Jacob Bryson looking to continue consistency he had to end last season

The team practiced on Friday with more of an NHL group
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Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – When defenseman Mattias Samuelsson got hurt last year in the Sabres Prospects Challenge, that opened the door for Jacob Bryson.

Bryson was starting his third season in pro hockey, and it allowed him to establish himself and play his first full season in the NHL.

Bryson played 73 games with the Buffalo Sabres last season. The year before, he had 38 games with the big club, and five with the Rochester Americans. In his rookie season, all 61 games were with the Amerks.

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Bryson was asked to play quite a bit on the right side of the blue line last year, and admits it’s something he hadn’t done before.

“I had never played right defense in my life, so when I talked to Marty [Wilford] and 'Donny' [Granato], they wanted to try everyone there, and I found it pretty easy," said Bryson following practice on Friday.

“It was very uncomfortable at first, but after a few games, it felt pretty normal to me.”

As Bryson also explained, there are nuances to being a left-handed shot on the right side.

“When you’re breaking out the puck and in the neutral zone, you’re always catching it and your back is facing the play. So your first step always has to be up the ice," he said.

“The patterns are also very different. Going to the corners, you’re on the opposite side.”

As the season went on, Bryson started minimizing mistakes and just played a consistent brand of hockey. His one goal and nine assists aren’t going to knock you over, but he was good at moving the puck quickly to get the team into transition. He also got some time on the second power play unit towards the end of the year.

“That was my goal from Day 1 last year, to limit my mistakes and just be more confident with the puck. I think I found a rhythm," Bryson said. "That was my first full season because of COVID, and I learned how to be a pro.”

I asked head coach Don Granato about how Bryson got to a consistency in his game, and he says it’s not complicated.

“It’s just games," said Granato of Bryson. "He was a player that hadn’t had years of NHL experience, so he competes really well and he’s very intelligent. He went through ups and downs, but he gained the experience of it, self-corrected and he practiced with the right intent to get better and resolve any challenges that he’s had.”

It’s not just in games and practice that Bryson has tried to get better. It all extends his time away from the rink.

“When you’re getting better on the ice, you have to recover a lot," Bryson said. "The off-ice stuff is a big piece of it, but I was just a lot more confident with more games under my belt.”

As the Sabres go into their next phase of training camp, Bryson is very encouraged with what he’s seen. He says last season has really fueled this group.

"The first five-to-10 games were really good, and then we kind of got away from it for a little bit," Bryson said. "Then we had those last 28 games where we were on fire, and I think with the group we have here, we’re pretty familiar with each other and it’s very doable to start that way.”

Bryson loves the consistency and the way the team believes in this group. On defense, they’ve added Ilya Lyubushkin and Lawrence Pilut, but Pilut was just here two years ago. Bryson says that’s going to help them improve as a unit.

“We have a good crew of guys," he said. "We’ve all known for a few years, and they’re unbelievable. So we’re going to keep building.”

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In Buffalo, Bryson was paired with Casey Fitzgerald quite a bit, but they weren't paired too much in Rochester. Still, Bryson remembers him from when he was at Providence and Fitzgerald was at Boston College.

“In college, me and him were always rivals," Bryson said. "I kind of knew him, I had never met him, but played against him, and we’ve been best friends ever since.”

For the last two summers, Bryson and Dylan Cozens have worked out together in London, Ontario. Granato says there’s one thing he knows, he doesn’t have to see those workouts to know they push each other.

“I think it’s great for them, because we know their personalities. Anytime you pair two guys up like that, you know they’re going to be pushing each other and they do," Granato said.

“They’re in a good regimen every day. Skate, workout and then enjoy the rest of the day. It is nice when you have the opportunity to train with a teammate, and they look better than when they left here.”

In Friday’s first practice, the players were mostly a Sabres group of guys. The lines were

Forwards:
Quinn – Thompson – Olofsson
Skinner – Mittelstadt – Tuch
Krebs – Cozens – Peterka
Asplund – Girgensons – Okposo
Bjork – Savoie – Hinostroza

Defense:
Samuelsson – Dahlin
Power – Jokiharju
Bryson – Fitzgerald
Davies – Lyubushkin

Goalies:
Anderson
Comrie
Luukkonen

The Sabres host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday for an afternoon start. Join Brian Koziol and me for pregame coverage starting at 12 p.m. ET, where you'll hear from Granato, Bryson and Matt Savoie.

Photo credit Losi and Gangi
Featured Image Photo Credit: Aaron Doster - USA TODAY Sports