Don’t get too excited yet, coach Lindy Ruff cautioned. As well as rookie Brayden McNabb and star Tyler Myers — the Buffalo Sabres’ two youngest defensemen — have played, the intriguing duo’s been together just days.
It’s only natural to imagine McNabb, 20, and Myers, 21, becoming a dynamic defense pair over the next decade or so.
But remember, the Sabres lost six defensemen to injury over the first 41 games, including Myers, who just returned Friday from a broken wrist that shelved him 19 contests.
“Knock of wood — as long as they don’t get hurt,” Ruff said about the youngsters enjoying a long run together.
Then Ruff paused.
“That was supposed to be funny,” he said, drawing laughter. “I can’t go 10-12 days (without losing a player), and you’re talking 10-12 years.”
McNabb and Myers played their third game together Tuesday in the Sabres’ 2-0 loss to the Maple Leafs. They also took turns with others, as Ruff mostly used five defensemen again. Rookie Marc-Andre Gragnani played sparingly.
In the 6-foot-4 McNabb, Ruff sees many of the same qualities former Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder possessed.
Myers played with Tallinder his entire 2009-10 Calder Trophy campaign, and then struggled when the Swede left following his rookie season.
“Brayden’s got a lot of what Tallinder had when they played together, more of a stay-at-home, good defender, got some offense on the other side of it,” Ruff said. “As well as Brayden has been going, I just felt that when we put (Robyn) Regehr and (Jordan) Leopold together, a veteran pair, we’ve got a younger pair that can get some offense for us.”
Myers, who’s been searching for a regular partner since Tallinder departed, said he “definitely” agrees with Ruff’s assessment.
“The way Hank played he was very mobile, very good with the puck and a lot of very good vision,” Myers said Tuesday morning inside the Air Canada Centre. “I think Brayden brings a lot of that to the table, too. As much as a lot of the questions I get are, ‘How am I going to help Brayden jumping into the league?’ I think he’s going to help me just as much.”
McNabb added: “I’m definitely feeding off of him — his skills and his size and stuff like that. For him to say that, it’s exciting.”
So far, McNabb’s first NHL run has defied expectations. With two big offseason acquisitions — Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff — giving the Sabres a deep blue line, he never figured he’d play 19 games after his Nov. 26 recall.
“Injuries happen and it gives chances to guys like me,” McNabb said. “So I think just taking advantage of it is what you got to do. I think I’ve done that so far.”
He’s skated at least 19:51 in six straight games before Tuesday.
“He’s big. He can skate very well. He can see the ice very well,” Myers said about McNabb. “The one thing I’ve noticed is he makes the first pass every time. I think that’s going to take him a long way.”
The 6-foot-8 Myers actually played with someone taller than McNabb once — 6-foot-6 Leafs defenseman Keith Aulie, his Team Canada partner at the world junior championship three years ago.
“We were called the ‘Twin Towers’ there,” Myers said. “I’m not sure not what name they’ll give us.”
Sabres center Derek Roy (shoulder) took the pregame warm-up but sat a second straight game.
To make matters worse, either food poisoning or the flu knocked leading goal scorer Thomas Vanek out after the first period. He played only 4:00.
“If you watch his first three shifts, you could tell. … He had nothing,” Ruff said. “He emptied his tank in between periods and couldn’t go.”
Ruff said another player who ate at the same also felt ill but kept playing.
In other injuries news, Ehrhoff (upper body, five games) skated alone in Buffalo on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, winger Tyler Ennis (ankle sprain, 10 games) hasn’t skated since suffering a stinger in practice Wednesday. When Ennis hurt the same ankle Dec. 17 that cost him 17 games earlier this season, the Sabres expressed optimism the current injury wasn’t as severe.
A year ago, in the midst of his breakout season, Toronto Maple Leafs winger Clarke MacArthur feared he would be traded for a second straight year.
Instead, the Leafs kept the former Buffalo Sabres regular, who finished with a career-high 21 goals and 62 points.
MacArthur inked a two-year, $6.5 million contract during the summer.
After playing for Buffalo, Atlanta and Toronto in an eight-month span two years ago, the 26-year-old feels like he’s finally found a home.
“It’s been great ever since I got here,” MacArthur said Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre prior to the Sabres’ loss to the Leafs. “As far as that goes, it’s obviously been the best spot I’ve landed in and I hope to stay.”
With 12 goals and 21 points in 35 contests this season, MacArthur’s built on 2010-11. But he’s never appeared in the postseason six years and 325 games into his career.
“It’s one of those things where you’re with a team most of the year and you’re almost to the playoffs, you get traded,” he said. “That was tough. Hopefully, this is the year we get in.”
The Leafs began the night in seventh place.