The Rochester Americans have been the saving grace for the Sabres organization this season. The Amerks right now are eighth in the AHL with 66 points, and although they are 2-4-3-1 in their last 10 games, the Amerks should still remain a major positive. Jason Botterill has delivered on the AHL, both with Amerks GM Randy Sexton, and head coach Chris Taylor. Both Sexton who is pictured above holding the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh, as well as Taylor, are going to be playing a key role in Buffalo’s future Stanley Cup aspirations.
However, it’s going to take time before these results are seen in the NHL in the form of players such as Brendan Guhle, Linus Ullmark, and Justin Bailey, making an impact in the NHL. Unfortunately, many fans are running out of patience with the Sabres. After all, if Carolina makes the playoffs this year, the Sabres will hold the longest playoff drought in the league.
While some fans may even be questioning if the Sabres got it right with Phil Housley, they certainly got it right when they named Chris Taylor head coach. Several players on the Amerks are having career years, and more importantly, a winning culture is being developed for the young players being groomed through the system.
C.J Smith and Seth Griffith
Since coming down to the AHL from Buffalo, Griffith has been a welcome addition to the Amerks offense. Earlier in the season, it was C.J Smith generating a lot of buzz, scoring at a near point per game pace. However, since 12/20, Smith cooled off with nine points in 22 games before his lower body injury. He will be out for three to four weeks, and it’s possible that his current injury may have been having a negative impact on his play, if it was a lingering issue. Smith has still been a major part of the Amerks success this year, as a do it all type player for Rochester, and he will be missed in the lineup.
Griffith, on the other hand, has been scoring at a near point per game pace, and is on pace to be the Amerks leading scorer by the end of the season. He has been a great AHL player with both the Marlies and the Providence Bruins, so his AHL success should be no surprise. Come playoff time, Griffith will be a welcome addition with his vast Calder Cup playoff experience with 27 points in 31 career playoff games with the Marlies and Bruins.
Speaking of the Calder Cup playoffs, it'll be curious to see how a player like Justin Bailey performs as he has missed time this year due to a lower-body injury. A healthy Justin Bailey should only help the Amerks in the playoffs if he can get back into a rhythm after missing time.
Nylander will be looking to build off of his World Junior performance as he tries to finish the season strong in Rochester. As we are seeing on the main roster with Sam Reinhart and how he struggled early in the year, patience can be a virtue.
This could be the case with Nylander who has shown signs of life in his past ten games. After six points in his first 21 games, in his last ten games, Nylander has put together his first three-game point streak since November of 2016. He recently exploded a few nights ago with a two goal, four-point performance against the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins which was arguably the best performance of his career.
He hasn’t progressed as fast as we would like to have wanted, and there is no questioning that the Sabres might have been better off taking Mikhail Sergachev, but Nylander is what we have, and hindsight is 20/20. We will have to wait, but it could be worth it.
Nylander has had consistency issues, and he is going to need time to mature in the AHL before making a positive impact on the Sabres. When he arrives, the Sabres will need players with speed and skill, and Nylander has that.
It’s all about patience, finding the consistency. It’s also about getting physically stronger as it is many kids who are 20 or younger. Nylander is turning 20-years-old in March, and he hasn’t even played 100 AHL games yet. He’s at 96 as of this writing.
Anthony Mantha took over three years from the moment he was drafted to get to the NHL and make an impact for the Red Wings. I used to live in the Detroit area, and I’ve kept up with the team in my old backyard, especially Mantha.
He played 57 games in the QMJHL with Val d’Or Foreurs in the first year after he was drafted by the Red Wings. He had a 120 point season and worked his way into the AHL the following season. He had a mediocre first AHL season and was even called out by Detroit Red Wings GM, Ken Holland.
He had a strong Calder Cup playoff performance in 2015, where he was one of the best players on the team during. He followed that up with a hot start at the beginning of his third AHL season. Mantha found his way into the NHL and never went back. He was 22 years old and played 189 games at the Junior and AHL level of hockey before he finally slammed the door shut on the lower levels of hockey.
