, “a lot of guys that are defensive defensemen, a lot of offensive-minded guys, and I think we jell together. I think everyone’s going to be able to play with each other.”
Rolston is expected to name a captain today.
“We have a lot of guys that could be in that situation for us,” the coach said.
The NHL and its players’ association have agreed to implement hybrid icing after a preseason trial run. If a linesman determines a defending player would win a race for an iced puck, he’ll blow the whistle when the player reaches the end-zone faceoff dot.
“The players participated in a survey, and a majority of teams supported this rule change in an effort to make the game safer,” said Mathieu Schneider, special assistant for the NHLPA. “We are hopeful that the implementation of the hybrid icing rule, which is a middle ground between the old rule and no-touch icing, will help minimize the incidence of player injuries on icing plays.”