Aside from scoring Kootenay's only goal in Saturday's lopsided 7-1 loss to Red Deer, defenseman Brayden McNabb also earned a slashing and fighting combo late in the game after a quick scrap with Rebels forward Cody Esposito. The bout was the closing act in a game featuring five fights. Tale of the Tape: McNabb, 18, 6'4, 210 lbs, 13 career majors Esposito, 20, 6'3, 205 pounds, 43 career majors
Remember how the theme of the draft was team toughness?
The Sabres have invested quite a bit in goaltender Ryan Miller, yet in recent years have too often came up short when protecting their meal ticket. Names like Tallinder, Spacek, Sekera, Numminen, and Campbell weren't scaring anyone away from taking a whack. That's why hard-nosed Craig Rivet was viewed as a Godsend when he arrived, why Steve Montador was a free agent target, and why it's important for Mike Weber to show a disciplined edge when trying to earn the 6/7 spot in Buffalo.
Along the same lines, it's refreshing to see another Sabres CHL defenseman show a consistent willingness to "go" as he develops NHL chops. Aside from the occasional police work of future workhorse Tyler Myers, the use of fight-or-flight adrenaline is one trait that's been somewhat lacking among the Sabres' junior rearguards since the lockout.
T.J. Brennan rarely pulled that club out of the bag in the Q, while OHL products Drew Schiestel and Nick Crawford have been developing with cooler heads. Even Mike Weber, who in 2007-08 had nine fights as an AHL rookie (including an infamous tune-up by Mike Keane), only had 11 scraps in his four junior seasons.
(The team toughness movement is obviously not limited to defensemen. Veteran forwards Jeff Cowan and Cody McCormick are being fitted for grit in camp, and it's likely that Travis Turnbull's 14-fight USHL resume was consulted before signing him out of Michigan. There's no need to even mention what Zack Kassian represents down the road.)
I'm not making a case for a back end goon, nor am I proclaiming the current blueline crop a bunch of "nice guys". Players like Matt Generous, Jordon Southorn (seasons of three and four majors) and Drew MacKenzie (three fights in 2007-08) have shown minor flare-ups in the past. I'm merely suggesting that variety is a requirement when building a blueline stable, and the drafting of third-rounders McNabb (2009) and Corey Fienhage (2008) are positive steps towards toughness while Rivet leads by example ahead of them.
McNabb's 10 goals last season would have tied Schiestel for tops among all Sabres defensive prospects, while his 10 fights and 140 PIMs proved more active than his next closest competitor, Myers (5 majors, 105 PIM in nine fewer games). Fienhage had 28 PIMs in nine games including six roughing minors, one high stick, one check from behind, and a fighting misconduct. These are young, talented players acting mean and putting up different types numbers in terms of Sabres D prospects.
So yes, this is all old news. Pardon me if it sounds like I'm going out of my way to state the obvious, but it's encouraging to see the plan in action.