Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-22-2016
It started yesterday at noon when three players--forwards Nick Baptiste and Hudson Fasching plus defenseman Casey Nelson--were sent to Rochester. All three had just finished a western Canada swing with the Buffalo Sabres and represented the cavalry for the Americans this weekend beginning with a game against the rival Toronto Marlies last night.
After a sluggish start the Amerks slowly came to life scoring twice late in the second period to take a 2-1 lead as Fasching scored the go-ahead goal on a breakaway late in the stanza. Nelson also contributed after Toronto closed the gap in the third as he sent a top-shelf wrister that put the Amerks up 4-2 late in the third period. Daniel Catenacci scored an empty-netter as Rochester improved to 2-2 on the season.
As with all AHL teams, Rochester is at the mercy of the parent club. Injuries in Buffalo have taken top-six forwards Jack Eichel and Evander Kane out of the lineup forcing the Amerks into a feeder role right off the bat as two forwards from Rochester were needed to replace them. Add in the strong play of Derek Grant who forced his way on to the Sabres roster with an impressive training camp and that's three forwards from the planned Amerks roster that were missing opening weekend.
The Amerks started their season last weekend with three games in three nights, minus Fasching, Nelson and center Grant. Somehow they came away with a win in the opener against Hershey (WSH) but after Baptiste was recalled last Saturday, the Amerks proceeded to drop a home-and-home with Syracuse (TBL.) The Crunch outscored Rochester by a 10-4 margin in those two games and outshot them by a combined 74-42. The Amerks were outshot in all three games last weekend by a combined 103-54.
The trend continued last night as Rochester was outshot by Toronto 36-21 but they were able to come away with a 5-2 win thanks in large part to the goaltending of Linus Ullmark. However. although the cavalry did come in the form of the three who were reassigned, the forward ranks still needs some bulking up, especially down the middle.
Losing Grant to the big show left a second-line hole at center that's being filled by Evan Rodrigues, according to Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "What [the Amerks] desperately need is another point-producing centerman," wrote Oklbozija. "Rodrigues does his best work on the wing; he's being used in the middle out of necessity. There is no one else."
Rochester's top center is Cal O'Reilly while Nos. 3 and 4 are Daniel Catenacci and whomever can hold the fort be it Justin Kea (who was just sent to Elmira) or Brady Vail (who was just called up from the Fort Wayne Komets.) Oklobzija laments Buffalo GM Tim Murray not fortifying the center ranks writing that Murray had the opportunity to "take advantage of high-quality veterans on the market earlier this month.
"But most, like Zach Boychuk," he continued, "are now gone. The Sabres' wait-and-see approach was very Darcy-like."
That "Darcy-like" jab at Murray is based upon former GM Darcy Regier's laissez faire approach to his rosters.
Then again, in looking at things the day before the season opener, Eichel was in the mix and with the other center slots all in place, Grant may have been sent to Rochester pending waivers. Eichel went down in practice and the Sabres needed Grant to fill in a spot on the depth chart. It's understood that stuff happens, but they chose to juggle things and keep Sam Reinhart at wing instead of moving him to center which is why Grant was still in the mix. And with the way he's played, it looks like he'll either be with the Sabres or on another team as Grant will be probably be plucked off of waivers should they try and slip him through to Rochester.
Such is the plight.
The Sabres and Amerks are good for now but there will be some yo-yoing for a few players through the next week. The combined game-schedule look like this:
Tonight: Rochester @ Binghamton
Sunday: Both teams off
Monday: Both teams off
Tuesday: Buffalo @ Philadelphia
Wednesday: Both teams off
Thursday: Buffalo vs. Minnesota
Friday: Rochester @ St. John's
Saturday Oct. 29: Rochester @ St. John's...Buffalo vs. Florida
Buffalo begins a short, two-game mid-west road trip on Sunday, October 30 in Winnipeg then travels to Minnesota on Tuesday November 1 while Rochester is off until November 4th.
The Sabres forwards right now are:
Kyle Okposo, Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart
Brian Gionta, Johan Larsson, Marcus Foligno
Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons, Matt Moulson
Nic Deslauriers, Derek Grant, ???
Buffalo has plenty of options for a fourth-line recall and although Fasching and Baptiste played well in their stints, they could use as much seasoning in Rochester as possible. Catenacci is 23 yrs. old and not yet been able to make the jump to the NHL. Plus he's a desperately needed center in Rochester. As is Rodrigues. Cal O'Reilly is the Amerks captain while highly-skilled 18 yr. old Alexander Nylander is best served playing a ton of minutes in a scoring role in Rochester.
The two best candidates at this point might just be Cole Schneider and Justin Bailey. Both have size (Schneider 6'1" 200 lbs.; Bailey 6'3" 213 lbs.,) both have speed and both got their first taste of the NHL last season. Schneider leads the Amerks in scoring with two goals and six points in four games while Bailey has contributed two goals. As of now, Schneider is on Rochester's top line while Bailey is in a third-line role.
Things are a little bit better on defense for Buffalo although they do have a reserve spot open on the blueline. Nelson played in Buffalo's season-opener vs. Montreal in place of an injured Dmitry Kulikov. Upon Kulikov's return, however, Nelson was in the press box for the entire three-game western Canada swing. Like Fasching and Baptiste, Nelson needs more seasoning in Rochester. Although he plays a steady game, his size is a bit of a detriment right now and he needs to figure out how to counter that. The AHL is a great place to figure it out.
Rochester doesn't have the strongest d-corps on paper, but the Amerks do have a pretty good veteran d-man in Justin Falk (171 NHL games) who could yo-yo as a reserve without adversely affecting his game or they could give Eric Burgdoerfer his first NHL tap.
Then there's 28 year old Taylor Fedun who just started his professional career four years ago in the Edmonton organization. Fedun has 12 NHL games to his credit and is off to a strong start with Rochester with a goal and three assists in four games. Interesting note on Fedun, in his 12 NHL games the 6'1" 198 lb. native of Edmonton, Alberta has two goals and five assists.
With Eichel and Kane out long-term, Murray does have some holes to fill but at least he has this week and a little beyond to play yo-yo while he figures out how he'll approach things. Winning may elongate the process while losing will inject a sense of urgency as he can't let either team begin a slide into the abyss. That said, regardless of what Murray does, opportunity is knocking for many in this organization and it's up to them to take advantage of it.