Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

July 18, 2011

Sabres prospect Schiestel returning to form

LEWISTON — Drew Schiestel got lost in the mix pretty quickly. It wasn’t too hard for the prospect, either. In the two years since the 22-year-old turned pro, five young Buffalo Sabres defenseman have secured regular NHL spots.

Tyler Myers skipped the minors, quickly becoming a teenage sensation. Chris Butler and Andrej Sekera morphed into strong contributors. Mike Weber finally earned regular duty last season. Marc-Andre Gragnani, an offensive star in Portland, was one of the Sabres’ top performers following his March recall.

Even T.J. Brennan, taken 31st overall in 2007, 28 spots before Schiestel in the second round, wowed with a 15-goal AHL season.

All the while, Schiestel (it rhymes with pistol) has quietly developed in the minors, flying under the radar.

“It always seems to work out that way. I don’t know why, for whatever reason,” Schiestel said earlier this month following a session of summer development camp at Dwyer Arena. “I don’t mind it at all. When I get my opportunities, I just have to make the most of it. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the paper every day or if you’re never in it. If you’re doing job and you’re playing well, then that’s really all I care about.”

The slick Schiestel played splendidly last season in Portland, earning a spot in the AHL All-Star Classic. In 45 games, the Hamilton, Ont., native compiled five goals, 23 points and a gaudy-plus 15 rating. A recall seemed inevitable.

But two games before his scheduled All-Star appearance, a Worchester player hit Schiestel’s leg in the “perfect spot,” tearing his ACL. He underwent season-ending surgery Feb. 9.

“I was on a pretty big high going from … making the All-Star team and then playing so well to that happening,” Schiestel said. “It’s a little bit of a roller-coaster ride in terms of emotions at the time.”

Now Schiestel’s finally returning to form. He started skating about two weeks before camp, mostly handling pucks in the beginning. He ramped up his work at Dwyer, participating in drills all week.

“You take two steps forward, one step back,” Schiestel said. “It’s just a long process that you have to be patient with. Sometimes it’s hard. I like to skate. I’m a skating defenseman, so when I do these tests, and I’m usually good at it, and now all of sudden it’s a little bit of a struggle right now. It’s pretty frustrating.”

 Still, Schiestel said he’ll be ready for training camp. His chances of making the Sabres, at least in October, appear slim, however. Right now, he’s ticketed for Rochester, the team’s new affiliate.

With the recent of additions of Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr, the Sabres have eight NHL defensemen. Depending on where you rank Brennan, Schiestel’s either ninth or 10th on the depth chart.

“Personally, it’s two spots that are gone,” Schiestel said. “Those are two spots that could potentially be mine. … You can’t worry about it too much, I guess. You just go to stay the course during the summer, and then come September just show them what you can do.”

Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said defense moves had nothing to do with Brennan or Schiestel.

“It doesn’t change their NHL-readiness,” Regier said. “At some point, I think both those players will play in the National Hockey League, and I think both will hopefully play for the Buffalo Sabres. There’s a reality that there is a competition for jobs. There’s six jobs on a given night, and we’ll carry seven or eight defensemen.”

Schiestel impressed the Sabres last September. He even played two preseason contests, scoring a goal in Montreal.

“It was pretty amazing stuff,” Schiestel said.

With his confidence sky high, “it just all seemed to click from there” in Portland, Schiestel said.

“I got a lot of really good feedback from the staff and everything,” Schiestel said. “I just tried to build on that from training camp and played well in the exhibition games. I think just my overall confidence (rose). Once you’re confident and you feel like you really belong in each situation on the ice, the defensive side really picked up for me. I was really happy with my plus-minus.”

If Schiestel can carry that strong play into next season, he’s confident he can earn his first recall.

“I should be able to just kind of start where I left off,” Schiestel said. “Absolutely, I think I should get a chance at some point.”

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