Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-15-2016
The Rochester Americans opened their 61st season with a 5-4 win over the Hershey Bears (WSH) last night. Rochester's top line of Cal O'Reilly, Cole Schneider and Nick Baptiste powered the club with four goals and four assists. Schneider had two goals and two assists while O'Reilly and Baptiste each contributed a goal and an assist. After the game it was Baptiste who got the call to Buffalo to replace Evander Kane who will be out weeks with three cracked ribs.
Buffalo begins a three-game Western Canada swing with a game tomorrow at 7 p.m. EST at Edmonton. It will be only the second game at the brand new $600 million Rogers Place. The Oilers christened the new arena with a 7-4 shellacking of the Calgary Flames on Thursday night. The Sabres will visit Calgary on Tuesday night for a 9 p.m. then conclude with a stop in Vancouver to take on the Canucks at 10 p.m. on Thursday.
The Sabres have been getting hit hard by the injury bug. Jack Eichel suffered a high-ankle sprain with minutes to go in Wednesday's practice and is out for weeks. Kane crashed hard into the boards the following night in the season opener and is out for a while. New Sabres Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov missed the opener with day-to-day injuries. Okposo took a puck off the back of his knee and looks good to go tomorrow while Kulikov was checked into the corner of an open bench door and bruised his tail-bone. It looks as if he'll be in the lineup as well.
As for Baptiste, the 6'1" 206 lb. forward spent his first pro season with the Amerks last season scoring 28 points (13g + 15a) in 62 games. Baptiste himself was sidelined because of back problems in the preseason and after he was cleared to play he was amongst the last cuts when the Sabres trimmed their roster to 23 players.
With Kane going down the prior night and Buffalo needing a forward for the trip, the Rochester/Hershey game was basically an audition. Among the contenders, according to Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, were Baptiste, Justin Bailey and Daniel Catenacci. Oklobzija wrote of the Baptiste call-up, "There was no announcement [of the call-up] late Friday night, the handshake by Amerks coach Dan Lambert to Nick Baptiste was confirmation, however."
Baptiste was drafted 69th overall in 2013 by the Sabres and was one of the first players signed by new GM Tim Murray when he inked his three-year entry-level deal in May, 2014. He had an excellent 2013-14 campaign for the Sudbury Wolves with 89 points (45+ 44) in 65 games then started out on a similar pace in Sudbury before he was traded to the Erie Otters. Baptiste joined a scoring machine in Erie lead by Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome and finished with 53 points (26+27) in 41 games.
The numbers that Baptiste has put up have been consistent in that he has a great set of hands and can score from a variety of ways in all areas while he can also dish. He got off to a great start in camp this season by scoring the hat trick against the Boston Bruins in the first game of this years Buffalo Sabres Prospects Challenge then added two assists in the second and final game against the New Jersey Devils.
Baptiste is one of three wing prospects that the Sabres are looking to for contributions in the near future. Bailey had a nice eight-game stint with the club last season while Hudson Fasching finished last season with seven games in Buffalo. Not included in that list is highly skilled winger Alexander Nylander. The 18 yr. old was the eighth-overall pick in the 2016 draft and began his professional career in Rochester with the game last night.
It will be another day at the office for the Amerks as they have a back-to-back home-and-home with cross-state rivals Syracuse (TBL) beginning tonight. As a feeder for NHL talent, AHL squads are almost always in a state of flux.
Last season it started early for the Sabres and Amerks as injuries hit goaltending and defense. Buffalo starter Robin Lehner went down in the first game and Nathan Lieuwen got the call. He would eventually be replaced by rookie Linus Ullmark who held his own quite well after returning rather early from elective double-hip surgery. Injuries also opened up the door for defenseman Jake McCabe who took full advantage of his opportunity to become a mainstay in the top-four for Buffalo.
And the band played on.