The foundation of the Rochester Americans has been set by management and the coaching staff along with eight players returning for third seasons in the organization but one question will carry on through to Spring – can they win a playoff series? Assistant General Manager Randy Sexton along with the coaching staff of Chris Taylor, Gord Dineen, and Toby Petersen will have that question in their minds until it happens.
Down the thruway the Buffalo Sabres have the goal of simply getting to the playoffs. In Rochester there’s an expectation every season of being in the playoffs but after getting swept in the first round the last two seasons simply being in the playoffs isn’t good enough. The expectation is a playoff run beyond the first round.
Once again the roster has been assembled to be one of the most competitive in the American League supported by veterans and returning players but is it the right mix? What can possibly be changed to have a different outcome in April? Did they add enough scoring to replace the scoring lost? Is the goaltending better? There’s 76 regular season games ahead to find out.
It could come down to making tough decisions in the playoffs if the team finds themselves in a similar position. Could Calder Cup Champion and veteran Nathan Paetsch have brought a different mindset to the bench in the playoffs last season? Even though scoring was an issue could a change in goaltending have sparked something different? Randy Cunneyworth pulled Ryan Miller for Tom Askey in 2004 and it made a difference. Since scoring was an issue if the line combinations had been changed up could it have created some new chemistry or thrown off the Marlies last season?
What if questions can haunt a person forever. It’s a new season ahead with a long journey ahead to get to April. Let’s take a look at current positions, who’s returning, and who isn’t.
There is also a better roster page on LGA this season where you can filter and sort players based on position, contract status, veteran status, location and more.
The short version of offensive depth:
Left Wing: CJ Smith, Taylor Leier, Remi Elie, Dalton Smith, Tyler Randell
Center: Jean-Sebastien Dea, Kevin Porter, Rasmus Asplund, Sean Malone, Eric Cornel
Right Wing: Curtis Lazar, Jarrett Burton, Andrew Oglevie, Tage Thompson
Thompson, Dea, and Lazar are still playing for spots in Buffalo. Dea and Lazar are the two most likely to start the season in Rochester.
The short version of defensive depth:
Left Defense: John Gilmour, Andrew MacWilliam, Jacob Bryson, Brandon Hickey, Nathan Paetsch, Kurt Gosselin
Right Defense: Zach Redmond, Will Borgen, Casey Fitzgerald, Henri Jokiharju
Jokiharju is a long shot but there’s a chance it could come down to a numbers game and he spends some time in Rochester. On paper this should be the best defense in the league.
Andrew Hammond, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Jonas Johansson
We’ll have a better look at the roster in just over a week and a half.
Here’s a longer look at who’s returning, who’s new, and who departed.
Third year players (8) – Zach Redmond, CJ Smith, Kevin Porter, Sean Malone, Eric Cornel, Nathan Paetsch, Andrew MacWilliam, and Dalton Smith.
Jonas Johansson is a third year player as well but has spent the bulk of his time in Cincinnati. The highs and lows of recent Amerks seasons don’t fall on his shoulders.
That is a solid core of returning players with a mix of scoring, leadership, defensive depth, and toughness. To have a core group of eight players returning for a third season feels almost unheard of in this era of the American Hockey League.
CJ Smith was second on the team in scoring last season with 58 points (28G+30A) and finished just five points shy of Victor Olofsson (30G+33A) for the team scoring title. Victor Olofsson will be missed but don’t let his flash and rise on the Sabres roster make you forget about how much CJ Smith contributed to the team.
Second year players (7) – Taylor Leier, Rasmus Asplund, Remi Elie, Will Borgen, Andrew Oglevie, Tyler Randell, and Brandon Hickey.
Rasmus Asplund is playing through an extended look in Buffalo but will likely be a late cut and assigned to Rochester. Will he be able to perform as a top center without Victor Olofsson and Danny O’Regan (20G+28A) on his wings? A better question, will he be able to help carry two different wingers this season like he did those two?
Taylor Leier is going to miss half of the season as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery but will be a boost in the second half when it’s often needed the most.
Andrew Oglevie could be the biggest surprise with a full healthy season. He had to deal with multiple concussions last season which limited his playing time. When he did play we saw some glimpses of offensive power.
Remi Elie will should have a chip on his shoulder but can be a great asset with his speed and tenacity to disrupt other teams in the AHL.
Will Borgen has been a steady stick to the basics defenseman since he played his first pro game and it’s only a numbers game until he gets the chance to play in the NHL and prove he can be in the top six full time.
There’s a chance we could still see Tage Thompson return to Rochester but he’s still fighting for a spot in Buffalo. Thompson had a great run in Rochester at the end of last season and was one of the best Amerks in the playoffs last season. If he were to be sent down again it wouldn’t be ideal for him but he’d embrace it and work hard to get back to the NHL. Lawrence Pilut may return for some conditioning after returning from an injury but wouldn’t be expected here long.
Rookies (4) – Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Casey Fitzgerald, Jacob Bryson, and Kurt Gosselin.
