No one can accuse Tyler Ennis of thinking small.
“I’m glad I got 21,” the Sabres forward said of this season’s goal total, “but I want to get 30. I want to get 40. You want to set high goals, so I’m going to set high goals for myself.”
For a team that scores with the worst of them, a boost in production would be welcomed. A full season under coach Ted Nolan should help Ennis, who remained, for better and worse, Buffalo’s No. 1 center.
The Sabres’ dressing room was filled with guys who performed better once Nolan arrived, but Ennis was the poster boy. He had just two goals and six points during the opening 20 games with Ron Rolston in charge. Ennis finished with a team-high 21 goals and was second with 43 points, a turnaround that made his teammates vote him the Sabres’ MVP.
“I can be a lot better,” Ennis said. “I had such a slow start. It’s not acceptable, and I need to be better to start. I’m looking forward to next year and playing out of the gates faster.”
With his youthful appearance and quiet voice, Ennis still looks like a draft-eligible prospect. But he’ll be 25 when the season starts, and the 2008 first-round pick needs to start closing the holes in his game. There were plenty.
There were players who performed worse at the faceoff dot, but it’s a short list. Ennis lost 383 of his 625 draws, a 38.7 percent success rate that was the lowest in the NHL for centers with that many faceoffs. If the list is expanded to forwards with a minimum of 100 faceoffs, Ennis was fourth worst behind Washington’s Marcus Johansson (34.7 percent on 274 faceoffs), Toronto’s Nikolai Kulemin (35.2 percent on 108) and Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher (36.7 percent on 128).
Ennis is creative offensively, but that skill is negated when he allows the other team to have the puck right off the draw.
Ennis also could improve his numbers on the power play. No forward in Buffalo received more ice time with the man advantage, and he ranked 49th in the NHL with 260 minutes, 32 seconds. He recorded six goals (tied for 67th) and 16 points (tied for 88th).
The 5-foot-9, 169-pounder continued to build a reputation as a competitor. He doesn’t shy away from contact, ranking seventh on the Sabres with 89 hits. He led the team with 13 goals away from Buffalo, and he made his tallies count. Eight of Ennis’ 21 goals came with the team trailing by one, and another eight put the Sabres in front.
Those were a few of the reasons he wore an “A” as alternate captain toward the end of the season and was named team MVP.
“To grow up and make the NHL is a dream come true, then to be an assistant captain and be a leader is awesome,” Ennis said. “It was a cool experience for me, and hopefully I can continue to lead the team and lead the team out of last place.”
David Leggio, the Williamsville native who spent three years in the Sabres’ organization, will represent the United States at the world championships this month.
The 29-year-old is one of three goaltenders on the U.S. roster, which was finalized Friday. Leggio will head to Belarus along with Tim Thomas of the Dallas Stars and UMass Lowell college goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
Leggio played for the Sabres’ minor-league teams in Portland and Rochester from 2010 to 2013. This season, he went 23-18-3 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .913 save percentage for the Hershey Bears, the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals.
Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe was previously announced as a member of the U.S. team, which begins play next Friday. Lancaster native Tim Macre, who is an athletic trainer for the Sabres, will hold the same role for USA Hockey. Former Buffalo assistant coach Joe Sacco is an assistant for the United States.