From Timmy to Tyler

by Ryan

Sometimes you just have good timing.

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Just two days after I’m in the press box watching Tyler Ennis as a Portland Pirate he scores his first goal as a Buffalo Sabre. It took a lot of things for it to happen: Gerbe’s concussion moved him up the callup list, Grier’s groin put Mair in the lineup and Stafford’s hip injury created a need. And so suddenly the Sabres have a number 62 taking shifts on Saturday night in Philly.

His first impression to Sabres fans was impressive: 1 goal, 4 shots, 19 shifts and 14:13 TOI. He saw time on the power play and looked comfortable in his first NHL game despite being rushed into action. It wasn’t a spectacular first game, but it was a pretty strong showing for a kid less than a year out of juniors and in his first AHL season, let alone his first NHL game.

Now it’s not likely Ennis stays with the team for very long. In fact I doubt he even plays on Wednesday, but what happened in Philadelphia is a strong indicator that he remains the first call up when more injuries strike. That means we haven’t seen the last of Ennis this year, and also that Nathan Gerbe falls further down the depth chart.

Call it bad luck that a concussion kept Nathan from being ready this week, but Ennis has probably jumped him on the depth chart when healthy, too. Here’s what Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen had to say about Ennis on Thursday after the Portland game on Thursday:

“Ennis is kind of one of those little firestarters,” he said about Ennis’ playmaking ability. “Tyler’s been a guy that’s not unlike Timmy Kennedy here last year. When I was looking to get a player going he seemed to put him on his wing and all of a sudden he’s playing good hockey.”

It’s an interesting comparison when you think about it. Dineen also mentioned that both Kennedy and Ennis are not natural centers, and so they’ve had to work hard to transition into that role. He also called Ennis their “top player” so far, something that Kennedy was called throughout much of last season.

I think the comparisons Ennis brings to Kennedy are valid. Listen, there’s a reason Kennedy made the Sabres out of camp while Gerbe is still in Maine: Kennedy can adapt to a different role on the Sabres, something Ennis seems able to do as well. Both Tylers have fantastic vision and playmaking ability, but they also seem quite willing to grind it out on the third line for a bit.

What Kennedy is doing this season is not something we will see from him in two or three years. As he learns his place in the NHL he will use his vision and skill with the puck more and more. He will be a scorer, and the third line will be well beyond him. Right now, however, that’s how he makes it into the NHL. If playing with guys like Grier and Ellis is what it takes, he’s going to do it.

Ennis and Kennedy are different players, but they seem to have the same sort of abilities and advantages. If anything, we can only hope that Ennis has a lot of what Tim Kennedy brings. Oftentimes he is one of the best players on the ice, and five points this season betrays his true value to the team.

It’s still very early, but if other Tyler plays like Tim, Darcy has already hit the 2008 draft class out of the park. Both Tylers have already made an impact on the Sabres just one year removed from their draft class. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kennedy, Myers, and Ennis were all playing hockey on this team in April. It’s been a long time since Darcy Regier was that successful with a draft class, and its rare that any draft brings such instant satisfaction.

In the wake of such first round failures as Marek Zagrapan and Dan Paille, Darcy seems to be on the right track so far.