Alexander Sulzer was a casualty of the Sabres’ youth movement. He’s now part of the veteran renaissance.
The defenseman is back up from Rochester and will play this afternoon when Buffalo hosts Detroit. He got the call after coach Ted Nolan and President of Hockey Operations Pat LaFontaine attended the Amerks’ 3-2 loss to Utica on Friday.
“One of the reasons we went down was we wanted to see him play,” Nolan said after practice Saturday in Bud Bakewell Arena at Riverside Park. “He’s a veteran guy. Like I’ve said, we’ve got a lot of young talent here, and we’ve got to make sure they mature at the right pace. This guy’s a veteran guy that’s been around for a while, and he could have some stability back there for us.
“That’s what we’re looking for. We’re running around in our defensive zone too much. We just need guys to stay back. We’ve got one of the better goaltenders in the world, so we just have to make sure we protect back there.”
Nolan pulled Sulzer aside for a chat at the blue line to outline the veteran’s role.
“I’m an older guy, even if I don’t want to admit it,” said Sulzer, 29. “He just wants me to be as calm as I usually play and just be solid.”
Sulzer is in his third season in the organization and has played 33 games for the Sabres, putting up six goals, six assists and a plus-5 rating. He had two goals and seven points in 10 games for the Amerks.
Sulzer practiced alongside Christian Ehrhoff. The other pairs were Henrik Tallinder and Tyler Myers, Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk, and Jamie McBain and Mike Weber.
“I’m just excited to be back and get the chance again, just trying to play my game and prove that the decision early in the year was wrong to send me down,” Sulzer said. “It’s a complete new start. Like he’s mentioned many times, it’s a clean slate for everybody. Everybody deserves that.
“Things didn’t really work the way they were before, so they’re just trying to look at their options and evaluate after that. I really appreciate the chance.”
The Sabres will be without Cody McCormick for at least a week. The center was injured Thursday in Philadelphia and played just one shift after taking a shot off his wrist.
“In the modern day you’ve got to say upper body or lower body,” Nolan said. “Pick your choice. He’s got one of them.”
Buffalo was already thin at center, so the absence of McCormick forced Nolan to make a position switch. Erstwhile right wing Brian Flynn practiced in the middle of left wing Marcus Foligno and right wing Corey Tropp.
“One thing you notice about him is he’s a very intelligent player,” Nolan said of Flynn. “The fourth-line position, we’ve got to make sure we’ve got reliable guys there to eat some good minutes and give our top guys some rest. He seems like a very reliable young man.”
The Sabres’ other lines featured Cody Hodgson centering for left wing Matt Moulson and right wing Drew Stafford, Ville Leino in the middle of Tyler Ennis and Steve Ott, and Mikhail Grigorenko flanked by Zemgus Girgensons and Luke Adam.
Buffalo will get to avoid longtime tormentor Daniel Alfredsson. The Red Wings forward and former Ottawa captain is expected to miss his sixth straight game with a groin injury.
His replacement, Gustav Nyquist, scored twice in his season debut Thursday. Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland said the 24-year-old is in Detroit to stay. Nyquist was sent to the minors because of salary-cap constraints.
“This is the team I want to be a part of,” Nyquist said. “My goal was to make the team out of training camp. Unfortunately, I didn’t do that, but I couldn’t think too much about it. … I had a lot of opportunities to develop and be part of a great team down there, and I just tried to work hard and get better.”