Late last month, new Sabres general manager Jason Botterill poached Randy Sexton from the Pittsburgh Penguins and made him GM of the Rochester Americans, Buffalo's AHL affiliate. Sexton was Pittsburgh's director of amateur scouting and played a big part in having young, dynamic role-players fill in around high-priced superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Rochester is not an unfamiliar city to Sexton as he was involved with the Amerks while with the Florida Panthers from 2007-10. Rochester was the dual affiliate of both Buffalo and Florida in 2005 and 2006 before the Sabres moved on to an affiliation with Portland, ME from 2007-11 leaving the Panthers as Rochester's lone parent club.
After being replaced in Florida after the 2009-10 season, Sexton joined the Penguins organization on July 3, 2010 as an assistant director of amateur scouting. He would spend the next seven years working with Botterill and helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup twice.
Botterill gave Sexton the dual responsibilities of being his assistant in Buffalo as well as the title of GM in Rochester but he also asked Sexton to lead the amateur scouting group for the organization. And if that wasn't enough on his plate, Sexton also said he offered his services to Rob Kopacz, Vice President of Business Operations for the Rochester Americans. In an interview with long-time Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens at the recently concluded Sabres Development Camp, Sexton said that he "has built franchises in the past from the business side" and "will do anything he can to help build a stronger business side in Rochester."
However, Sexton's role will be "mostly on-ice, mostly hockey related," he told Stevens. "We need to reshape our organization [in Rochester]. The guys before us have done a really solid job, now what we need to do is add more depth and strength and talent to the stable they've already built."
Botterill certainly helped in that respect as he had a very busy July 1 start to free agency. He began up-front when he started and finished the day by signing forwards Benoit Pouliot and Jacob Josefson, two NHL'ers who fill the NHL depth chart that will keep young players in Rochester for further development. He also signed forwards Kevin Porter and 2017 Calder Cup Champion Kyle Criscuolo to help guide the young Amerks players.
But maybe more important for the Sabres organization is what Botterill has done on the defensive side of the equation since taking over. The Sabres defense last season was a huge Achilles heal for the club and it was a main priority for the new GM. On June 15 Botterill hired Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Housley, who was a premier puck-moving, offensive defenseman in his playing career and was now having success in the coaching ranks with the Nashville Predators. As an assistant in Nashville Housley helped develop what was considered to be the most dangerous defense-corps in the 2017 NHL playoffs.
Botterill followed the Housley hire with trades that brought in defenseman Nathan Beaulieu (MTL) and Marco Scandella (MIN.) Both are mobile puck-movers who fit right into the direction Buffalo is headed with their defense and it's all an extension of what Botterill and Sexton were doing in Pittsburgh.
Sexton was running the 2017 NHL Draft for Pittsburgh before he left for Buffalo. The Pens took four defensemen in June that fit in with what they wanted. He told the gathered media after the Draft that the defensemen the Penguins were looking for "have to be mobile, they have to have vision and they have to be able to move the puck. We don't like Clydesdales, we like thoroughbreds. So all of these D-men can skate."
The additions of Beaulieu and Scandella, who are in that mold, would help transition Buffalo's defense by pushing the Sabres depth chart down to the Amerks. Solidifying the Sabres top-six means a player like Brendan Guhle will be able to stay in Rochester for a year of seasoning instead of being thrown into the fire in Buffalo. It gives Taylor Fedun another opportunity for top-pairing minutes on defense in Rochester and Casey Nelson will also be able to build upon a strong finish for the Amerks last season. Then there are the prospects that will (hopefully) follow like Devante Stephens, Will Borgen, Casey Fitzgerald and Oskari Laaksonen all of whom will be given ample time to develop at their own pace.
The key, according to Sexton, is building depth reaching all the way to their ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones. "The depth that's required across an organization, to ensure that all teams remain successful and competitive, is significant so we do need to add more depth," he told Stevens.
Buffalo's roster is looking pretty well set (barring a trade or unforeseen circumstances) and it looks as if there will be some stiff competition for a few roster spots. Those who don't make the cut will be sent to Rochester meaning Sexton will have some pretty good players falling to him from forwards to defensemen to goalie Linus Ullmark, last year's starter in Rochester. When Botterill signed veteran Chad Johnson to back up Robin Lehner, it meant Ullmark gets another season of development while the Amerks get their starting goalie back.
It's good news for the Sabres and real good news for the Amerks. Rochester has missed the playoffs the last three seasons and haven't made it out of the first round since 2004-05 when the NHL locked out its players for the entire season and Botterill played for the Amerks in his final season.
Botterill said at his introductory presser that he would focus upon revitalizing the Rochester Americans. Both he and Sexton have ties Amerks, both came from an organization in Pittsburgh that had a top-notch AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and it's something they both want for the Sabres. “We are not going to rest until we restore the Americans to what I think is their rightful place among the elite teams in the American Hockey League,” Sexton told the media during Sabres Development Camp. “It will come one day at a time, it will come one person at a time. But we will be relentless in our pursuit of that success.”