BUFFALO, N.Y. – About 45 minutes into the Buffalo Sabres’ first practice, Jochen Hecht emerged from the dressing room tunnel.
Sticking with tradition, his teammates tapped the ice with their sticks Sunday in tribute to the veteran centre.
Hecht, the longest-tenured member of the team with nine seasons, returned from his club in the German league to take part in the Sabres’ opening workout since the NHL lockout ended.
“It was fun,” Hecht said. “It was a good feeling to be back.”
The Sabres took their physicals in the morning and then held a practice.
Hecht was limited to 22 games last season because of concussion effects. He played six games with Adler Mannheim in Germany during the lockout, scoring five goals and adding eight assists.
“I saw everybody at the physicals. There was some paperwork that had to be finished before I went on the ice,” he said.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said he was glad to have Hecht on the team.
“We felt that for the depth of the organization and in a short (48-game) season … it would be important to get him in,” Ruff said. “(He has) ability to help out in a third line role and in a centerman role.”
The Sabres fell three points short of the playoff spot last season despite an aggressive late push and a roster laden with high-priced players.
With the Sabres playing their season opener next Sunday against Philadelphia, Ruff has only a week to resolve some other roster issues. There’s a logjam with nine defencemen in camp, and there is a decision to be made about whether to keep 2012 first-round draft choice Mikhael Grigorenko to help solve a shortage at centre.
“It’ll be interesting, we have some different pieces,” Ruff said.
One of those pieces is T.J. Brennan, a 23-year-old who was a second-round draft choice in 2007. He leads AHL Rochester with 14 goals and 35 points in 36 games, and would need to clear waivers if the Sabres want to send him back to the minors.
“You do what you can and control what you can. I think it’s a tough choice for them,” Brennan said. “I’m sure they’ll figure something out in the next few days. I just try to get better and make them make the hard decisions.”
The 18-year-old Grigorenko, who has 29 goals and 50 points in 32 games for Quebec of the Quebec Major junior league, was enthusiastic after participating in his first professional practice.
“I was really excited and a little bit nervous,” he said. “I worked real hard and I think I did well.”
The rookie, the only player not given a proper stall in the Sabres’ dressing room, remained positive about his creature comforts.
“It’s better than staying in Quebec,” he said.
Ruff also had a good first impression of Grigorenko’s first practice.
“You notice his playmaking and passing ability,” Ruff said. “He moved around the ice pretty good. He looks big out there. He has that way where he turns and protects the puck and does a nice job. “He doesn’t look like a junior player.”