When the Buffalo Sabres signed Evan Rodrigues as an undrafted college free agent out of Boston University in April of 2015. Many people looked at it as the Sabres bringing in Jack Eichel’s college buddy. The club found out just a few days prior they would be selecting second overall in the 2015 NHL draft and presumably would pick Eichel.
Since he’s arrived, the Toronto native has played with a chip on his shoulder. Rodrigues has been a pleasant surprise. He’s worked his way into the NHL lineup on a full-time basis and is becoming an important piece of the roster moving into the future.
Rodrigues had a breakout year his senior season at BU playing with Eichel. He had 21 goals and 61 points in 41 games. Resulting in offers from NHL teams after his season ended.
At the time he was brought into the Sabres system, he wasn’t considered to be nothing more than organizational depth. He caught the attention of some fans with a good rookie season with the Rochester Americans. Rodrigues scored nine goals and 30 points in 72 games. He also got the opportunity to play two games with the Sabres that season in which he registered one goal and one assist.
Last season he continued to develop scoring nine goals and 30 points again. This time it was in 48 games with the Amerks. He received an extended look with the Sabres playing 30 games and recorded six points.
Heading into training camp this season, Rodrigues had the potential to make the Sabres roster out of camp. In fact, he ended up being the stand out of training camp with his improved speed and playmaking ability throughout the preseason.
Rodrigues suffered a wrist injury in one of the final games of the preseason which caused him to miss the first month of the regular season. Again, he welcomed the challenge.
After he was assigned to the Amerks he put up 10 points in eight games and was recalled back to Buffalo where he’s been ever since.
I wanted to quickly recap Rodrigues journey to the NHL because it goes a long way to show the type of player that he is. Having players who are determined to earn their spot and respect is a trait that this roster could use more of.
Back in training camp, Rodrigues talked about what drives him to be successful.
“I feel like I’ve always been an underdog my whole life, didn’t really get drafted, I’m a smaller guy. I’m starting to catch up, my case is there, my speed’s there, my strength’s there, I always felt like I had a brain for the game,” said Rodrigues.
Taking the hard way to the NHL seems to have made the 24-year-old understand the work that is needed to play at the highest level. After earning his second contract this past summer with the Sabres. Rodrigues knew he had to focus on part of his game to be able to be a full-time NHL player, his speed.
“That was the one thing I really put on a focus in the summer. It’s the new age NHL, it’s speed, that’s what it is. Guys used to be able to skate up and down the wing 100 miles per hour and put the puck in the net and now they can do that but make plays at the same time. You gotta be able to keep up,” said Rodrigues.
The infusion of speed when he is in the lineup is hard to miss when you flip on a Sabres game and that’s what made him the talk of training camp. Rodrigues always had the playmaking ability and vision on the ice. With the addition of his improved skating ability, he’s rounding into a complete player.
He gives Phil Housley the ability to use him all over the lineup. He can play the wing, he can play center, can play a checking role, scoring line role, kill penalties and be effective on the power play.
When Housely and Jason Botterill arrived they talked about having players on the team that gave them position versatility. Guys who can step up in an injury situation and fill different roles throughout the lineup. Rodrigues is that type of player for the Sabres.
In an ideal situation, he fits in as a third line forward in a solid top nine. We’ve seen the potential he has over the last few nights on a quick third line when he was with buddies Nick Baptiste and Justin Bailey. A type of third line we’ll hopefully begin to see next season.
Rodrigues has shown this season that he can produce at the rate that is expected of a third line player. In 39 games this season he has six goals and 19 points. That projects out to 13 goals and 40 points per 82 games pace.
He has the shot to beat NHL goaltenders and isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice to find loose pucks.
Rodrigues has solidified his spot on the roster moving into the future and as a player to build around in the bottom of the lineup. The hard work and determination have paid off.