The Sabres are set to take on the Lightning at 7:30 p.m. and Mitchell will be in the Sabres lineup wearing No. 17.
Mitchell arrived just as the Sabres were wrapping up their skate and was able to catch up with Zenon Konopka, his old teammate in Minnesota. Mitchell also played with defenseman Christian Ehrhoff when both were with the San Jose Sharks.
“I’m excited to see those guys again and meet all the new guys,” Mitchell said. “As soon as the trade happened, Z was already calling me. He was one of my first phone calls so he was excited. It’s good to know some guys and it’s easier to settle in, but hockey guys are the same everywhere.”
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said that Ville Leino will take Moulson’s place on the top line with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford. Mitchell will likely start in the bottom six, but Nolan is open to moving him around in the lineup.
“I don’t know Mitchell very well. I know he’s an energy guy so energy guys are third, fourth-line guys, but we’ll see,” Nolan said. “I’m not going to pigeonhole him in that position yet. We’ll see what he brings, how he fits in and we’ll go from there.”
With Cory Conacher not expected to join the team until Friday, the Sabres will have only have to scratch one player in Tampa. Nolan said he was leaning towards sitting Konopka, meaning the Sabres will likely go with seven defensemen against the Lightning.
Jhonas Enroth will start in goal Thursday night and Neuvirth will play Friday against the Florida Panthers.
Neuvirth had a 5:30 a.m. wake up call in Washington for his flight to Tampa and took the ice just as the skate was wrapping up. He’s hoping he can make the most of his chances.
“My goal is to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL and I feel like I can get the opportunity here,” he said. “I’m going give all my best, work hard every day and we’ll see what happens.”
Leadership roles will have to be filled as well in these final 20 games.
“Going into the last stretch of games here, our playoffs basically start today. A lot of guys’ contracts are up, positions to be won. There’s no such thing as ‘nothing to play for.’ There’s a lot to play for,” Nolan said. “They’re playing for the livelihood. So we’ve got to unite. We’ve got to find some new leaders on this team to take over.
“Steve Ott was the backbone here for awhile. He’s not here anymore so somebody else has to step up. [Ryan] Miller’s not here anymore so somebody else has to step up. We’ve got some room for people to take a leadership role and see how they respond going down the stretch run.”
Nolan has praised Drew Stafford for the way he’s approached the past week.
“I think it’s definitely a compliment,” Stafford said. “But at the same time, there are a lot of guys in here that are capable of steering the ship here in the last month or so because it’s definitely going to be challenging to try and stay on track with all the stuff that’s going on and the way this year’s gone. But we’ve been playing well as of late and making sure that the compete’s there.”
“I saw all four of them having ice cream last night together so that’s the next generation. They’re quality kids and quality players so there’s something to really look forward to,” Nolan said.
On the other end of the rink, Steven Stamkos returns to action after missing 45 games with broken right shin. He has 14 goals and 23 points in 17 games this season and will look to make an impact right away.
Ryan Callahan will make his Lightning debut. He was acquired from the New York Rangers for Tampa Bay captain Martin St. Louis in one of the splashiest moves Wednesday.
The team announced after practice that Dominik Hasek will be inducted into the Sabres Hall of Fame in a pregame ceremony on March 29.
Before that news even broke, Neuvirth, a native of the Czech Republic, mentioned Hasek when describing what he knows of the Sabres organization. Hasek was the first thing he thought of when he heard he’d been traded to the Sabres.
“The first thing that came to my mind was Dominik Hasek was here. I was a big fan of him when I was a kid and a big fan of Buffalo,” he said. “He was a hero for me, from the same country. All games I watched were Buffalo games because of him. He’s a legend back home.”
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