The Rochester Americans kicked off the post-trade-deadline season with a 4-1 win over the Syracuse Crunch. They received goals from Johan Larsson, Jamie Tardif, Tim Schaller and Joel Armia. In goal, Nathan Lieuwen continued his strong season by stopping 28 of 29 shots. Chad Ruhwedel had two assists.
With the deadline over and the Buffalo Sabres making their plans clear for the future, what should we expect from the Amerks?
We asked Twitter what they were most interested in hearing about:
@ZacKrell Who is the big surprise in Rochester this year? Maybe a guy no one thought would have an NHL shot but is close to earning one.
Goalie Nathan Lieuwen in a landslide. When the year began, it appeared the 22-year-old goalie would only play when the team had back-to-back games. The job was Matt Hackett's until Lieuwen just kept winning and winning. Now he is (mostly) the No. 1. Hackett still plays fairly regularly, but the statistical difference between the two is a pretty wide gap and it has earned the younger of the two more time. Lieuwen has a .921 save percentage and is 16-9-2, Hackett is 13-15-2 with a .904 save percentage.
@hockybro41 do you think Cassidy is a good coach, or a good team making him look like he's doing a good job?
Yes and yes. Since taking over for Ron Rolston, he has had all sorts of players going up and down and has come away with a combined record of 45-31-9. That is not earth shattering, but got them into a playoff spot last year and will very likely be in one again. As for his job in developing young players, well, Zemgus Girgensons played his best AHL hockey under Cassidy and we have seen huge strides from Luke Adam, Rasmus Ristolainen, Johan Larsson and are beginning to see it with Armia. The young players respond to him and the older players appreciate that he gives them the freedom to lead.
To the second part of the question, anyone would look like a better coach with Mark Pysyk on defense. Pysyk has made all the difference in this team's chances at a Calder Cup. Cassidy has been working on the finer points, but he is going to be an NHL player for a long time and is ready now. That helps. So does having great veteran players like Mike Zigomanis, Jamie Tardif, Kevin Porter and Drew Bagnall. Good players win, that's sports.
@BeardedAlbion if you had to pick the team mvp to this point in the season, who and why?
Uh, Linus Omark, obviously. Kidding.
The key word is “valuable.” Clearly Mark Pysyk is the best player on the team, but he has only played 21 games. It would probably be between Phil Varone – who leads the team in points – or Luke Adam, the team's leader in goals. If you wanted an under-appreciated player of the year, Colton Gillies has meant a ton to the team's depth and his versatility has helped them through some tough times.
@joegud Are either of the goalies NHL ready now?
As good as Lieuwen has been, the answer is no. He has worked extremely hard to get to being strong in the AHL, but needs a bunch of work before he could dream of NHL minutes. At the top of the list of things to improve is puck handling, but it is really every aspect of his game that needs to continue to get better. The only way is through experience. As for Hackett, he has a .904 save percentage. That is well, well below league average. If he is doing that in the AHL, he certainly can't be in the NHL
@Nigrelli93 When might Sabres fans see Armia in the NHL? By 2015-16? @PeteEbert_srsly is armia a bust? Looks like he has a LONG way to go. Is the effort there at least? @ShaunR16 how does Armia appear to be adjusting to the N.A. style of play? Pre and post wrist injury comparison? @TimMiller95 what has been your impression of Armia thus far? How would you guess his nhl career projects?
So, does anyone want to hear about Armia?
It is reasonable to think 2015-16, but do not write that in stone. He is a young 20 – if that makes any sense. This is not a player like Zemgus Girgensons who was 18 going on 31. Armia needs a lot of development in his body, in consistency of effort and learning how to play the North American game.
Is he a bust? Not even close. He shows flashes of absolute brilliance with the puck. Jaw dropping stuff at times. He has not lit the AHL on fire, but he was also battling a wrist injury for much of the year. Now that he is healthy, he seems much more confident.
As for the adjustment, it is coming along. Armia has stopped trying so hard to take everyone one-on-one with the puck and is skating harder and playing more physical.
How does his NHL career project? Worst case scenario is he never plays in the NHL because he simply can not translate into the NHL game. Best case is that he turns into a top line winger who scores 30-plus goals. If I were a gypsy, I could tell you which case was going to happen.
@EricVona other than Ristolinen and Ruewhedl? (Ruddy) who is having a good season along the blue line prospect wise?
Matt MacKenzie never gets any love, but he is a plus-9 and has been fairly steady on the blueline whether he has been asked to play top or bottom pair minutes. Is he a highly-rated prospect? No. He can skate though, so it gives him a chance.
@BuffaloWins is Luke Adam just an AHL lifer and how are the assets looking in the #29 deal?
Adam has made great efforts to improve his defensive game, which was one of several Achilles heels. His effort, leadership and attitude went from a D- to an A in the last two years – that helps his cause a ton and is the reason we are seeing him get chances in the NHL again. Adam knows how to score goals and has great hands around the net. Is that enough to overcome his skating issues? Very possibly. Matt Moulson did not become a full-time NHL player until age 26. Same could go for Adam.
Pominville deal? Well, Johan Larsson is a point-per-game player with the Amerks and is showing even more offensive potential than first thought. Worst case with him is still a terrific depth forward. The guy is a tough, two-way forward who makes life difficult on opponents.
@KyleClairx which players will earn roster spots in Buffalo next year? Risto, Armia, Adam, Pysyk, Ruhwedel, Larsson and Catenacci...
@jessywils0n What players from the current Amerks Roster (if any) could we see full time come 2015?
Pysyk, Adam, Ruhwedel and Larsson are all possibilities. Ristolainen and Armia need at least another year. It all depends on how good/bad the Sabres want to be.
@joshweissbock Why are they the worst possession team in the AHL?
It is amazing what a few weeks can do. They are not the worst anymore – far from it. Health was a huge issue for awhile with Tardif and Zigomanis out. Porter coming back along with Ristolainen, Pysyk and Armia being back to 100 percent have turned this team into a very strong possession team
Assuming this means long term, Pysyk, Ristolainen and Larsson are the safest bets. Even if they do not become stars in the NHL, they all will be NHL players. Armia has risk involved because his shortcomings – if they go unresolved – can lead to him never making it. If he does continue to have things go right, he could be a star. Ruhwedel could be a sixth defenseman because he is a strong skater and smart passer. A sleeper here might be defensive forward Tim Shaller, who has shown a good deal of improvement and is used as a shutdown forward. Dan Catenacci has also flashed some potential and is a hard worker.