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Sabres Future Watch: Analyzing the Amerks



The Rochester Americans were eliminated from the postseason by the Chicago Wolves, making it three straight seasons of first-round outs. While the result was not ideal, the Buffalo Sabres' organization has a lot to feel good about following the series, especially as it pertains to their top prospects. Who rose up the ranks throughout the year? Who will be a piece of the puzzle next season? We look at every player, their stats, role, future and best case scenario.

FORWARDS

Prospects

Joel Armia – 54 games, 7 goals, 20 assists

Overview:

An up-and-down season for the former first-round pick ended on the highest of high notes. Armia posted six points in four playoff games and played with intensity. A promising sign. During the regular season, he went through a lot, including a hand injury and illness at the end of the year. He was criticized at times for a lack of consistency and fire in his game, but there was no denying his puck protection skill, heavy shot and ability to pass through traffic.

Projection:

Unless he lights the world on fire, Armia will start next season as a top six forward for the Amerks. The playoffs may have acted as his “Girgensons moment,” giving him confidence to come out next season and prove he can reach his ceiling. He projects to a top six scorer, who can score 25-30 goals and excel at puck possession. He won't be Marian Hossa on defense, but has the skating ability, stick skills along the wall and size to be a factor at both ends. However, if he does not put pucks in the net, he is not the type who could play a depth role in the NHL. It will be boom or bust.

Mikhail Grigorenko – 9 games, 0 goals, 4 assists

Overview:

Only played 13 total games (including playoffs) as an Amerk and had four assists with limited power play time. Coach Chadd Cassidy called him a “completely different player” in the defensive zone. Handled assignments, won battles, played with awareness on defense. Some promise in aspects of the game where he is deficient was a positive sign, but he did not produce at the level you might have hoped.

Projection:

Will probably play the entire season next year in Rochester and have a chance to play big minutes. The former first-round pick still has a ways to go before he is ready for the NHL, needing to continue to improve his below-average skating ability and use of his body at both ends. During his short time in Rochester, Grigorenko's elite talent level was evident at times. His ability to control the puck, fire passes tape-to-tape and create chances for his teammates is rare. The former first-rounder also sneaks up on opponents using his length. They think they've escaped, and he reaches his stick in and swipes the puck to create a turnover or even an odd-man rush. Perfect world, he could be a star player, score 20 goals, post 50 assists and represent the Sabres in All-Star games. That is if – and only if – he can take huge strides in his overall game. Like Armia, he is boom or bust. You won't see him playing Paul Gaustad minutes.

Phil Varone – 69 games, 18 goals, 43 assists

Overview:

Led the team in points – again. Terrific top line and power play player for the Amerks. Worked hard and competed all year long, earning his first trip to Buffalo.

Projection:

Will have a chance to compete for a spot next season in training camp. His shortcomings may keep him from being an every-night player in the NHL. Varone is not fast, big and does not have a great shot, but has above average passing ability and competitiveness. Decisions on him may be philosophical. Is he a better option on a fourth line than Zenon Kenopka, Matt Ellis or John Scott? Many would argue that in today's NHL, the answer is yes.

Luke Adam – 59 games, 29 goals, 20 assists

Overview:

Showed massive improvement in attitude and two-way play. Earned the trust of coaching staff in defensive zone. Jump in production and solid playoff scoring (4 points in 5 games) was promising for the 22-year-old forward.

Projection:

You could draw a comparison between Adam and former Sabre Matt Moulson. The current Wild winger took until around age 25 to be good enough at both ends of the ice to play every night in the NHL. When he did, his finishing ability around the net allowed him to become a second-tier star. That could be Adam. He scores NHL-style goals – ones coming on tips and in the blue paint. He does not do a whole lot else at an above average level, but goal scoring is not easy to find and he can do it. Adam deserves a shot to play the entire season in the NHL next year. Will he? Probably not. If he has a great camp, there is a chance he will start at the highest level.

Nick Deslauriers – 65 games (between Rochester/Manchester) 19 goals, 23 assists

Overview:

Traded to the Sabres' organization from the L.A. Kings, played limited amount of games for Sabres and Amerks. The converted defenseman flashed some eyebrow-raising tools.

