With injuries and off-season sales, three young forwards and one defenseman are stretching their legs for the Buffalo Sabres. Head coach Lindy Ruff has conceded that he has no option but to release these players into the wild, trusting they will survive and carry out their assignments.
Technically, Nathan Gerbe and Mike Weber are not rookies because they participated in more than six contests during two previous campaigns. Tyler Ennis and Luke Adam own the label of a freshman, but all four are less than 100 games into their professional careers - the transition from the minor leagues is underway.
With that in mind, which of these players has been the most impressive and useful? Reviewing each case, we'd like to hear your selection and reasoning behind it.
Name: Luke Adam
Younger than his three teammates, Adam has cleaned up a mess in front of the goal three times and picked up his first game-winning goal in San Jose. Over time, he should reveal more aggression, as there's no space for politeness in a power forward's repertoire. Adam looks up to Vincent Lecavalier as a person he'd like to bear resemblance to through leadership, scoring, play-making and power. He'll have to work his way up from the bottom line where he shall center veterans Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer for the time being.
Name: Tyler Ennis
Position: Left Wing
Traditionally, the Sabres have demanded speed above size. These days, they are wisely balancing the scales and Ennis has already carved out a key role for himself after earning the support of fans last year. Quick and supremely gifted, the 2008 first round draft pick is realizing the struggles that arise for a rookie, but can still reach 20 goals if he keeps his head up. Ruff oversaw the development of Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Jason Pominville, so Ennis will be given every chance to remain in Buffalo.
Name: Nathan Gerbe
Paul Gaustad's face-off expertise has shifted Gerbe to the left side, behind Vanek and Ennis in the pecking order. His versatility is impressive as he can, if required, do a good job as an attacking winger. Although he has protection in the form of Gaustad and Cody McCormick on his unit, he still hunts for loose pucks among larger opponents daily. A graduate of the Portland Pirates system, Gerbe must find the extra gear to thrive alongside the professionals because he's equipped with the heart and smarts to pull it off.
Name: Mike Weber
Sidney Crosby got in Weber's way last month and wasn't treated with the respect a superstar usually gathers. Buffalo's defensive corps doesn't exactly persuade players to stay away from Ryan Miller, but the punishing rearguard is changing that perception. His arrival has added stability and combativeness - only Steve Montador has a better plus-minus and prevalent penalty minutes - in the 23 games he's earned. It is a deeply impressive accomplishment for a team well outside the established elite.