By Mike Harrington
ST. LOUIS -- Jake McCabe put pen to paper, flew Tuesday night from Madison, Wis., to Buffalo through Chicago, took some physical testing Wednesday morning and flew with the Sabres here Wednesday afternoon.
And the 20-year-old defenseman is right in the Buffalo Sabres' lineup tonight against the St. Louis Blues.
"It's starting to set in now, being out there with the guys and putting on Buffalo gear so it's exciting," McCabe said after today's pregame skate in Scottrade Center. "This is a whole new level of anything I've ever been to. It's exciting. The guys have been great so far."
The 6-foot, 195-pounder could be part of a makeshift Buffalo defense corps tonight. Henrik Tallinder is out with a lower-body injury and Mike Weber did not skate today, with coach Ted Nolan calling him a game-time decision. John Scott and/or Nicolas Deslauriers could spend some time on defense tonight.
"We expect a first-year kid coming in for his first game. He's going to be full of energy and enthusiasm," said Nolan, who cautioned McCabe has a huge challenge against the Blues, the Western Conference leaders. "They're the cream of the crop in the NHL right now. He can't be admiring his passes and go back with normal college speed. He has to jump right in with the best in the league."
McCabe, Buffalo's No. 2 pick in 2012, said he had long talks with Wisconsin coach and ex-NHLer Mike Eaves about staying in school or forgoing his senior year and Eaves supported the decision to go pro. The Sabres' willingness to give him a three-year entry-level contract at $925,000 per year sure helped too.
"Giving away that senior year was a big, big decision," he said. "It was an all-around awesome experience and I would suggest to anyone to go the college route. We had a long talk, a good talk. And he said, if you want to leave I'll support you all the way.
"This is a great organiztion. We've been in talks the last couple years. We've been in contact. The development camps have been great. This is the place I wanted to go. It's exciting to finally be here."
In other news from the pregame skate, Nathan Lieuwen will start in goal tonight and Nolan said he will most likely go with Matt Hackett tomorrow in Detroit. Chris Stewart, who suffered a severe ankle injury March 6 in Tampa, skated with the team for the first time and could play before the season is over. The Sabres had previously ruled him out.
Click below to hear audio from McCabe and Nolan