Projection:

It is hard to say exactly what Deslauriers' ceiling may be. His first season as a forward was a successful one, leading Manchester in scoring when he was traded. The 23-year-old is big, strong, can skate at an average level for his size and has a quick/hard shot. If he can get into the “dirty areas” more often, he could be a force. A top six forward? Probably not. Maybe more like a third-line winger that can flex up to a top six role when injuries strike or to add some toughness to a line. Likely to play in Buffalo next season.

Johan Larsson – 51 games, 15 goals, 26 assists

Overview:

Leaps forward offensively this season in Rochester, becoming one of the Amerks' most effective power play players. Played big minutes at both ends of the ice, was everything he was said to be when the Sabres' organization traded or him last year.

Projection:

Sometimes it is seen as a negative when you call a forward a “third line player,” but there are levels of third line players. Larsson could be one of the better ones in the league at shutting down opponents, possessing the puck and battling along the walls. He is an outstanding competitor who gets under the skin of the opposition. He deserves a chance to play every night in the NHL next season. Can he score more than 25-30 points? Only if he sees power play time, which may not happen in the NHL.

Tim Schaller – 72 games, 11 goals, 7 assists

Overview:

There were some impressive moments for the first-year pro, including a hat trick in a must-win game toward the end of the year. He mostly played to his strengths in a defensive role, receiving tons of PK minutes but almost zero power play time. Seemed to learn the pro game more and more as he went along and gain confidence.

Projection:

Performance down the stretch may have earned him a shot in next year’s camp. Big, solid skater and tremendous defensively, Schaller may play a Paul Gaustad-esque role down the road.

Dan Catenacci – 76 games, 10 goals, 10 assists

Overview:

After a tough start to the year, the under-sized forward found chemistry with linemates and played with mores aggressiveness and confidence. He played in every role possible, from top line to fourth line, winger and center. Did not spend much time on special teams.

Projection.

Next year will begin in Rochester, with an opportunity to play a bigger role. Catenacci can skate at an above-average level, but needs to show more of his other tools, including the edge he offered in juniors and scoring ability. Best case scenario, he could be a solid role player in the NHL.

Frederick Roy – 53 games, 8 goals, 4 assists

Overview:

Cassidy gave Roy more opportunities this season as a fourth line player. He was the world's most unlikely enforcer, at 5-foot-10, 170-pounds. Added some depth scoring, including a pretty breakaway goal in the playoffs.

Projection:

Heart-and-soul player who teammates love. Works hard every shift, will stand up for mates when needed. He was the one that dropped the gloves after a dirty hit on Rasmus Ristolainen. Could project as Matt Ellis type.

Kevin Sundher – 60 games, 6 goals, 14 assists

Overview:

Ice time varied depending on whether the Sabres had injuries and call-ups. Mostly spent time as a bottom six player.

Projection:

Has a lot of work to do to enter the conversation for a call-up.

Veterans

Jamie Tardif – 51 games, 18 goals, 19 assists

Leader by example, terrific power play goal scorer in the AHL. His past suggests he’ll be in the AHL going forward, but some players just need a chance. Tardif has the hands to score anywhere.

Kevin Porter – 50 games, 19 goals, 17 assists

The team’s captain after Drew Bagnall was lost for the year, Porter acted as a great linemate for Joel Armia. Fast skater, hard worker, has a history of being a solid depth NHL’er. UFA - would not expect him back with the Sabres’ organization.

Mike Zigomanis – 50 games, 12 goals, 17 assists

Two-way player with some experience in the NHL. Was a leader on great Toronto teams and – when in the lineup – was outstanding for the Amerks at 5v5 offensively and in the Dzone. One of the best faceoff men in the league.

Brayden Irwin – 50 games, 7 goals, 18 assists

Came in on a PTO and performed well, scoring 16 points in last 15 games including a big playoff goal in Game 5. May be brought back as a role player.

Colton Gillies – 65 games, 9 goals, 14 assists

Played well enough to get another sniff at the NHL level. Drew praise of teammates and coaching staff for hard work, forechecking and penalty killing. Great skater, likely fourth-line type at the next level

Alex Hutchings – 51 games, 5 goals, 3 assists

Speedy skater, played defensive role well. Also came in on PTO and became a regular.

