Jason Pominville has a lot going for him nowadays. He's playing a sport he loves for a living, knowing full well that he's a key member of the Buffalo Sabres after six years of working his way up the ladder. As a rookie, he excitingly netted a shorthanded overtime winner in the second round of the postseason which elevated the team to the Conference Finals. Now, the 28-year-old can add the honor of the historic club's captaincy, that has been bestowed upon him, to the list.
The waiving of Craig Rivet last year had to happen; he was an aged veteran who had lost a step and the game's speed isn't exactly accommodating these shortcomings. Experience is taking a backseat, as the influx of youth is pouring into the league rapidly and pushing some of the older players out of a job. Sure, Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom have it in them to defy this logic, but they are rare exceptions. For every Taylor Hall or Jeff Skinner, there is not a Ray Whitney or Mark Recchi to cancel them out.
In Rivet's place, Lindy Ruff selected Pominville as his new leader for the upcoming season. You might ask why, especially with the arrival of the hard-nosed Robyn Regehr, a man who led by example in Calgary. Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy, two of the team's other long-serving forwards, were considered as well. Along with Drew Stafford and Paul Gaustad, they accepted an alternate captain position, while Pominville was the correct choice that the coach opted for.
By not giving the role to Regehr like they did with Rivet shortly after his arrival, the team indicated that they wanted to go into a new direction. It places emphasis on home-grown talents, explaining why the five newly presented leaders are also the players who have been around for the longest periods. As for who would be the actual captain, the consensus is that Stafford is just hitting his prime and the added pressure might jeopardize that. Gaustad is a hard worker and terrific team player, but isn't equipped with many intangibles and Vanek, for all of his goal-scoring prowess, still vanishes when the puck fails to cooperate.
That leaves Roy and Pominville, who are awfully similar to one another because of their vision, two-way efforts, passing and pure knowledge. A coach could not have gone wrong either way, since both have the qualifications, right age and roughly the same number of games played in their careers. Roy's debut arised before the lock-out and Pominville was really introduced when the National Hockey League resumed its operations in 2005-2006—he dressed for one game in 2004. For all we know, Ruff flipped a coin to finalize his choice because of how close the comparisons are.
There should not be a debate about Pominville's captaincy. He's consistently healthy and ready to compete; chuckle if you must, but what good is a captain if he isn't fit for duty more often than not? The first blemish on his injury history came last year, as a concussion took away nine matches from him. Other than that, and a scary leg laceration in the playoffs, his body is fully cooperative.
He may be a little soft-spoken and not the type of player who will get the attention of teammates with a loud speech, but that's where his shortcomings end. Bringing in Regehr, the Buffalo Sabres can count on his presence and character in the locker room to keep the team working as a whole—minor problem solved.
Statistically, Pominville's a lock for more than 20 goals and 60-plus points routinely. An underrated shot allied with tremendous creativity means he's an equal threat as a shooter and distributor. He'll keep the opposition guessing at what his intentions are.
Two-way hockey is incredibly tough for someone to pull of thoroughly, despite how easy Pavel Datsyuk would lead you to believe it is. On the penalty-kill, Pominville uses every ounce of energy to hold off potential scoring threats and reads the situations smoothly. Why else would he quarterback the point on the powerplay? His coach trusts that he won't lose control and forfeit a shorthanded break-away, and if he does so, you can be sure he'll chase him all the way. Almost automatically, he'll flick the switch from offensive minded to defensively alert, supplying the club with a special teams expert on both sides of the puck.
Minnesota's Mikko Koivu leads through actions, not by words. He has plenty in common with Pominville: great two-way wits, tenacity, patience and the class to finish or set up linemates. Interestingly, the Finn was brought up through the pipeline too and the organization named him their permanent captain in his fifth year of service. For Pominville, he has six previous campaigns with the Buffalo Sabres to lean on and there's no reason to believe he is not up to the task.
The bottom line is that Lindy Ruff wanted a player who understands the system in detail, is dedicated to the cause and a model example to his teammates.
Picking Jason Pominville fills all such criteria.
Follow Rafal Ladysz on Twitter.