The Rochester Americans open up their playoff series against the Chicago Wolves on Friday night at Blue Cross Arena. With the Sabres’ season done, the Amerks are stacked with prospects. Do they have a chance to go deep in the post-season? Who are the players to keep an eye on?
Here are five things to watch:
1) Makarov vs. Allen
You would not want to go David vs. Goliath here, but the Amerks’ netminder Andrey Makarov is the decided underdog in this battle. Several weeks ago, the 21-year-old Russian goalie was in the ECHL. He moved up to the Amerks from the ECHL after injuries to Nathan Lieuwen and Matt Hackett and performed extremely well. Makarov posted a .927 save percentage in 10 games. His competitiveness and quickness from post to post has impressed.
While Makky has been good, your eyes bug out when looking at Jake Allen’s numbers. The AHL’s clear-cut best goalie ended the year 33-16-3 with a .927 save percentage and 2.06 goals against average. He finished the year with seven (!) shutouts and is considered one of the best goalie prospects in hockey.
2) Future defense
The Amerks are stacked with players expected to be a part of the Sabres’ long term plan, especially on defense. Two of the three best defensive prospects will be playing against Chicago in Mark Pysyk and Rasmus Ristolainen. Both players are first-round draft picks and have performed outstandingly in their time in Rochester. Ristolainen leads all defenseman in goals with six and only played 34 games. Pysyk is not as great of an offensive producer, but is impeccable in his own zone. Chad Ruhwedel plays on Rochester’s second pair. He’s another quietly good player who could factor into the future
Since being assigned to Rochester, former first-round pick Mikhail Grigorenko has been a difference maker. He has four points in nine games and has impressed with his defensive zone progress. Coach Chadd Cassidy was not afraid to use Grigorenko for defensive zone faceoffs, even late in tight games. Last season, the mega-skilled prospect was unimpressive in his post-season games. There is a good chance he performed much better this time around.
4) Don’t mess with Johan
Up front, the Amerks have a full pen of forward prospects and veterans, highlighted by two-way prospect Johan Larsson. He is a shutdown player and has a special knack for driving opponents insane with his active stick and never-stop-skating effort. Few players get away with the puck when they go into the corner against Larsson.
The rest of the forward crop is impressive.
-Luke Adam scored 29 goals to lead the team
-Team MVP Phil Varone led the team in points with 61 in 69 games
-Nick Deslauriers scored his points while with Manchester, but had 42 in total and 230 shots on goal
-Kevin Porter, the team’s captain, scored 19 goals in 50 games
-Tim Schaller came on toward the end of the year offensively with 11 goals in 78 games and is the center who faces opponents’ top lines most often
5) Fantastic Fin or No Show Joel?
Former first-round pick Joel Armia has had plenty of ups and downs during the season, scoring 27 points in 54 games. When he’s on, the Finnish prospect is a difference maker, keeping the puck away from opponents and creating offensively. When he’s off, he is a non-factor. The Amerks are pushing him hard and it will be worth watching whether he steps it up a notch for playoff hockey. The playoff stretch could make a difference in whether the team and fans feel confident in his future.
Bonus hot take:
The Amerks have a good chance to pull off an upset with their team at its strongest of the year. NHLNumbers.com estimated Chicago as one of the best possession teams in the AHL, which will make things difficult on Rochester. Goaltending is likely to be the difference. The Amerks beat Jake Allen once this year, but he is as good as it gets at the AHL level.