Last Friday’s battle against the Marlies had a very post-season like feel. It was very clear that two of the top teams in the AHL had taken the ice. Even though the Amerks lost, fans in Rochester have legitimate Calder Cup hopes this year. Brendan Guhle showcased the speed and playmaking ability that has turned him into a possible game changer even at the next level. He added one goal in the scoring column, and looked to be the most dangerous Amerk on the ice. Other top prospect, Alexander Nylander was able to accumulate a goal and an assist himself. He will need to continue to score at a high rate if he is going to make up for the other holes in his game.
Unfortunately, Nick Baptiste is still struggling to find his way onto the score sheet. He still sits at only 5 goals in his 21 games this year and is among the teams worst with an 8.6 shooting percentage. Thant being said, he only managed one shot on goal all night. I’m in serious doubt of his ability to score consistently and the flashes of talent he has shown in previous years have been absent so far. However, his issues of immaturity resurfaced once more in the closing seconds of the game when he was dealt a 10 minute misconduct for abuse of officials. I’m going to rate his performance a C.
Although the elite ability of Nick has not been on display, he is starting to develop a much more well rounded style of play. On several occasions he did a very nice job of clearing the zone on the wing, and finding a nice breakout pass. He stood strong on the boards under pressure and was consistently able to chip the puck out to a stick even if it meant taking a hit. He also made a fantastic centering pass across the face of goal that should have been knocked home by CJ Smith in front of an empty net. Unlike in past games, he did not take on many defenders, instead opting for safe conservative passes or a dump.
Another way in which Baptiste has changed from last year is his defensive effort. He worked harder against the Mariles than I have seen in a long time. He made a few great back checking plays to create turnovers in the neutral zone, and displayed a strong willingness to finish his checks on the board. There is no doubt that he will need to continue to play this way if he is going to be worth a roster spot going forward.
Overall, I think Baptiste is in the middle of what may be a complete metamorphosis of his playing style. While the idea of him becoming a top 6 forward is slowly starting to drift away, he has a chance to develop into a strong and solid 3rd line checking forward. He most certainly has the temper to drop the mitts, so I would not be surprised if his game heads in that direction. One things for sure, he needs to find way to put his hands to good use. Whether it be accumulating goals or penalty minutes, only time can tell.