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Buffalo’s Vanek to play in Austrian league

Buffalo Sabres v Carolina Hurricanes

RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 06: Thomas Vanek #26 of the Buffalo Sabres celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during play at the RBC Center on January 6, 2012 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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The Erste Bank Eishockey Liga is on the verge of landing its first big name of the NHL lockout.

According to Sky Sport News, Austria’s premier hockey circuit will soon have Buffalo Sabres sniper Thomas Vanek in the fold. The news outlet reports Vanek will join the Graz 99ers on Thursday.

Vanek grew up in Graz and is one of just three Austrian-born players currently in the NHL (he’s also the highest-scoring Austrian of all time.)

From a heritage standpoint, it’s easy to understand why he’d choose the EBEL -- but from a competitive standpoint, well, it’s a little more difficult.

The Austrian league is a mid-level European circuit with teams based in Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and the Czech Republic. The most recognizable squad is EC Red Bull Salzburg, coached by Pierre Page and featuring a slew of ex-NHLers (Alex Auld, Rob Davison, Ross Lupaschuk and Steve Regier.)

The 99ers don’t exactly have the same cache, though they do employ former Flyers, Sabres, Predators and Blue Jackets defenseman Andy Delmore. So that’s something.