Last season Tyler Ennis was a popular pick to have a breakout season playing on the wing with either Jack Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly. The 26-year-old is a career 20-goal scorer and has put up those numbers playing with lesser talent than Eichel or O’Reilly. Unfortunately for Ennis, he started the season slow under the new system of head coach Dan Bylsma. Before the Edmonton native could get a grasp of the system he ran into injury issues that caused him miss 59 games. A Tyler Ennis return this season shouldn’t be overlooked.
Tyler Ennis’s Return Shouldn’t be Overlooked
As the 2016-17 season approaches, the Buffalo Sabres are ready to make the next step in their goal to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Ennis may be an important part of achieving that goal and is an intriguing story line entering next season. If he can return to the form of a 20-plus goal scorer, he could be the piece to push the Sabres over the top. The former first round pick has the talent to be an impactful top six winger. However, the uncertainty over his season is built on a couple different factors.
The first will be how the winger returns from a major concussion he sustained last season. It may take time for Ennis to get comfortable in the system again. He may need to take that first big hit in order to feel fully engaged. The other factor is how out of place Ennis looked in Bylsma’s system to start last season. He looked lost at times playing in a structured system. After playing a year and a half under Ted Nolan and basically carte-blanche playing style, he struggled to get back into the controlled game.
Being away from the game wasn’t all bad news for Ennis. When he returned to practice in the final week of last season, he spoke of taking the game more seriously. Not being around his teammates and not playing the sport he loves may have flipped a switch inside him. If he can come back this season in good shape and with a chip on his shoulder, he can be in line for the breakout season many expected last season.
"I had a frustrating few months there," Tyler Ennis said, "but it gave me a lot of time to kind of reflect, appreciate what I have."
— John Vogl (@BuffNewsVogl) April 8, 2016
Opportunity to Succeed
He’ll see top six minutes for the Sabres next season. He seems to fit best on the wing with Eichel and Sam Reinhart. The three forwards play a similar fast paced game. The trio can use their creativity and talent to take advantage of the opposing defense to be a very productive line. Both Eichel and Reinhart each scored 24 and 23 goals respectively to place 1-2 on the team as well, so it’s not a bad situation to walk into coming back from a challenging injury-riddled campaign.
The best centers he’s played with in his time in Buffalo have been Derek Roy and Zemgus Girgensons. Neither player is in the same class of 19-year-old Eichel. Ennis has the ability to be the ultimate x-factor for the club if he can find his old form when he came off of three consecutive 20-goal campaigns before ’15-16. A healthy Ennis has the ability to be a 25-goal and 50-point player playing with the current talent on the roster. It’s almost like he will be a new addition to the team next season along with free agent signing Kyle Okposo. The two wingers could bring another 40-plus goals combined and would make the Sabres a top-ten scoring team by last season’s numbers if all else remained the same. For a team that’s placed last in goals scored as a team two of the past three seasons, that would be the ultimate breath of fresh air along with possibly being a bubble team for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If the Sabres really plan to contend and earn that playoff spot next season, Ennis will be an important part of that. He’ll take some of the pressure off of Eichel and O’Reilly. The seven-year veteran may take some time to get fully acclimated again, but once he does it’s not unreasonable to expect a career year.