For Rodrigues, proving himself is nothing new
He’s not the biggest guy on the ice by any means, and never has been.
He’s also not the most hyped guy on the ice, and never has been.
“I feel like I’ve always been the underdog,” Buffalo Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues said.
Thus, proving what he can do has always been a prerequisite. Now he must do it all over again for an entirely new set of coaches and management team in order to keep his job in the NHL.
That’s OK, Rodrigues said after Monday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, when he assisted on both Sabres goals, by Seth Griffith in the first period and Jake McCabe in the second.
“Even if you have the same coaches, the same management, you have to prove yourself again,” Rodrigues said. “If you relax, there’s always somebody ready to take your job.”
Which is why the summer was no day after day at the beach. He was with his regular workout crew at Boston University, including Jack Eichel, but he put an emphasis on speed. Quick acceleration, getting to top gear in two or three steps, not four or five.
His trainer emphasized getting in a low stance and working on power. “Explosive power squats,” he said.
“It’s the new-age NHL,” Rodrigues said. “You’ve got to be able to keep up. It’s definitely helped my first few steps.”
Rodrigues looked very much at home on the ice of KeyBank Center on Monday. Yes, it was just the first preseason game. No, he wasn’t playing against a full-fledged NHL lineup.
But he was crafty, he was creative, he was quick in tight spaces.
“My pace is there, my speed is there, my strength is there,” Rodrigues said.
His new coach, Phil Housley, agreed.
“I think he’s been terrific, not only in this game, I think his work ethic has been really, really good (since camp began on Friday),” Housley said. “You could see tonight he’s really poised with the puck, his lateral movement is really good.”
Rodrigues played in 30 games with the Sabres last season, producing 4 goals, 2 assists and 6 points as primarily a center. His chance for significant NHL playing time arose after Johan Larsson suffered a season-ending injury. Rodrigues also scored 9-21-30 in 48 games with the AHL’s Rochester Americans.
New Sabres general manager Jason Botterill re-signed Rodrigues to a two-year contract. This season it’s a two-way deal, meaning he’ll earn $650,000 if he’s with the Sabres and $250,000 if he’s back with the Amerks, per CapFriendly.com. Next year it becomes a one-way contract worth $650,000, regardless of where he plays.
The preseason opener gave Housley and his staff a chance to evaluate Rodrigues in a game situation. They used him at center between Griffith and Cliff Pu, who still has a year of junior eligibility remaining.
“I thought he did a terrific job as a centerman supporting the puck low on the breakout, joining the rush, kicking it out, driving the net,” Housley said. “In our system, it’s very demanding for a centerman so I really like what I saw. He created a lot offensively.”
Then again, the coaches haven’t decided whether Rodrigues will play at center or the wing, where he has spent nearly all of his career. He moved to center with the Amerks last season more out of necessity.
“We’re going to move him around,” Housley said. “He’s going to get some opportunities to play wing and center, just like a lot of players. It’s good that we an utilize these games to see what guys can do.”