Thomas Vanek lost another neighbor on Wednesday, both at home and in the locker room. The trade of Jason Pominville to Minnesota on Wednesday means there’s an empty locker stall next to Vanek now. But it also means that Vanek’s street has one less resident.
“It’s hard. I saw Robyn (Regehr) leave earlier, a good friend. Jordan Leopold was my next door neighbor, just like Jason,” Vanek said today. “The neighborhood is dwindling a little bit.”
Even with all the rampant speculation leading into the deadline, Vanek, who drove Pominville to the airport this morning, said he was “shocked” when he heard about the deal.
“Obviously I knew we all had a chance of leaving. When it does happen, it sets in. He’s been a good friend of mine for the past eight or nine years. We played together and had a good time. It’s hard to see him go, but it’s part of the business. He’s moving on to a great team.”
Ryan Miller echoed Vanek’s sentiments about the departure of a teammate who had become such a good friend of his since their days together in Rochester.
“It’s not a great day. Jason has done a lot for the organization. I’ve been a close friend; we’ve grown up together. It’s going to be tough to watch him go,” said Miller. “But that’s what happens when you don’t perform in a season as a team. The good players have value, and Jason has a lot of value. Hopefully he can do something special with his new team.”
The trade of Pominville leaves Buffalo without a captain, and interim head coach Ron Rolston said it will be that way for the remainder of the season. Rolston says Steve Ott will be added as a third assistant captain, joining Vanek and Drew Stafford. A decision on a full-time captain won’t be made until after the season.
With his AHL and international coaching experience, Rolston has some familiarity with forward Johan Larsson and goaltender Matt Hackett, the two prospects coming to Buffalo from Minnesota in the Pominville deal. He spoke in glowing terms about both of them.
“Hackett played last year for Houston, so (Rochester) played them. I think he’s got a big upside. Last year he was arguably one of the best, if not the best, in the league for a long time. And he had a good push the year before. For as young as he is, with the experience that he’s had, that’s a positive on our side of things because he’s already in his third full season as a goalie at the pro level. He’s somebody that we feel in the future can be an NHL goaltender if he continues to develop.”
Rolston described Larsson as a “solid two-way player with a lot of leadership skills,” specifically pointing out his captaincy of Sweden’s 2012 gold-medal winning World Junior team.
“Anytime you can be a captain on international teams – U18’s, U20’s – especially for short term, it’s a very hard task as a leader. Especially when you’re pooling together your best players, and you have to pick somebody out of that group of best players from your country to be a leader. He’s been one of those for Sweden, and we know how good a hockey country they are. And we want to bring those players to our organization – leaders that bring a two-way game, work hard.”
Vanek skated at today’s practice, but didn’t take part in any of the line work. He’s hopeful that the upper body muscle strain that’s kept him out of the past four games will continue to improve enough for him to play against Ottawa on Friday.
“It’s getting better. Each day we’re making some strides and we’ll see how it feels (Friday). Today it was better than yesterday, and hopefully I keep progressing.”
Ville Leino (upper body) was the only roster player absent today, and it’s likely to be that way for a while. When asked about Leino’s injury status on Wednesday, Sabres GM Darcy Regier said “I don’t think you can expect him around anytime soon.”
The lines at today’s practice were as follows:Ott-Hodgson-Gerbe
Defense pairs: Pardy-Pysyk, Ehrhoff-Myers, Weber-Sekera
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