Published by hockeybuzz.com, July 30, 2018
This is the first of a two-part look at the 2018-19 Rochester Americans with broadcaster Don Stevens.
Don Stevens, 'The Voice of the Rochester Americans', will be entering his 33rd season broadcasting games for the club this Fall. In those 30+ years he's seen plenty of good, which includes calling seven Calder Cup Finals and two Calder Cup Championships, and not so good, such has been the last 13 years where the Amerks have not advanced past the first round of the playoffs and have completely missed the post season in seven of those years.
To say it's been rough and rocky travelling for the Amerks recently might be putting it mildly. They got sucked into the morass that was the bottom-dwelling Buffalo Sabres when the organization went with a full-on, scorched earth rebuild. During the 2014-15 season management traded away every ounce of talent on the team and as Buffalo called up Rochester's better players to fill the void, there wasn't much left for the Amerks to work with. In a three-year span beginning that season, trades by then Sabres GM Tim Murray took away some of the better prospects in an already thin system and when added to a decision to rebuild as such, it was a concoction that left the Amerks with a 96-120-13 record from 2014-2017 and a bottom-five AHL finish in three consecutive seasons.
When I talked to Stevens at season's end last year, he lamented the lack of depth in Rochester which was a result of those rebuilding years. "You could see what happened, when we'd lose a player or two players all of a sudden we'd go in the tank," he told me last May, and added that at one point, "nearly half the [Amerks] roster was first-year players or players on amateur tryout contracts." He said "one game they counted eight players on ATO's."
That changed last season. New Buffalo GM Jason Botterill took over in April, 2017 and he, along with his new AGM, Randy Sexton, cobbled together an Amerks club that included draft picks and free agents from previous regimes as well as free agent signings that filled the roster with quality players.
And nowhere is that depth more pronounced than on the blueline.
Buffalo will be icing a much deeper d-corps than they've had in recent memory. 2018 first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin fits right into the top-four the Sabres top-four joining Rasmus Ristolainen, Marco Scandella and, probably, Zach Bogosian. Behind that group is Jake McCabe and one of Casey Nelson, Nathan Beaulieu or Matt Hunwick.
If no trades are made with players from that group, it means the Brendan Guhle (2015, 51st-overall) will more than likely at least start the season in Rochester. Guhle played big minutes for the Amerks last season and was impressive through most of it, including his short stints with the big club. However, the rookie "leveled off" in the playoffs, according to Stevens and he was quick to point out that the whole team did so as they got steamrolled by the Syracuse Crunch (TBL.)
With the situation the way it is, should Guhle need more time the Sabres have the option to send him to Rochester and let him develop properly without the feeling the need to rush him to the NHL. Then again, should he have a strong camp, he could push a player like Beaulieu or Hunwick down to Rochester fortifying the Amerks blueline.
With Guhle Rochester will be heading into the season with a very strong d-corps but even without him they'll have 2017 Rochester scoring leader Zach Redmond (66 games, 15 goals, 47 points) anchoring the defense along with a veteran group that includes Nathan Paetsch, Matt Tennyson, and Taylor Fedun, all of whom have combined to play in over 900 AHL games and over 450 NHL games. Andrew MacWilliam is another vet who brings over 300 games of AHL experience to the blueline.
Joining the vets this season will be Swedish free agent Lawrence "Larry" Pilut, whom the Sabres signed in May and Brandon Hickey, a Calgary Flames 2014 draft pick (64th) who just finished his college career in March, was acquired by Buffalo in June and signed with the club on July 1. In addition, rookie Will Borgen (2015, 92nd,) who got a taste of the pros in an eight-game stint with Rochester last season, will begin his first full pro season with the club.
Filling out the d-corps are a trio of defensemen who will be bouncing between Rochester an ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones--Arvin Atwal, Brycen Martin (2014, 74th,) and Devante Stephens (2015, 122nd.) Rochester also signed 21 yr. old Toby Paquette-Bisson from the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey league.
Stevens was very optimistic about the d-corps saying, "defensively this could be an extremely strong group." However, he did throw in a qualifier when he said that they may need to help out the goaltending which will be transitioning away from two-time Amerks MVP, Linus Ullmark.
And that's where we'll pick up next.