The thinking went like this: Brayden McNabb, the defenseman whose sturdy play has defied his rookie status, would fill in briefly, and then go back to Rochester when the blue line had six healthy regulars again.
Well, when defenseman Mike Weber returned from a broken rib Tuesday in the Sabres’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators, McNabb played his eighth straight game.
It was believed Marc-Andre Gragnani, who committed several glaring gaffes last week, might sit for the third time this season. Instead, the slumping rookie played sparingly as the seventh defenseman and forward Matt Ellis was scratched.
Gragnani, a winger when he first cracked the NHL briefly four years ago, even took some shifts up front late.
Perhaps the Sabres, pressed right against the $64.3 million salary cap, don’t have to ditch a defenseman until Tyler Myers, who’s skating again after breaking his wrist Nov. 19, can play. That could be at least a few weeks, though.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said cap concerns won’t force McNabb down to the minors right now.
“He’s earned a spot right now the way he’s played,” Ruff said Tuesday morning inside the First Niagara Center. “We look at it we need to win games. I think when we get even more numbers back, maybe things change. There’s a lot of factors you have to evaluate on, and some of it is dictated on other stuff.”
The 20-year-old McNabb, who has zero points and is a minus-2, has showcased a strong physical edge and some heads-up play.
He played 16:59 on Tuesday, mostly beside Weber, a healthy scratch 15 times this season. Weber skated 16:31 in just his fourth game this season.
When Weber was hurt in his last appearance Nov. 16, no one noticed.
“It was just a weird one, just counter-hit a guy, turned and there was another guy there,” said Weber, who missed 11 games. “We kind of just collided and I felt the pop. Just one of those fluke plays.”