Luke Adam had a message the Rochester Americans' coaching staff and the Buffalo Sabres' organization on Friday night: He belongs at center.
An injury to top center Cody Hodgson and Phil Varone's alleged illness gave the Rochester Americans few options other than to move Adam back to center on Friday night against the Adirondack Phantoms. He had played left wing the entire season, but spent nearly his whole career prior in the middle.
Paired with one should-be NHL'er in Marcus Foligno and speedy winger Brian Flynn, Adam looked like the same player who 20 points in his first 32 games with the Sabres in 2011-12.
He had the first-step jump as he did before he was sent to the NHL Skills Competition at the All-Star Game. He looked like the guy who scored 62 points in 57 AHL games in 2010-11 and not the one who scored only 18 in his past 57 games between the NHL and AHL.
“It felt real nice coming to the rink tonight knowing I was playing center,” Adam said following the Amerks' 2-1 loss to the Phantoms. “That's my natural position, that's where I'm most comfortable and it's great to get back in the middle. Obviously there's work that needs to be done, but that's back where I want to be and we can build off that.”
He didn't score on Friday night, but his line created chances – many of which happened via a sharp pass or quick decision.
“I thought they controlled the puck through the neutral zone and created some good opportunities,” coach Ron Rolston said of his top line. “It was good.”
“He's good at finding the soft spots,” Foligno said.
Adam will have to continue to play the way he did on Friday night – and bury a few of those chances – to keep his spot at center. Hodgson isn't projected to be out long and there is plenty of other players who can play the middle including Kevin Porter, Varone, Rick Schofield and Kevin Sundher.
“There's no secret about it that I much prefer playing center,” Adam said. “When you are a professional hockey player, the coach has the last call and if he sees that I can help the team more at wing than that is where I'm going to go.”
The way he looked Friday night, there's little doubt he's the best option while Hodgson is out. After he comes back, though? Sounds like it's up to him.
“If he's playing well there and producing, then we can put him in that situation,” Rolston said.
When the NHL returns from lockout, it won't be easy for Adam to grab a center spot on the Sabres' roster, even if he produces consistently for the Amerks. In the last few months following the trade deadline, the Sabres went from having hardly any centers to having a crowd.
Tyler Ennis emerged as a possible No. 1 option and there's little doubt Hodgson will have a spot. Then there's super-prospect Mikhal Grigerenko, who is making a mockery of the QMJHL with 31 points in 16 games so far for the Quebec Ramparts.
Adam certainly isn't a fourth-line center – in fact, he's about as close to being a goalie than he is a fourth-line style player.
At very least, the Sabres' former second-round pick will have a nightly opportunity to show NHL scouts that he can swing it in The Show. With the NHL locked out, there are a multitude of scouts at every game.
But Adam wasn't thinking much about the big picture on Friday. He was just happy to be back where he belongs: at center.
Zemgus Girgensons – The message has been: be patient with him, he's only 18. But Friday night, it was hard not to get overly excited. Girgensons skated confidently, created chances, grinded, got under the skin of opponents. He did it all. It was how you picture a first-round pick. He was really, really good.
TJ Brennan – Scored on a slap shot. Stop if you've heard that one before. He now has five goals on the season and continued to play an improved defensive game from last season.
Marcus Foligno – Stepped up for Adam after a run-in with his old pal Zac Rinaldo. Foligno ended up scrapping with Marc-Andre Bourdon and beat him decidedly in the fight. It's become more than clear that Foligno's success will not come from natural tools as much as out-working everyone around him. And he's continuing to do that every night in Rochester.
Brian Flynn – He played on the top line on Friday night. Has the ability to out-skate most players on the ice at any time. The biggest question is whether he can be a finisher around the net.
Frederick Roy – Changed roles a little bit to third-line center at times during the game. Didn't get into a rhythm there, but it's obvious the under-sized forward is fearless and a pest to opponents.
David Leggio – Played a strong game. Didn't face many tough shots early but made several great saves late in the game. Both goals would have scored on Hasek. One a screen shot, the game-winner was a weird bounce off Brennan's skate.