Thomas Vanek entered this season with a clear plan. He wanted to watch the Sabres’ young players perform and gauge their talent level before deciding if he would re-sign with Buffalo.
Not surprisingly, the opening few weeks haven’t made him rush out to grab a pen.
“Right now I’m not ready, but I like where we’re heading,” the free agent-to-be said Monday. “I think there’s a lot of talent in this group. Only time and games will tell how good we can really be.”
Vanek will remain a trade candidate and longed-for talent until he re-signs or is dealt. He faced the team that makes the most sense for his future Monday night.
The Minnesota resident took on the Wild in First Niagara Center. Folks back in the State of Hockey no doubt kept an eye on the former University of Minnesota Golden Gophers star.
Those fans no doubt will continue to do so while hoping he signs with the Wild next summer.
“The media and the outside people always have an opinion, just like I have my own opinion,” Vanek said. “That’s fine.”
Minnesota forward and ex-Buffalo teammate Jason Pominville said he’s asked daily about the prospects of Vanek rejoining him.
Vanek understands the interest but didn’t get asked about it much while he was home.
“I shelter myself pretty good,” he said. “I’ve got three boys at home, so I don’t leave the house too much besides going to skate and work out.”
The Wild was remade into a contender before last season by signing stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. They locked up Pominville for five more years this month.
“It changed the culture of their team,” Vanek said. “You add two players like that, it just obviously elevates your team right away.”
Vanek will do his best to improve the Sabres’ future while he’s in Buffalo, though he knows it won’t be easy based on the early season struggles.
“We saw it obviously coming,” he said. “We realize the situation. It’s still hard not to win games. Overall, we’re young. That’s not an excuse. It’s just a fact.
“The only way to get better is by playing games and learning through the games. It’s a lot to ask for these guys to pick it up after six games. A lot of them have done a great job. I just remember myself as a young guy. Guys and coaches can only tell you so much. Until you’ve been through an 82-game season or more than that actually, two or three seasons, that’s when you start picking up things.”
Henrik Tallinder returned to the Sabres’ lineup after missing four games with a shoulder injury.
In order to make room for him on the roster, Buffalo sent fellow defenseman Alexander Sulzer back to Rochester. Sulzer played one game and didn’t record a stat during Tallinder’s absence. Rookie Rasmus Ristolainen took a seat in Tallinder’s place against the Wild.
The eighth overall draft choice played the opening six games and averaged 16:47 of ice time while putting up a minus-3.
“He’s had his ups and downs a little bit, but that’s with a young player,” coach Ron Rolston said of the 18-year-old. “He’s done a good job for us so far, and he’s still learning.”
Right wing Patrick Kaleta will make a trip through the tunnel from Long Island to Manhattan to meet with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. Kaleta has an in-person hearing for the head shot he delivered to Columbus’ Jack Johnson on Thursday. Kaleta has already been suspended for two games because of the hit and is looking at a ban of at least five, though it could be much longer given his status as a repeat offender.
Vanek on why he didn’t think it was an awkward situation to face Pominville, a longtime friend and former teammate: “We’re used to it here. I’ve been here for a while, and I’ve seen a lot of teammates leave.”