DEFENSEMAN

Prospects

Rasmus Ristolainen – 34 games, 6 goals, 14 assists

Overview:

A wild year for the first-rounder. Saw NHL time, won the World Juniors, dominated in the AHL at times. Gave the organization every reason to be happy with their pick.

Projection:

Showed the skill, physical play and intelligence of a top pairing NHL defenseman. Makeup is high end – hard worker, learns fast, wants to be great. He should start in the NHL next year. Expectations are that of a star all-around D-man. Seems more than reasonable after this season.

Mark Pysyk – 31 games, 1 goal, 11 assists

Overview:

Played a good stretch with Christian Ehrhoff this season, then was moved back to the AHL after changes in the front office. Took the move in stride, becoming a leader on the Amerks.

Projection:

One of the brightest player you’ll ever run into, great skater, took some strides forward in the AHL – still could improve offensive aggressiveness. Great with the puck and at shutting down opponents. Should also play every night in the NHL next year – and will for a long time thereafter. Potential solid top pair or great second pair defenseman.

Chad Ruhwedel – 47 games, 4 goals, 27 assists

Overview:

Played a second pair role with the Americans, with a good deal of power play and penalty kill time. Saw NHL time and played better than during his first stretch last season. Still did not offer much in terms of offense at the NHL level.

Projection:

Progressed steadily this season, showed some more offensive aggressiveness. Carries the puck extremely well out of his own zone, skates at a high level. There is a possibility of playing every night in the NHL next season. Likely to split at least some time between both levels again.

Jerome Gauthier-Leduc – 51 games, 3 goals, 7 assists

Overview:

Tough season at times for JGL, even seeing ECHL time. Got a chance to play during the playoffs because of an injury and stepped his game up. Did not see the most difficult minutes, but gave the organization a reason to think there is some potential.

Projection:

Great puck handler and decent shooter, lacks physical aspect and consistency in decision making and effort. Patience needed. Much patience. But there is enough skill at Dzone exits and offense to keep in mind.

Matt MacKenzie – 64 games, 2 goals, 8 assists

Overview:

The most under-appreciated defenseman, showed flexibility this year. Overcame difficult past two seasons to become a regular.

Projection:

Great attitude. Will continue to get playing time in the AHL, may turn into a player who pops up to the NHL to fill a spot when there are injuries.

Nick Crawford – 63 games, 5 goals, 13 assists

Overview:

Played all types of roles, including questionable power play time in the playoffs.

Projection:

Solid all-around AHL defenseman. Played in all sorts of roles, reliable at both ends.

Veterans

Drew Bagnall – 51 games, 0 goals, 6 assists

Captain. One of the smartest hockey players you will ever find. A great mentor to Rasmus Ristolainen and young defenseman. Strong, stay-at-home defenseman. He is not old, so it won’t happen soon, but someone will offer him a coaching job two seconds after he retires.

Nick Tuzzolino – 36 games, 1 goal, 2 assists

Played in some important games as a fill-in. Played sound stay-at-home role.

Nick Petrecki 49 games (between Worchester/Rochester) 1 goal, 3 assists

Filled in Bagnall’s role in the post-season. Adds toughness in front and behind net.

GOALIES

Andrey Makarov – 7-3-0, .927 save %

Overview:

Brilliant end to the season put the 21-year-old on the map. Solid in the playoffs, too.

Projection:

Hard to keep him out of Rochester next season. A terrific competitor, quick from side to side and has a chip on his shoulder. Hard to predict where he'll go from here considering age. NHL backup? More? Top-end AHL lifer? Could see any of those things happening.

Nathan Lieuwen – 17-11-4, .922 save %

Overview:

Emerged to steal the starting gig, was in the running for the AHL’s best goalie before getting injured.

Projection:

If he recovers to the same level, should still have the No. 1 gig in Roch. Has the size to be an NHL No. 1.

Matt Hackett – 13-17-2, .898 save%

Knee injury and RFA status puts his future in question. Struggled for most of the year in the AHL, showed some of his high potential during time in the NHL. Makeup has been noted as a question mark.

Photo courtesy Sabres.com

 


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