Brayden McNabb departed Buffalo at the end of last season feeling great about his game. The first-year pro played 25 games with the Sabres during several call-ups, and he was a regular on the blue line when the team finished the year.
When he comes back to training camp, though, McNabb will likely be back to square one despite taking numerous steps during his rookie season.
The Sabres have nine NHL defensemen, including McNabb, following a trade that brought Adam Pardy to town as part of a Steve Ott-for-Derek Roy deal. McNabb will be the only one with a free pass to the minors, so he'll have to really stand out to make the opening-night roster.
"I think in fairness to him, we need to pencil him in in the American League for now, and if he can play his way onto the team, then we're in that much better position, but I think that's how we'll start," Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said.
McNabb has little desire to return to the Sabres' affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.
"I know I can play in the NHL, and I believe in myself," McNabb said. "(The American Hockey League) is not what I want. ... I'm going out still trying to prove myself, and I'm going to work as hard as I can and do what I can to try to make this team."
McNabb, a 6-foot-4, 204-pounder, showed a physical side with puck-moving ability during his stay with the Sabres last season. He had one goal, seven assists and a minus-1 rating.
"I played 25 (games with Buffalo) last year, and I felt really good," McNabb said. "I've been working really hard this offseason, and I'm ready for the challenge."