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Derek Grant in early lead for the Sabres 13th forward spot

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Center is Sabres’ training camp star so far

NHL: Preseason-Ottawa Senators at Buffalo Sabres
Buffalo Sabres center Derek Grant
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

When Derek Grant was signed up back in July at the beginning of free agency, we here at Die By The Blade like many others thought that he was bolstering the group down at the Rochester Americans. It turns out the Abbotsford, BC native had different ideas.

Grant has been the standout player during the Buffalo Sabres training camp, catching the eye with his performances during the scrimmages and in the first two preseason games as well.

There is only one open spot for a forward on the roster, and Grant is making sure he is in the conversation for it.

“It’s not a long opportunity, so you’ve got to take advantage of the chances you get. It’s a little bit of confidence going forward. I’m just trying to come in here every day and work and try to prove that I can be here.”

Grant, selected 119th overall by Tim Murray in Ottawa in the fourth round of the 2008 Draft, failed to make much of an impression in forty NHL games for the Senators and Calgary Flames and is still looking for his maiden regular season goal.

However, Murray was impressed by two big seasons in the AHL for center (21G, 17A in 73 games in 2014-15; 27G, 18A in 36 games in 2015-16) and brought him to Buffalo on a one-year, two-way deal that pays $650,000 in Buffalo and $400,000 in Rochester (Cap Friendly). Grant was grateful for the chance -

“He’s an honest guy, and he said, ‘You come in here and work, and there could be a spot open in camp.’ I just thought if there’s an opportunity there, it’s up to me to come and take it. I’m just trying to do that every day I’m here.”

Coach Dan Bylsma has been impressed by Grant, talking constantly about him during the weekend.

“He’s building trust in his game with the way he’s playing. You have to earn the trust in your coach. You have to earn the trust in your teammates with your game. I’m pretty sure he’s been doing that.

“He’s had four days, and he’s had four good days. He’s going to get another opportunity because of that.

Byslma is impressed by Grant’s physical attributes. The center is a solid presence at 6’3”, 203lbs.

“He’s a real big man, and he can skate and move around. He’s excellent positionally, smart-wise. There’s been a determination with the way he’s played, and I think it’s been evident.

“As a player who’s new to our organization, he wants to come in and prove what kind of player he is. He’s certainly done that.

“Is it a person who could play in a specific spot? Is he a jack of all trades? Can he play different positions, center and wing? Or is he an element player that is going to add a certain element, a speed element or physicality to the team?

“That’s part of the competition. We’re going to see how that plays out.”

Goaltender Robin Lehner, who played with Grant at the Binghamton Senators as well as in Ottawa, is helping out his old buddy by letting him live with him during camp.

“He’s a very good guy and he’s doing very well. He’s a hard-working guy with a lot of speed and underrated skill.”

Grant’s competition for that elusive 13th spot is going to be fierce. Nick Baptiste has been hot lately since the prospects tournament, local boy Justin Bailey played well when called up last season and Hudson Fasching looks like he is cut out for big things too.

This could be a fascinating year that would remind Sabres fans of the 2005-06 season when a certain group of upstarts made the jump up from the Amerks and blew the League wide open.