Injuries are an amusing manifestation because they are typically perceived as bad news. Sure, it's hard to restrain yourself from outrage if a key player breaks a bone or injures a muscle, leaving doubt to when their wounds will heal and the chance that it will be a costly void. Excuses can't be uttered; affliction arrives to every club, just not in equal doses, and the coaching staff should treat it as part of the process that is a full regular season.
While it doesn't do any favors for the person who caught an unlucky break, it opens the gate for a youthful insertion and the chance for someone else to get closer to their dreams. Tyler Ennis is one of the top substitution options for Lindy Ruff and the Buffalo Sabres as a leading scorer for the AHL's Portland Pirates. Back in November, the 20-year-old scored a goal in his NHL debut against the Philadelphia Flyers and returned to Portland thereafter.
As superb as that was, learning a player's tendencies and potential from a one-game sample isn't ideal. Observing their work in the minor leagues will help, but the leap into the NHL is the toughest to achieve and there's no way to know when, how or if it will happen. To stay put, the person must have the right attitude, a proper skill-set and fortune to boot. After all, everything is unpredictable as the individual often puts aside his own ambitions for the squad and accepts a separate role from what he was used to in the minor leagues.
Recently, I received the privilege of interviewing defenseman Joe DiPenta, a teammate of Ennis' in Portland. I posed the question of who he believed would make a leap into the NHL soon from his current group of mates and the first name he threw out was the short center's.
"Tyler Ennis has been our top forward throughout the season and he's been incredible for us. He's an amazingly talented player who seems to be a magician when he has the puck; it's hard to get it from him. He seems to make so much room for himself out there and it's exciting to watch. We'll be seeing him in the NHL in the next couple of years and I think he could even be playing there right now. "
Call it fate or blind fortune, but Tim Connolly, Thomas Vanek and Patrick Kaleta tumbled with ailments. Ennis, Nathan Gerbe and Mark Mancari received phone calls to fill in but it's the former who has grabbed the headlines with eight points in as many games. Ruff's acknowledging that the most worthy players will take to the ice in the postseason signifies that Ennis' timing in creating an impact is perfect.
The emphatic start to his NHL career has overshadowed that of his predecessors. A comparison below proves that his progress as a freshman surpasses that of the previous prospects who first got their start-ups in Buffalo.
Sidenote: Mancari played three games with Buffalo in 2007, but the seven-game tryout from last year better served our analysis.
Judging from his track record in the AHL, these numbers are practical for a scoring forward who can give Buffalo an extra dimension going ahead, a factor that will help immensely in the postseason plans. However, eight games, nor 20 or even 40, can dictate one's prognosticated accomplishments after the dust settles in a full season. Slumps and struggles plague every player, whether he be world-class or lower-class.
Excited to debut with an organization as all are, this year's rookies thrived early on and it wasn't long until experts pointed at each of them as a Calder Trophy candidate. Then, the problems began heavily to the surprise of nobody. After all, this is the best hockey league; defenseman will examine your habits, coaches will keep an eye on you and goaltenders read your body language.
|Player||First 20 Games||Next 20 Games||Next 20 Games|
|John Tavares||18 Points||Ten Points||Six Points|
|James van Riemsdyk||19 Points||Seven Points||Seven Points|
|Jamie Benn||11 Points||Nine Points||Eight Points|
|Niclas Bergfors||14 Points||12 Points||Five Points|
|Matt Duchene||Seven Points||17 Points||18 Points|
It's rare to find rookies who can maintain a point-per game average over the long haul. Evgeni Malkin was the last person who held his pace through 70-plus contests, an indication of how special the requirements are. The initial reaction to Ennis' production is euphoria mixed with uncertainty. Euphoria because seeing a newcomer flourish is joyful for all and his age brings the prospect of more improvement still to come. Uncertainty because others have begun with promise, lots of it, for long spurts. It cannot last forever though.
Partnered with Jason Pominville and Jochen Hecht, Ennis has three things going for him in this situation: room to maneuver, teammates affording him quick options and his own aptitude. While he hasn't increased their statistics very much, lest we forget these are two top-line players who play both ends of the ice. All Ennis has to do is hold his own, which he has.
The variety of awareness he's shown is remarkable as well: waiting for the timeliest pass outlet instead of forcing it, anticipating a decision such as Tomas Vokoun's miscommunication with his defenseman and camping by the net for rebounds. Buffalo's high-tempo, high-pressuring game is perfectly suited to getting the best out of him.
With the playoff combinations nowhere near confirmed, the players who are unsure of their status have two games left to create a positive impression. As a member of that assemblage, Ennis has controlled his destiny so much, that a decision of demotion to the AHL would likely be an unpopular choice.
Ruff has the power to remove anyone from the roster, but nobody, from the head coach to the general manager, can take away Tyler Ennis' eligibility as an NHL-meriting player.