Chad Ruhwedel played eight games with the Buffalo Sabres last season after wrapping up his college career at Umass Lowell. He reportedly had several offers, but elected Buffalo's because of the opportunity to play in The Show right away.
He performed fairly well during his stint. Then he became somewhat of a forgotten man.
The Sabres drafted two defenseman in the first round – both of which made the NHL roster. So did prospect Mark Pysyk. And they traded for Jamie McBain.
The crowded back end forced Ruhwedel down to Rochester, where he's played a sound, smart game.
On Wednesday night, the 23-year-old D-man netted his first and second professional goal in the Amerks' 5-3 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs.
His first came on a 5-on-3 power play for the Amerks. Brayden McNabb fed him the puck on a nifty back-handed pass. Ruhwedel flipped a sharp wrist shot into the top of the net.
“I've been getting my chances and throwing the puck at the net when I can, it's nice when one or two can finally go in,” he said.
Three minutes later, his second shot of the night found the top shelf again – this time on a deflection. With the two goals, the 5-foot-11 prospect has six points in nine games.
While he's played a sound game in Rochester and shown NHL-caliber skating and puck handling skills. Veteran defenseman Drew Bagnall analyzed Ruhwedel's game this way:
“He's very good at using his opponent's anticipation against them,” Bagnall said. “He's got very good deception. He can bait a guy into thinking he's going one way, then he goes another. Obviously he's a great skater and has a great shot....the test is whether he can do it every night.”
it's questionable whether Ruhwedel will see NHL ice again any time soon.
With rookies Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov sticking in the NHL (though Zadorov could still be sent back to juniors), there's little room for another young'in. And veteran Mike Weber will be coming back eventually.
Not to mention that Ruhwedel is likely third in line for a call-up even if there is additional injuries. Alexander Sulzer has already seen time in Buffalo this year and is a force in the AHL and 6-foot-5 Brayden McNabb has top four-type upside.
Whether he gets the call or ends up as an insurance policy it never hurts to have reliable depth. It's a major upgrade from 2011-12 when a bunch of injuries happened in the NHL and the Sabres asked Joe Finley to play NHL minutes.
-Speaking of defense, Brayden McNabb is putting together a string of strong performances. In Syracuse last Friday, he played a role in all four Amerks goals (1g, 3a). On Wednesday night, he added an assist on Ruhwedel's goal and showed some physical presence – not only with a few big hits, but by being tough along the walls and behind the net.
“Whether he has the puck or defending, he plays with a lot of composure,” defenseman Drew Bagnall said. “The fact that he's willing to play a tough, rugged game without the puck and still have the ability to make the plays he does, I don't think he's going to be here long in this league.”
McNabb had a little bit of a shaky start, but is already back to the level where he was last season before a knee injury ended his year. He's still improving his skating and decision making, but is getting closer and closer to being ready to see more NHL minutes.
-Matt Hackett didn't face a ton of pressure against Hamilton, but allowed three goals on 27 shots. Two of the goals were regrettable, especially the second – which came on a preventable rebound. Nevertheless, he came through with several quality saves when the score was cut to 4-3 and held on for the win.
-Freddie Roy saw quite possibly the most ice time of his career on Wednesday night. And he made the most of it. Cassidy said Roy was the most valuable player on the ice because of his effort, shot blocking and the number of times he won battles along the walls and behind the net. Roy was rewarded for his efforts with an empty net goal.
-Mike Zigomanis scored a goal and an assist. It has to be nice for the Amerks players who've been on the team for the past few years to play with him and not against him.
-It sounds like Patrick Kaleta will debut as an Amerk on Friday at home against Binghamton. Alexander Sulzer was injured in what Cassidy said is a short-term injury and Kevin Porter is also hurt, so they'll have time to figure out how to handle being two over the veteran limit.
“Time will tell as to how it will change the dynamics,” Bagnall said. “It does effect the game and chemistry and lines. But the good thing here is that all the veterans are good guys....I think we'll be fine and the addition will only help us.”