BUFFALO — Alexander Sulzer arrived three months ago as an unknown short on NHL experience. The German immediately became the Sabres’ seventh defenseman, a role he knew well from being scratched 51 times during his brief tenure with the Vancouver Canucks.
It was assumed Sulzer might play occasionally before quietly departing during the offseason. Then Andrej Sekera became ill, and the 27-year-old began assuming regular duty.
Within about a week, Sulzer was skating 20 minutes a night beside countryman Christian Ehrhoff and turning heads, playing a key role in the Sabres’ wild March run.
On Monday, the Sabres rewarded Sulzer, signing him to a one-year, $725,000 contract. He would’ve become an unrestricted free agent in July.
“I think he played very well with Christian,” Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said Monday inside the First Niagara Center. “I think … you really noticed his composure out there, his ability to not only break up plays – which is the most important thing defensively – but to make plays offensively and the patience that he showed.
“We were surprised – pleasantly surprised – with his play. That really moved us toward trying to get him signed.”
Sulzer compiled three goals, eight points and a plus-2 rating in 15 games with the Sabres. He had one tally and eight points in 74 NHL games prior to joining the team Feb. 27 with center Cody Hodgson for winger Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, a spare part like Sulzer.
“It really stemmed from the Hodgson-Kassian deal,” Regier said about acquiring Sulzer. “We had talked to them about Gragnani. This was an opportunity really to pick up a defenseman. (It) really was a two-for-two type trade.”
The Sabres have seven NHL defensemen on the roster, eight if you count 21-year-old Brayden McNabb, who impressed in 25 NHL appearances as a rookie and looks ready to graduate.