The past few years have been anything but traditional for Buffalo Sabres prospect Jack Quinn. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and after multiple injuries and ailments, Quinn fulfilled his dream and made his long-awaited NHL debut against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 11.
“There’s been a lot of exciting things that have happened, obviously all through a weird time with COVID and the pandemic, but it’s been really exciting,” Quinn said. “It’s gone by pretty quick, to be honest.”
The 20-year-old scored his first NHL goal on Jan. 20 before sustaining a lower-body injury that has since sidelined him in the midst of an impressive season where he’s averaged more than a point per game with the AHL’s Rochester Americans.
In the time between his NHL debut and his first big-league goal, during a brief return trip to the AHL, Quinn also recorded the first four-goal game of his pro career. “My game’s come a long way,” he said. “I’m that kind of player, I’m a point-producer. I get to play with some great players. We have some good chemistry and we have a great team. It’s a lot of fun.”
It took Quinn a lot to get here over the past two years.
He had 89 points in 62 games with the Ottawa 67’s when the pandemic forced the 2019-20 OHL season’s suspension and eventual cancellation. The NHL draft was postponed, and the OHL cancelled its subsequent season outright. All around North America, many other seasons – including the AHL’s and NHL’s 2020-21 campaigns – were also delayed.
The draft usually features significant fanfare for players: a festive, in-person event packed with fans, fellow prospects and families. But for Quinn and his fellow 2020 prospects, it was a remote event instead.
That didn’t matter. All that mattered to Quinn was hearing his name called. It would be the Sabres who’d make his dream come true, taking him with the eighth overall pick. The selection surprised many observers who expected Buffalo to call on Marco Rossi or Cole Perfetti.
Being drafted was just the beginning for Quinn, but what a special beginning it was. After months away from action, he returned to the ice to represent Canada at the 2021 World Junior Championship. He delivered five points in seven games en route to a silver medal in the Edmonton bubble.
From there, he attended the Sabres’ 2020-21 training camp and joined the taxi squad briefly, giving him a small taste of the NHL experience and the chance to be around the team. During that stretch, he learned about the organization, the city and its love for hockey.
Quinn should’ve had at least one more season in major junior, but due to the OHL’s cancellation of its 2020-21 season, there was no option but for him to make the quick jump up to the AHL as a still-raw prospect.
With eager eyes across Western New York watching his progress, Quinn saw early success. He scored nine points in 15 AHL games despite dealing with a sports hernia. “It was tough for me, playing through an injury,” Quinn said. “It was also a step up in hockey and it humbled me a lot in terms of where my game was at. I realized I had to improve a lot.”
After surgery, Quinn saw limited usage in the Sabres’ Prospects Challenge as the team attempted to manage his load and recovery. He had an impressive showing at training camp but ended up being one of the team’s final cuts this fall.
Opening this season in the AHL could’ve put a damper on Quinn’s spirits. Instead, he showcased his offensive ability from the get-go, with 24 points in his first 17 games. He was regularly at or near the top of the AHL in scoring before a bout with mono – and the ensuing recovery needed to regain some of the weight he lost – sidelined him for several weeks. But his persistence paid off with his first NHL call-ups, games and points – moments Quinn calls “unbelievable” and “a dream come true.”
Now, amid moving between the AHL and NHL, the roster and the taxi squad, injuries and illnesses, Quinn’s focus remains on his development and being fully present with his current team. “We have so many great guys and a great atmosphere,” he said. “I obviously haven’t really cracked the NHL yet, but just the excitement of being able to look forward to being a Sabre for years to come is really exciting.”