Thomas Vanek should be defined as a leader for the Buffalo Sabres. He usually leads them in goals. He definitely leads them in paycheck size. This season, he leads them in points.

Now that he's an alternate captain, there's no doubt he meets the definition of a leader.

Vanek will play his second game with a letter next to his name tonight when the Ottawa Senators visit HSBC Arena. The sixth-year pro has been expected to blossom into a leading man since being picked fifth overall in 2003, and coach Lindy Ruff feels the maturation process is well on its way.

"I try to work hard in practice, show up every day and be a professional, and that's it," Vanek said Thursday. "It's got to come on the ice first, I feel. Words can only go so long. I think you have to show it and have guys follow you."

Vanek's on-ice performance has been fine. He leads the Sabres with 51 points, including 22 goals. He's been the leading goal-scorer for the past four seasons. The 27-year-old has always expected a lot of himself, and he's begun to expect more of others.

"He's talking more," said center Paul Gaustad, who sits next to Vanek in the dressing room. "He's being a little bit more vocal in the locker room, and I think that's good, especially with the young guys, as a goal scorer and trying to mentor some of the younger guys that are more offensive. He's being more vocal in the locker room and on the bench, and it carries over."

Vanek hasn't been a captain or alternate since he was a teenager playing juniors.

"I welcome it and I have no problem with having it," Vanek said. "It's not going to change the way I approach the game or approach the room. I've never been much of a rah-rah guy, but I just try to lead on the ice, score some goals, get some points and get this team in the playoffs."