With the regular season complete, the Buffalo Sabres front office will have several items to address regarding the roster for next season. The status of right winger, Tyler Ennis, is one of the most complicated issues ahead of them. Ennis sat out a vast majority of the season as he battled a severe concussion. Only recently has the 26-year-old resumed skating with teammates at practice after after nearly four months of inactivity.
Many fans and pundits have speculated that the Sabres may choose to move on from Ennis in the off-season, but that seems unlikely. Even if the team were interested in trading him, they would be hard pressed to find a buyer for a player coming back from a long-term concussion, especially at a $4.6 million dollar per season cap hit.
It is also important to remember just how productive Ennis has been throughout his tenure with the organization. With 223 points in 368 career NHL games, the seven-year veteran averages nearly .61 points per game. That is quite impressive, especially considering his average of .56 points per game over the two season prior to obtaining current top six mainstays, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and Jack Eichel.
The Sabres will most likely add to their forward pool this off-season. Outside of Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane, the roster lacks consistent scoring wingers (though arguments can be made for Marcus Foligno and Zemgus Girgensons). So why not give Ennis the opportunity that he deserves to prove he belongs in the future core, especially given his output with lack-luster line mates over the past few seasons?
Some argue that his play was not up to par in the short time he had this season with only 11 points registered prior to his campaign-ending concussion. It must be taken into account however, that Ennis only played 23 games this year, and barely had an opportunity to build lasting chemistry with other forwards in the top six.
It is tough to imagine the young winger looking any more out of place in the top six than Girgensons, Foligno and Nic Deslauriers (among others) have in rotational duty. While it appears that Jack Eichel has built chemistry with Sam Reinhart on his right side, Ryan O’Reilly has yet to find a consistent right winger on his line. Ennis seems like a logical choice, and his insertion on O’Reilly’s line would tentatively fill a glaring need. If the organization is successful in obtaining one more scoring winger, they would secure their first two lines for next season and beyond.
It is fair to note that many players struggle to return from long-term concussions (Tim Connolly being the most recent example in Sabres’ history). It was reported that Ennis experienced seizures during his recovery workouts, which indicates just how severe his experience was and raises questions regarding his long term durability.
Despite obvious uncertainty regarding his ability to remain healthy post concussion, by all accounts, Ennis’ health has progressed as of late, as bouts of dizziness have subsided during workouts.
Health concerns aside, Ennis’ offensive ability was sorely missed this season on a team that ranked 26th in goals for. His past experience on the power play cannot be ignored either. With a power-play unit that has struggled toward the end of the season, he would be a welcome addition (23 of his 92 career goals and 49 of his 131 career assists have been registered with the man advantage).
The Sabres currently employ the likes of Matt Moulson and rookie Cole Schneider as wingers on their power play units. There is little question that a proven veteran scoring commodity would be better served in one of those spots.
It makes the most sense to give Tyler Ennis the opportunity to regenerate his past production. In his inaugural press conference, Head Coach Dan Bylsma mentioned Ennis specifically when asked which current players he was most excited to coach.
This is been a player that, through the worst of times with this franchise, works hard every shift, and bleeds blue and gold. As fans, our memories tend to be short, but credit must be given to the young man for his tenacity through the rebuild. During the the past two campaigns resulting in last place finishes, he was the team’s best forward, and at times the lone bright spot in a group of misfits.
Is it possible that he never regains his scoring touch? Absolutely. However, it makes the most sense to allow him a full season with a new and improved roster (the best he has been a part of as a Sabre) to remind us all why number 63 remains a fan favorite.