Again, Nylander is just turning 20, and has played in half of Mantha did at the lower levels. I expect Nylander to find his way into the NHL, but it’s not going to come fast enough for many people. It’s going to take time, unfortunately, but I’ll worry if he struggles towards the middle of next year.
Justin Danforth? Who? If you don’t know who Danforth is, he has spent most of the year with the Cincinnati Cyclones, and very rarely do we ever talk about the Cyclones. The Cyclones are having a very respectable season so far with a 28-21-2, and are 12th in the ECHL with 58 points.
Danforth,has been their leading scorer, as well as the ECHL’s second leading scorer. He has 59 points in 44 games. He’s also been a +26. Because of his strong play, Danforth has yet again, earned the call-up from Amerks GM and Sabres Assistant GM, Randy Sexton.
“The 24-year-old is having a breakout season with the Cyclones, scoring 28 goals and adding 30 assists for 58 points in 44 games. The first-year pro currently leads all ECHL rookies and ranks second overall in the league in scoring while also owning a team-best plus-26 on-ice rating.
Danforth is currently in the midst of a seven-game point streak over which he’s compiled 17 points (7+10) and five multi-point outings, including a season-best four-point effort against Wichita on Feb. 10.Last month, the 5-foot-9, 181-pound forward was named to the 2018 CCM/ECHL All-Star Classic, where he set a new league record with a lap time of 12.75 seconds during the Fastest Skate Competition.Danforth has tallied two goals in seven career AHL games, including five with the Amerks at the end of last season.”
Danforth may not be a future NHL superstar in the making, but in terms of the Amerks, he is a player who is thriving in the ECHL and is getting another look in the AHL. He should provide excellent depth for the Amerks if the injury bug bites, as well as an infusion of speed to their lineup. Maybe he takes the next step in his career and thrives in the AHL. From there, who knows where he could end up next. At 24 years old, he’s a player worth keeping an eye on.
Defenseman Scoring Not a Problem for the Amerks
A frustration for the Sabres has been the lack of scoring from defenseman, and Rasmus Ristolainen still contributes the majority of points on the blueline. This was something we were hoping would be improved with the addition of Phil Housley as the coach, as well as acquiring Nathan Beaulieu and Viktor Antipin in the offseason. Both Beaulieu and Antipin have combined for just twelve points.
Meanwhile, in Rochester, the Amerks have one of the most offensively productive bluelines in the league. Zach Redmond, Stuart Percy, and Brendan Guhle, are three of the Amerks top eight scorers.
Percy has been another welcome addition to the Amerks. Percy is still young at 24-years-old and is a former 2011 first round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has been having one of his finest AHL seasons with 25 points in 46 games and is on pace for a career year offensively.
Zach Redmond has been the Amerks strongest offensive blueliner this season. With ten goals, 32 points, in 45 games, the 29-year-old AHL veteran has been another strong addition to the Amerks. He is also having a career AHL year. For the Amerks, this was a big return from the Nicolas Deslauriers deal.
Lastly, there is Brendan Guhle. This is Guhle’s first full AHL season, and he arguably has been the Amerks best all-around defenseman. Since the moment he was drafted, Guhle has performed at a high level and exceeded expectations. Guhle all by himself on the Sabres next year should improve the Sabres defense, let alone if they land Rasmus Dahlin or even a John Carlson if they ever wanted to be big spenders. Add Dahlin and Guhle to the Sabres for 2018-19, and you're a much better team defensively.
On a side note, if you’re interested in the 2020 draft, keep an eye on Brendan’s little brother, Kaiden Guhle who is currently a top prospect for his draft year.
Strong Goaltending Present in the AHL
Linus Ullmark has broken out for a career AHL season. Ullmark has posted an 18-9-4 record, with a .924 save percentage, and two shutouts. The 24-year-old, 6’4” Swede could be the leading candidate to replace Robin Lehner if he is traded.
If Ullmark does get the call-up, the Amerks do have a capable backup in Adam Wilcox. Wilcox is a 25-year-old former sixth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and a former University of Minnesota product who has found his way onto his third AHL team.
Wilcox has been playing very good hockey of late. Wilcox is 8-4-2, with a .911 save percentage, after a slow start. In the event of a call-up for Ullmark, Wilcox would likely finish the season as the starter.