I know NHLers get sick of answering the same questions from reporters day in and day out, so when I get the chance to go off the board, I try to take it.
Buffalo Sabres right winger Drew Stafford is enjoying his best season to date in the big league, but when I got some time with him after the Sabres’ 3-1 victory over Toronto on Wednesday, one particularly important topic came up: What do you think of the new Mastodon album?
Stafford is a big music connoisseur and the members of the Atlanta-based underground metal band are friends of his.
“It’s really good,” Stafford said of the record, Crack the Skye. “I listened to it twice on the way over here.”
It goes without saying I’m also a big Mastodon fan and it’s fun to geek out occasionally with NHLers who share similar tastes – which doesn’t happen very often. Toronto’s Boyd Devereaux is good buddies with the Constantines and Jere Lehtinen and former Dallas teammate Janne Niinimaa got to hang out with Slayer, but walk into an NHL dressing room and you’re more likely to hear Nickelback or Linkin Park. (Niinimaa even joked that in Dallas, his CDs got thrown across the room.)
The fact Stafford likes to rock out to Mastodon is, of course, secondary to his growing role on a Sabres squad that hung in the playoff race despite key injuries, before being eliminated from contention Thursday night.
Stafford’s ascent began at the University of North Dakota, where he steadily gained points each season. His third and final year was his best, when he led the Fighting Sioux with 24 goals and 48 points in 42 games. Looking back, it was an impressive feat: the next three names on that leaderboard were Travis Zajac, T.J. Oshie and Jonathan Toews, while Brian Lee and Matt Smaby held down the defense.
As with many Sabres prospects, Stafford then cut his teeth with Rochester of the American League and he points to the organization for bringing up youngsters at the right pace.
“Give credit to the management; give credit to the front office,” he said. “Look at Chris Butler this year. He’s going to be a good player. He was brought up to play with the Sabres and that’s what he needed in order to succeed.”
And while each player has his own timetable, Stafford’s was just 34 games with the Amerks before graduating to the Sabres in 2006-07.
Now in his third NHL campaign, Stafford broke his career-highs in every offensive category and became an important part of the Buffalo power play with nine man-advantage markers.
“Overall, I think I’ve had a pretty decent year,” said the 23-year-old Milwaukee native. “I think I can get better, but that’s what the summer is for; working on those inconsistencies.”
Even though the Sabres fell short of the post-season, Stafford’s optimism is all part and parcel to his professionalism. When asked if he was going to catch Mastodon on their current tour, the 6-foot-2, 213-pound winger simply smiled to indicate a no: “I’ve got hockey.”
It was pretty obvious from his tone that Stafford had no problem with that whatsoever.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.