January 8, 2020
Howard and Jeremy (8 a.m.)
Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning and belated Happy New Year.
Ralph Krueger: Good morning and Happy New Year to you both and to your listeners.
HS: There’s some bookkeeping that we want to take care of right off the bat. Jake McCabe with an upper-body injury, but it sounded, right, from what you said, pretty optimistic? It’s a pretty short-term issue and he could be back this weekend, is that right?
RK: Jake is day-to-day. We expect him back in practice when we return from St. Louis.
HS: You call up Lawrence Pilut; will he play tomorrow night?
RK: Lawrence Pilut’s an interesting player for us and we haven’t made that call yet. We’re happy to have him back here in our midst. Coming off an injury from last season, he wasn’t able to be a part of our training camp, but it was excellent that he spent time with us in Sweden. We got to know him well there; even though he didn’t get to play, he was really a good kid to have around and for us to feel his strength and his future. Now we have him here again off the injury to McCabe, just to look, see, but we’ll make that call tomorrow.
Jeremy White: Just to look for injury purposes or is it about time organizationally that you guys are starting to think, ‘maybe he should be up here for a little longer,’ you know? An AHL All-Star, leading the AHL in points among defensemen. I think a lot of people are wondering — maybe Lawrence included — when his time is. Is it still a numbers game or is this a time where maybe he will be up here for an extended period?
RK: This time of year we just go day-to-day. He’s here now and he’s a part of the group and has every opportunity to push himself into the lineup. Again, it’ll depend on how quickly Jake gets back to speed and that we remain healthy in our D corps. For now, it’s getting to know him even better. I can only say that he has an exciting future for sure. We like he way he moves and the way he thinks the game. He’s definitely in the mix. Another player that increases the competition here, which we like. The internal competition is definitely healthy for all the defensemen.
HS: The reports that you might have been getting from Rochester about Lawrence Pilut, or whether you’re more comfortable talking about what you saw from him in Sweden. What can you tell us more about your thoughts on Pilut?
RK: Well how it goes is that we are permanently in contact on multiple levels with Rochester. The reports on him are outstanding, that he’s really taken another level since returning from the injury and that he’s getting really comfortable in his game and he’s fully back up to speed. So that’s clear that we have permanent contact there on a daily basis on any potential candidates. And yes, Sweden left its mark, of course. He’s an outstanding character and just brings a good spirit into the day-to-day. But of course. above all, he’s a good hockey player. We look forward to that next level of Lawrence Pilut.
HS: With Michael Frolik, what’s the latest on his paperwork? Will he be at practice today?
RK: Yes, so Michael’s coming in today and got in, actually, last night, so we’re pleased that that all was taken care of and we can start working with him.
HS: What do you envision as his role on your team?
RK: Well there’s the off-ice component that we’re always interested in and that’s the person that he is, the experience that he brings with for the phase of evolution that we’re in right now. He’s going to be a good voice in and around the room. He is a very experienced two-way player. He’s been known for his penalty killing. He’s experienced a Stanley Cup, which means you’re not only a penalty killer, you’re also able to make a play, which he’s very clearly able to do. He can play up and down the lineup depending on the need of the group. But we’re just going to take it a day at a time and let him, like all the other players, show us what he’s capable of and then his role will grow and develop under that. But above all, you’re going to see a stabilizing factor in the way he plays, but at the same time he can add to the offense. We’re excited to have him in here. He’s a good athlete and [will] definitely give us some help and some depth in our roster.
HS: In terms of what he specifically could add to the offense, Ralph, what is his game about? Is it a guy who brings in some forecheck? Is it finish? What are some of the aspects you think that Sabres fans will see from Frolik?
RK: Well you never know exactly how a player’s going to play within the structure of a group, so some people it suits their abilities and some don’t find their game; that’s the reality of playing in different structures. We’re really confident that he’ll fit into ours, that he’ll be somebody that can support a top line in so far as defending properly but also just making those plays: keep the puck moving and keep the speed of the puck alive as we want to do here in our game. We want to be a quick team defensively, but we want to explode and be powerful as a group of five offensively. Michael’s the kind of guy that can really augment a group and help to facilitate that kind of connection between the players in both directions. We need this type of leadership right now. It’s a great addition into our roster.
