Thursday, October 23, 2014

Amerks and Sabres hit the ice tonight while Connor McDavid faces off in Buffalo

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres are on the west coast for a three games in four nights road trip with stops in Anaheim tonight and Los Angeles tomorrow night (both games start at 10:30) before a 4pm matinee  with San Jose' on Saturday. With a 10:30 eastern start tonight, the Sabres can lay claim to the "feature" of tonight's double bill for Western New York hockey fans.

Two events are jostling for attention in the 7pm slot tonight as probable 2015 first overall pick, Connor McDavid, and his Erie Otters take on the Niagara Ice Dogs at the First Niagara Center, while the Rochester Americans are hosting the Rockford IceHogs.

It wouldn't be too far fetched to believe that the intrigue over McDavid will heavily outweigh any interest in the Amerks in the greater Buffalo area. McDavid is going to be a special talent in hockey and the Buffalo Sabres could very well be in a position to draft him in 2015. If your dreaming about the future and have never thought of travelling about to catch an junior hockey game, the Sabres are giving you the opportunity to go see one tonight in a familiar F'N Center setting.

As for the Otters, they're a very good team. McDavid has lived up to the hype and then some. He seems to have shifted into overdrive this season, boasting 25 points in only nine games (8 goals, 17 assists) so far. Otters owner Sherry Bassin was on WGR this morning mentioning that McDavid seems to have been pushed a bit by Boston University's Jack Eichel, McDavid's main competitor for top player in the draft. Eichel threw down the gauntlet when he kicked off his season with two goals and two assists on October 10th.

But Bassin also pointed out that the Otters aren't just about McDavid (well, not completely, anyway.) 2015 draft eligible Dylan Strome is two points behind McDavid (7g, 18a) and would probably be a feature player on almost any other team in the league. Also doing well  for the Otters is 16 yr. old rookie Alex DeBrincat who has 11 goals through nine games.

It's too bad that the Amerks are going to be overshadowed tonight and quite possibly most of the season because the team is looking like it will make a pretty big leap this year. They'll have the opportunity to keep the ball rolling against the Chicago Blackhawks affiliate.

Rochester has scored four or more goals in all three of their games thus far and are off to a 2-1 start. Everyone from Phil Varone (2+3) and Chad Ruhwedel (1+4) who lead the team in points to Mikhail Grigorenko to Akim Aliu, who leads the team with three goals, to Tim Schaller (team-leading 11 shots) and Johan Larsson are in on the scoring. And in net, Nathan Lieuwen has been steady in his three starts with a 2-1 record, a 2.35 gaa and a .916 save percentage.

Bolstered by the reassignment of defenseman Mark Pysyk, the team proceeded to hold the Toronto Marlies to one goal last Saturday and waiting to make his American Hockey League debut will be Jake McCabe. McCabe has recovered from his "middle-body" injury and is trying to get up to game speed at practice. He may or may not play tonight as head coach Chadd Cassidy called it a game-time decision.

Pysyk is NHL ready and will only help the Amerks as he works through what could be considered a conditioning stint in Rochester. And McCabe most certainly has the mental capacity and skill-level to hang with NHL'ers but seasoning in Rochester will only help his long-term development. Having both on the club strengthens an already solid defense-corps.

Other than the potential to land one of the top-two prospects in the 2015 draft who happen to be franchise players, the Amerks will be the most important area for the organization over the course of the next two or three seasons. Players like Grigorenko, Pysyk and McCabe, Joel Armia and Larsson will probably pass through Rochester on their way to the Sabres throughout the course of the next 12 months. They will be making room for prospects like Nick Baptiste, JT Compher, Justin Bailey and Linus Ullmark who should be in Rochester for the 2015-16 season. And they will eventually make some room for the next group.

Up in Buffalo, perhaps it's best the Sabres have a road trip right now. They're not only 1-5 on the season, but it's an ugly 1-5 record that features a team that's been outshot and outscored by the truckload. They were shut out in back to back home games for the first time since 1972 and only four players have hit the scoresheet thus far.

Sam Reinhart, the second overall pick in the 2014 draft is with the team on the trip, but is relegated to merely taking in as much NHL experience as he can before he's inevitably sent back to his junior club. Another youngin who looks to be headed back to junior is defenseman Nikita Zadorov although he's in a bit of a quandary as the NHL, CHL and KHL are all possible destinations for him. The best place for him, the AHL, is not an option so the team is buying some time as he's with the team in California.

And if all this wasn't enough, the trade winds are swirling as hockey media-types are trying to put two and two together to come up with a story.

The never ending Tyler Myers to Detroit rumors are back but names like Anthony Mantha and Gustav Nyquist are non-starters for the Wings which has one wondering just how much "significant intrest" Detroit GM Ken Holland has in Myers.

Forward Chris Stewart has just joined Myers in the mill as he's been linked to the Boston Bruins this week. TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie has Stewart in much demand, especially in Boston where he would be a "tremendous fit" for "a gaping hole" on the B's right side.

Problem with the Bruins is that they have very little in the cupboard for forwards, especially wingers. The Sabres are loaded with draft-picks so a focus upon near NHL-ready prospects is what GM Tim Murray is locked into.

The Ottawa Senators, who were said to be interested in Stewart last season, are said to be very interested in the forward, although not "top-level-prospect" interested. Ottawa has more in the cupboard on the wings than Boston, but their not willing to move Mark Stone who is near the top of their prospect list.

It's going to be a busy hockey week beginning tonight so take in as much as you can. Remember, this is what you've been waiting for all summer.

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