TORONTO – It’s been a tale of two seasons for Tyler Ennis.
After scoring 20 goals and 49 points last year as a rookie, Ennis had just four goals and seven points in his first 22 games this season.
But in his next 22, the five-foot-nine, 157-pound centre had 10 goals and 24 points, and he added to that total with a goal and an assist in the Sabres’ 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
Buffalo has gone 14-5-4 since Ennis’ return to form the past 23 games.
“Confidence is huge when you get off to a tough start,” said Sabres captain Jason Pominville. “Confidence is big part of your game and it’s unfortunate that he had to run through a couple injuries and get off to a tough start.
“But the way he’s playing now is the way we need him to play, and we’re going to need him to play that way from here on out.”
An ankle injury landed Buffalo’s diminutive sophomore on the injury list twice in the first half of the season, and it took him until the all-star break to regain the scoring touch he showed in his rookie season.
“The ankle injury was really frustrating—it sucked,” said Ennis, who the Sabres drafted 26th overall in 2008. “It helped me, though, to look at the game from a different perspective. And from that high view, you pick up on some things you don’t normally see. I took some good from the bad.
“When I came back from my injury the first time I felt good, and I felt like I was back. And then it happened again. It was a tough start, but I’m focused now on the last few games.”
With the loss, the Sabres sit two points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with three games to play.
Not only has Ennis regained his scoring touch, but the 22-year-old Edmonton native has also upped his defensive game—a crucial component for any Sabre playing under head coach Lindy Ruff. Ennis had a respectable even plus-minus rating last season, but has followed that up with a plus-14 mark.
He chalked up his improved play at both ends of the rink to his switch to centre this season.
“I’m really liking centre,” he said. “I like reading the play from down low and always be moving and anticipate where guys are going to go. That fits my game a little better.”
With the addition of Cody Hodgson at the trade deadline, the Sabres now stack up well down the middle with Derek Roy, Hodgson and Ennis, who’s now getting more and more important minutes, especially on the power play, as a key part of the Sabres’ attack.
“It fits him well to play centre,” Pominville said. “He’s a creative player who’s skates well and is good with the puck. Playing centre is where he’ll be able to handle the puck the most.
“He’s really turned his season around.”