HS: You lose Jeff Skinner so you’ve got to try and figure out how to make up for that. Then you lose Victor Olofsson. So in terms of trying to make up for the loss of offense there, who do you turn to or how do you go about making up for two guys like that being out of the lineup for a few weeks?
RK: Well what’s important with injuries, the way it works in our coaches room is their names are put aside. And it’s not that we don’t care about them, they’re handed over to the medical department and we have an amazing staff here in rehab and our medical care is strong, so these players are well taken care of. We concentrate on the players that are on what we have on our board here: the left side of the roster, the ones that are healthy, the ones that are able to go. We will always get up in the morning here and put the best possible roster together. There’s clearly a different mix now. It alters the way we execute on the power play. It alters the way the lines will work together. It’s part of the long season of the National Hockey League, every team has to deal with that. You need to score a little more by committee. We need more depth scoring with Olofsson and Skinner out, those are some big numbers that disappear. But others need to step up and we challenge them to do that. They did a good job here, especially the last couple of games, and we got to continue to build on that.
HS: With the No. 1 power play, Ralph, what’s the thought process or what do you take into account when you try and figure out with Olofsson out, do I want to put another forward out there? Would I rather just have two defensemen? If you go two defensemen, do I put [Rasmus] Ristolainen in front? How do you try and figure out what is the best thing, best course of action?
RK: Well we always have both of those options available to us, depending on when this power play falls during the game and how the opposition are killing. The two-D option with Ristolainen in front of the net is very attractive at the moment, but we can also go with four forwards who attack with [Rasmus] Dahlin up top. It’s part of also mixing it up sometimes so the opposition isn’t as well-prepared in neutralizing your weapons. With Victor out, we’ve lost a strong one in there, but [Marcus] Johansson has got strong shot off the back side, Conor Sheary’s shown some strong power-play traits of late. We’re going to be mixing and matching, keep trying to find the combination that works. Even within games we will make adjustments if we feel they’ll help us. But it’s usually a group of six or seven guys that’ll be working on your main power play.
HS: We’re wrapping up with Ralph Krueger here. So listen, your team had a little break before your game against St. Louis tomorrow night and we were just, in the last hour, talking with Paul Hamilton about, it’s almost like maybe a little bit like coming off a bye. What do you expect? Do you look at it and go, ‘Okay, the guys are going to be fresh, they got a nice break,’ or is there a rust factor sometimes when you’re off that long?
RK: I don’t see a rust factor, but you’re making a good point because we had such an intense period after Sweden with the 21 games in 39 days. After the Christmas break I thought we came out and played well against Boston, Boston and Tampa, but we just didn’t get the points so everybody was disappointed with that. I’m pleased with the way the group stepped up here against Edmonton and Florida to get the wins and I believe that momentum is going to go with us to St. Louis. I would probably lean more to the freshness that you’re speaking about; I don’t see any rust. I think we needed these few days. And important will be the start. We need to get a good start tomorrow, get right back in where we left off against Florida, into the habits that make us strong. I’m optimistic we’ll have a lot of energy for the game in St. Louis tomorrow. Playing the Stanley Cup champion at home is always a real fun challenge. So far, this group has looked those kinds of challenges in the eyes. So it’s probably the perfect opponent to have coming at you off of the break. There’s no time to slide into this one, we need to be good right off the hop.
HS: Last thing I want to ask you about is the Eichel line, with Olofsson out. What kind of player — you tried [Rasmus] Asplund the other day so it’s kind of a two-part question — what kind of player do you think is the right fit with [Jack] Eichel and [Sam] Reinhart? And then what did you think of Asplund when you had him out there the other game?
RK: There’s always a lot of pressure on a young player going into a spot like that, but we thought he did a really good job. There’s always a need to be able to play together with Sam and Jack without the puck and we’re excited about the way Asplund is coming along defensively. Offensively, he’s able to add and augment anybody he plays with, so we were pleased with his first game there. We’re actually, just after this call, going to cement the lines that we’re going to into practice with today and Aspy’s got a — he is somebody that we are really pleased with and just trying to move him along slowly that he doesn’t feel too much pressure in that role, but he looked to handle it quite well. I think he’s got a good shot at it for tomorrow.