The Buffalo Sabres could have forward Drew Stafford back in the lineup by the end of the week.
Stafford went through practice Monday morning in First Niagara Center wearing a red non-contact jersey. He said afterward “it’s been a good last couple days.”
“I think it’s more a day-to-day kind of thing,” Stafford said about his return to the lineup. “I had a really long day today, a hard-working day, so we’ll see how it responds later today and tomorrow morning. That’s pretty much where we’re at.”
Stafford has missed the past three games after suffering an upper-body injury against the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 2.
“It’s one of those things where he’s coming at me pretty fast, I’m coming at him pretty fast. It’s kind of like a car crash. You see those kind of hits every game numerous times,” Stafford said. “Just kind of bad luck on that one that I got twisted up a little bit.”
Stafford has four goals and nine assists in 41 games this season.
Interim coach Ted Nolan said he hadn’t talked to Stafford at the conclusion of Monday’s’ practice, but “I talked to him during practice. He said he was feeling good.”
“I’m not 100 percent sure about tomorrow, but he’s real close,” Nolan said.
The Sabres’ other injured players — forwards Cody McCormick and Kevin Porter and defenseman Henrik Tallinder — are not as close to returning. McCormick took part in practice on a non-contact basis.
“All those three guys are about the same,” Nolan said.
Captain Steve Ott was given the day off Monday. Nolan said it was unrelated to the shot Ott blocked off his hand Sunday against the Washington Capitals, but was instead a regular “maintenance day.”
“He’s just one of those guys who competes hard all the time,” Nolan said of Ott. “It’s just to give him rest. He played big minutes for us last night. He blocks shots all the time. He takes hits. He’s not the biggest guy in the league, but he plays very big.”
Nolan reiterated Monday why the organization feels it’s best for 19-year-old Mikhail Grigorenko to develop in juniors.
That’s a decision Grigorenko at first balked at, making it seem like he would not report to the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. In a since-deleted Facebook post, Grigorenko wrote over the weekend: “I would just ask all of you guys to respect me and the time I’m taking to think about my career. It might be hard to understand, but it is even harder for a teenager.”
“We can’t control what people do and what they say, but we certainly can control how we’re going to try to run this organization and what we feel is necessary for the development of young players,” Nolan said Monday. “The tail can’t wag the dog. The dog wags the tail.
“We feel as an organization it’s best for him to develop in junior hockey. That’s not taking anything away from him. He’s got some skills and he’s got some ability, but in order for him to play at this level, we just need a little bit more.”
Grigorenko and his agent, Jay Grossman, agreed to the assignment late Sunday night after talking with members of the Sabres’ front office.
“You got to make the best of whatever situation you’re in,” Nolan said. “If he learns at a young age, it’s even better. But you will learn how to adapt and to adjust, and if you don’t, someone else is always going to take your job.”
NHL Central Scouting released its midterm rankings Monday on NHL.com. If the Sabres finish the season in their current position of 30th and last in the league, they’ll have a 25 percent chance of receiving the first overall pick in the NHL Draft lottery.
Central Scouting ranked center Samuel Bennett of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs as the No. 1 North American skater. Bennett, 6-foot-0 and 178 pounds, is fourth in the OHL with 66 points (26 goals, 40 assists) in 40 games.
Center Sam Reinhart, who plays for Kootenay of the Western Hockey League, is thought by many to be the likeliest No. 1 overall pick. He’s ranked fourth by Central Scouting in its latest rankings.
The top-ranked North American defenseman is 6-3, 216-pounder Aaron Ekblad of Barrie in the OHL.
The top-ranked European skater is Kasperi Kapanen, a 6-0, 180-pound right winger from Finland.