Christian Wolanin happy to be claimed off waivers by Sabres

The defenseman only played three games with the Kings

Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Christian Wolanin took part in his first practice with the Buffalo Sabres on Monday. Being new to the team, head coach Don Granato said Wolanin will not play on Tuesday night against the Vancouver Canucks.

Granato says he has some familiarity with the 26-year-old defenseman from his days coaching in the United States Hockey League.

“The first time I saw him was in Muskegon [Lumberjacks] in the USHL in [2013 to 2015], and he was noticeable then," Granato said following Monday's session. "I’ve followed his career a little bit, but I’m going to observe like everybody else.”

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Wolanin’s dad, Craig, was the third overall pick for the New Jersey Devils in the 1985 NHL Draft. The defenseman played 695 NHL games with the Devils, Quebec Nordiques, Colorado Avalanche, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Granato has a few players in Buffalo he's coaching with a pedigree such as Wolanin's, and he's enjoyed coaching players like that.

“I’ve had lots of former NHLers' sons as players over the years, and there is an advantage, especially early," Granato explained. "They’ve been around rinks, they’ve been around pro hockey and NHL hockey, so there’s a different level of confidence or comfort in that.”

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Wolanin says there’s a lot he’s learned from his dad playing in the NHL over the years.

“My dad is just everything," he said. "We had an opposite career path - he was [drafted] third overall with a 13-year career, and I’m a last year of draft eligibility fourth rounder that’s probably not supposed to make it. But he’s just there for everything, and he keeps me honest. He’s not the type of dad that says, ‘You’re getting screwed. You should be playing.’ He says, ‘Look in the mirror, what can you do to get better.’"

Last March, the 26-year-old was traded from the Ottawa Senators to the Los Angeles Kings. He only played three games with the Kings and two with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League. He believes that’s what made the Sabres claiming him off waivers appealing.

“Obviously, Los Angeles, California is quite a place and a great place to take your mind away from hockey. At the end of the day, I’m a hockey player and no complaints, but I wasn’t playing. So I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity here.”

Playing a total of 58 games with the Sens over his career, Wolanin is familiar with the Sabres in his career, playing three games against them and registering two assists.

“I was here for Pominville’s 1,000th game, so I got to see Buffalo at its fullest. It was just cool," Wolanin said. “It’s a hockey town, it’s a sports town, and I was fired up to come here.”

In September of 2019, Wolanin got hurt in training camp and had to have shoulder surgery. That means between Ottawa and Belleville in the AHL, he only played 12 games.

Last season, the defenseman played 21 games, so its been a long haul to get back on the ice.

“I had a successful rookie year, and all of a sudden shoulder surgery at the start of my second year and then [COVID-19] happened," Wolanin explained. "So you’re two years without playing a game, and then you go into last year with no fans... it was kind of like a perfect storm in a negative way. But the one thing I’ve tried to do is I’ve never lost faith and the hope in the dream staying alive. When I found out I was coming to Buffalo, it’s a team I’ll fit well with.

“It’s a bunch of guys that want to earn it every day, that want to win and turn things around for the city. I really want to be a part of it.”

Wolanin played with Drake Caggiula at the University of North Dakota, Craig Anderson in Ottawa and Tage Thompson last year with Team USA at the World Championship."

Playing at that World Championship for the United States was something Wolanin really looked forward to.

“That was the best. It was just so fun to play hockey, play consistently, play meaningful minutes," Wolanin said. "To be part of a team again, and it’s similar to this team - just a bunch of misfits. All the superstars didn’t want to go because of the COVID year, so it was just a bunch of guys who had an opportunity and ran with it.”

In 10 games at the tournament, Wolanin had a goal and five assists for six points.

Wolanin will wear No. 86 with the Sabres, because it was his first number in Ottawa. He’s worn 24 a lot, but that number belongs to Dylan Cozens. Wolanin didn’t want to go broke trying to get it from him.

“I’m not going to take Cozens' number, because I can’t afford a Rolex or whatever.”

Podcast Episode
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10-18 Christian Wolanin