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Sticking Up For The Little Guy

To all the Sabres’ broadcasters, bloggers and journalists out there: pick on someone your own size. I am sick and tired of hearing home bad Nathan Gerbe is. Or how “The Nathan Gerbe experiment is over”. It’s not over, it has just hit a bit of a snag.

With the 5’5″ Gerbe headed to the press box last Wednesday plenty of fans are calling for his head to hit the trading block, but this would be a premature mistake, the kind Darcy Regier works extremely hard to avoid.

I have heard “send him back to the AHL” too many times, but does he deserve it? Let’s look at the numbers: in 43 NHL games Gerbe has scored three goals and recorded nine assists for a total of 12 points, so roughly a point every four games.

This season has been right on pace, Gerbe has five assists in 21 games. These numbers are not staggering, but keep in mind that he’s a rookie. He hasn’t played a full season in the NHL yet.

If you project that over a season he is likely to have the type of season that Tim Kennedy had last year and most fans were flabbergasted when he was let go in the off season. Like Kennedy last year, Gerbe has been placed on the bottom-6 as his primary assignment. He didn’t produce too much in that capacity. Upon earning a spot on the top line he picked up two assists and didn’t look too out of place.

Gerbe also didn’t look comfortable on the top line with Vanek and Roy. He would ideally play with a larger player, like a Drew Stafford, the type of guy who hasn’t been available. He didn’t look out of place on the bottom line, which is the most telling and the thing that separates him the most from Kennedy.

Gerbe isn’t afraid of anyone (ask Rick Nash) and is willing to hit and antagonize at an almost Kaleta-like pace. He is the type of player you like to have on the roster and has been an asset to Buffalo in the intangible department.

So for those saying “Gerbe has to score to stay” of course Gerbe looks to be a bust. He has three goals in 42 games after scoring 81 in 124 NCAA games and 41 in 101 AHL games. Tough start. Not unsurvivable, but tough.

Gerbe hasn’t been able to shoot or skate around defensemen like he has at other levels. Adapting your game takes time. He has started to go to the front of the net and has been rewarded with chances, unfortunately he hasn’t been rewarded with goals.

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So Gerbe hasn’t been scoring. Neither was Thomas Vanek in the early goings, but he certainly has turned it around hasn’t he. I’ll tell you this too, I’d rather have a slumping Gerbe than a slumping Vanek. His attitude has be the right one which is encouraging early in a career.

Just because he’s tiny doesn’t mean he has to score. It would be nice, yes especially on this current Sabres squad. Gerbe is a +6 in his NHL career, which means he must be doing something right. Gerbe has been changing his game for a couple of years now and will continue to improve as he gets more experience at the NHL level.

Think about his career: He played 10 games in 2008-09, followed by a large stint in the AHL. He then played another 10 in 2009-10 before seeing a long summer. This season he plays nine games, gets his jaw fractured and he sits eight.

This is not the consistent time that many players get in their 1st 40. Gerbe’s fractured jaw also makes his life more difficult. Wearing the extra mask makes it tough for him to play physical along the boards and in front of the net.

Gerbe has a good low presence along the walls and can play well when paired with playmakers and power forwards. He is the type of player that has suffered from an effluence of left wings in the Sabres system, but he is still a valuable asset.

He hasn’t really been passed on the depth chart by anyone. Some would say Luke Adam, but the Sabres are dedicated to the idea of Adam replacing Connolly on either July 1 or the trade deadline. That leaves Matt Ellis, Colin Stuart and Gerbe. Gerbe has the most upside so he will stay.

That being said, if the Sabres can find a trading partner that is willing to give up something really good for Gerbe I would say go for it. If not, he’s a young player who has plenty of room to grow in the NHL. He has a couple of years to grow into a role as an NHL left winger. He proved in training camp that he belongs on this team. The next step is for him to earn his ice time, not pack his bags.

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