A goalie and three defensemen as of the morning training camp starts. There are no rookie forwards signed to NHL contracts to start the season in Rochester.
Jacob Bryson was the only player of those three that did not play at least one game at the end of last season.
Casey Fitzgerald and Kurt Gosselin (who made end up in Cincy) are puck moving defensemen that will give the Amerks coaching staff added firepower on the blue line.
Rochester will feature another goalie of the future in Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen who will be ready to play in November following hip surgery. UPL (as he’ll often be referred to) was the OHL player of the year last season and if his play continues at this level he’ll be a star.
Signed Players (5) – Jean-Sebastien Dea, Jarrett Burton, Curtis Lazar, John Gilmour, and Andrew Hammond
John Gilmour might be the most noticeable of the players signed. Out of all defensemen in the AHL last season he finished second in the league just one point shy of first. Gilmour finished with 54 points (20G+34A) and Zach Redmond was four points behind him with 50 points (21G+29A). Gilmour also played in 12 more games than Redmond. Do the math and having two of the leagues highest scoring defensemen is going to be fun.
Andrew Hammond is this seasons veteran goalie and is considered an upgrade over Scott Wedgewood. If the name Hammond sounds familiar but your not sure why it’s because he is often referred to as “The Hamburglar.” He earned the nickname in college for stealing wins and then it really took off when he had a 20-1-2 record with the Ottawa Senators at the end of the 2014-2015 season to carry them into the playoffs.
Jean-Sebastien Dea, Jarrett Burton, and Curtis Lazar are the added offense for this coming season that will have the task of replacing scoring lost by Victor Olofsson, Danny O’Regan, and Wayne Simpson. Three players that should be able to do just that.
Potential from a trade (1) – Henri Jokiharju
Jokiharju was acquired in the trade that sent Alex Nylander to the Chicago Blackhawks. There’s a potential for him to make the Sabres roster but the numbers game could have him in Rochester and that would be alright.
Training Camp Invites (2) – Brett Murray, Kyle Olson, Connor Hall, and Carl Hesler
Kyle Olson earned an additional look at Buffalo Sabres training camp after impressive outings at development camp and then the prospects challenge. He is already signed to return to the Tri-City Americans of the WHL but will be presented with the opportunity to sign a pro contract. In 62 games last season in the WHL he had 70 points (21G+49A).
Brett Murray is a Buffalo Sabres draft pick that has gone unsigned. He’s too old to return to juniors but has one season of college eligibility remaining, a place he probably doesn’t want to return to at this stage of the process. While he wasn’t as impressive in the prospects challenge the organization continues to invest time in his play. He’ll also have the chance to turn pro and look for a roster spot.
Defenseman Connor Hall is a former Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick (3rd Round 77th overall in 2016) which means that Randy Sexton is familiar with him. Carl Hesler is an undrafted forward who just finished four seasons at Dartmouth College.
Potential end of season players (2) – Dylan Cozens and Arttu Ruotsalainen
Assuming the Amerks make the playoffs they could add Arttu Ruotsalainen once his season is over in Finland along with Dylan Cozens once his season is over in Lethbridge. It also depends on where the Sabres are at that point. The Sabres have made many mistakes over the years and one recent one was having Casey Mittelstadt play games in the NHL at the end of the 2017/2018 season when he could have earned some valuable playoff experience with Rochester. If the Sabres are in a legit playoff hunt it’ll be a different discussion. Cozens has been a star in the Sabres preseason and another season in junior hockey will only elevate that. Arttu Ruotsalainen will be 22 years old at the end of the season and is best compared to a Olofsson or Asplund type of player. Gaining valuable experience overseas and is close to making the jump.
Up to the Sabres (1) – Victor Olofsson
He’s never coming back to the American League. Lawrence Pilut became an NHL player last season even though we saw him return for some games in Rochester towards the end of last season.
Traded (1) – Alex Nylander
The Buffalo Sabres traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Henri Jokiharju. Very few in Rochester will be upset to know that Nylander won’t be returning after three disappointing seasons of uninspired performance.
Free Agent Departures (12) – Danny O’Regan (NY Rangers/Hartford Wolf Pack), Wayne Simpson (Overseas to Germany), Matt Tennyson (NJ Devils/Binghamton Devils), Kyle Criscuolo (Philadelphia Flyers/Lehigh Valley Phantoms), Jack Dougherty (AHL Belleville Senators), Yannick Veilleux (Still unsigned), Arvin Atwal (AHL Milwaukee Admirals), Judd Peterson (ECHL Reading Royals), Vasily Glotov (Still unsigned), Myles Powell (AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins), Scott Wedgewood (Tampa Bay Lightning/Syracuse Crunch, Adam Wilcox (San Antonio Rampage).
On paper this team will have success. Will it be enough for a playoff run in the spring? I’ll be here all season to document the progress.
Here’s the training camp roster for Monday September 23, 2019:2019-20 Amerks Training Camp Roster