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Rochester Americans 2021-2022 Season Preview

A look at the Sabres’ AHL pipeline of young talent ahead of the 2021-22 AHL Season  

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The Rochester Americans’ AHL 2021-22 season kicks off this Sunday, October 17th on the road against the Utica Comets. Last season, Rochester finished the crazy 2020-21 season with 11 wins, 15 losses, 2 losses in extra time, and 1 loss in a shootout. So, with the pandemic shortened 2020-21 season in the rear view mirror, the Americans are now gearing up for a full calendar of AHL hockey. This season, the Amerks are touting an interesting lineup card with some explosive talent and rock solid character. So let’s get to it; here’s a look at the current Rochester Americans’ roster and coaching staff.

COACH

Seth APPERT

His inaugural season as Rochester’s head coach saw the team finish with an aforementioned 11-15-2-1 record during the awkward AHL pandemic season. This season will be Coach Appert’s first full slate of games at the helm of the Americans. His resume supports his bailiwick for player development with previous work experience in the NCAA and the U.S. Under-18 program. Appert has rounded out his coaching staff with distinguished Buffalo Sabres’ veterans Michael Peca and Mike Weber, who both bring a wealth of NHL experience and will undoubtedly be a great presence for the young Americans squad.

GOALTENDERS

Ukko-Pekka LUUKKONEN

Buffalo Sabres v Boston Bruins Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

A highly touted goaltending prospect, Luukkonen is a big, butterfly-style goalie who takes away a lot of net with his 6’5” frame. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2017 draft after posting solid numbers in Finland. Last season, Luukkonen suited up for 4 games with the Buffalo Sabres, picking up 1 win with a 3.88 GAA, but a decent .906 save percentage. He also got into 14 games for the Amerks where he went 7-5-3 with a 3.60 GAA while batting .888. Look for the big Finn to polish up those numbers and likely get another shot at the NHL as the Sabres’ potential future in net.

Michael HOUSER

A good veteran goaltender who will add depth to the Roc’ or the Cyclones. Houser has bounced between the ECHL and AHL for most of his career, but recently put up some good numbers in Cincinnati going 16-5-5 with a 2.27 GAA in 2020. That earned him 4 games with both the Amerks and the Sabres last season. He went 2-2 for Buffalo and 1-3 for Rochester, but posted decent save percentage numbers with .901 and .924 respectively.

Aaron DELL

Another depth signing between the pipes, Dell signed a 1-year deal this off season and figured to compete for the starting job in Buffalo. He had previously played 4 seasons for the San Jose Sharks where he padded up for 107 regular season NHL games and 4 playoff games. Last season, he played in 7 games with the New Jersey Devils as a backup. Dell brings some quality NHL experience to the Amerks’ goalie corps and will serve as a capable insurance policy while Luukonen continues to develop.

DEFENSEMEN

Oskari LAAKSONEN

NHL: JUN 10 Buffalo Sabres Development Camp Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Labeled a 2-way defenseman with a high offensive upside, Laaksonen is a strong skater with a cannon of a point shot. He joined the Sabres organization as a 3rd round pick in the 2017 draft. Last year he split time between the Finnish Liga and AHL. In his first pro season in North America, playing for Rochester, he did not disappoint. He scored 2 goals and picked up 15 helpers in 28 games during the COVID short season. The Finnish defender also played 20 games in the Finnish top league where he collected 12 points in 20 games. He showed some promise manning the point for the Amerks’ powerplay, displaying good vision and a hard, accurate shot.

Jimmy SCHULDT “A”

Signed on a 1 year, 2-way contract in July, Schuldt is a balanced two-way defenseman that comes to the Sabres after tallying 14 points for the Vegas Golden Knights AHL affiliate, the Henderson Silver Knights, in 38 games. The Minnesota native was undrafted after an impressive 4 years at St. Cloud University, where he wore the “C” for his last 3 collegiate seasons and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award. Schuldt was aptly named as an Amerks’ alternate captain for this upcoming season.

Casey FITZGERALD

NHL: SEP 17 Preseason - Sabres at Blue Jackets Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Returning defenseman, Fitzgerald will be suiting up for his 4th season with the Americans. Last year he recorded 11 points in 22 games. A solid defenseman with more of a penchant for the defensive side of the game, he doesn’t shy away from contact and plays sound positional hockey to get the most out of his size.

Ethan PROW “A”

Another undrafted St. Cloud University product, Prow was signed by the Sabres on a 1 year, 2 way deal this past July. Prow joins Laaksonen as an offensive minded defenseman who should see significant time on the power play. Last season he split time in the AHL and in the Top Tier German league DEL. Prow racked up 32 points in 42 AHL games, and 20 points in 26 DEL games. Of note, he tallied 50 points in 74 games with the Wilkes Barre Scranton Pens during the 2018-19 season. Prow’s prior success has garnered him a nod as an alternate captain for the Amerks this seasons.

Peter TISCHKE

Yet another undrafted collegiate team captain (anyone seeing a trend here?), Tischke wore the “C” in his last season with the University of Wisconsin Badgers hockey team. He has good size and plays a heavy game as a stay at home defenseman. Tischke has only had 21 games of AHL experience, but should play regular minutes in Rochester as he impressed the Sabres during this year’s prospect camp.

Josh TEVES

Anaheim Ducks v Vancouver Canucks

Signed on a 1-year AHL deal, Teves has played 52 AHL games with the Utica Comets. A defenseman who prefers to stay back, he is an Alberta, Canada native who graduated from Princeton University. Teves has had an NHL cup of coffee with the Canucks for 1 game in 2019. Last year he put up 4 points in 23 games in Utica.

Mitch ELIOT

The Sabres continued to raid the Utica farm system, signing away another defensive collegiate graduate in Mitch Eliot. Similar to Teves, Eliot played 53 games for the Utica Comets over the past 2 seasons after a successful career as a Spartan for the mighty Michigan State hockey program. Last year he chipped in 4 points in 26 games for the Comets. He plays a physical, fearless brand of hockey to compliment his strong defensive game.

Brandon DAVIDSON “A”

A veteran journeyman defenseman, Davidson is a solid depth player for Rochester who is undoubtedly on the short list for a call up to the big club given his resume. Davidson has played in 180 NHL games for 7 different NHL clubs to include 6 scoreless games with the Sabres last year. He also played in to 2 Rochester games last season. Aside from being a well-rounded defenseman, Davidson brings some invaluable experience to the Rochester D-corp. He’s a defense first player with some two-way ability.

Mattias SAMUELSSON

New York Islanders v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Sara Schmidle/NHLI via Getty Images

A big, promising, young defenseman who was a 2nd round pick in the 2018 draft, Samuelsson played 12 games for the Sabres last year while suiting up for 23 in red white and blue. After racking up 13 point in 23 games for Rochester, Samuelsson projects to get another NHL look this season. Unfortunately, his preseason was cut short when he was injured in the prospects game in September and remains “week to week.” Once healed up, Samuelsson will have a spot on the top defensive pairing in Rochester.

FORWARDS

Brandon BIRO

The speedy left wing was signed as an undrafted free agent last season. He played 4 years at Penn State before joining the Amerks for 15 games last year. He registered 5 points during that 15 games stint, but will be relied on to provide more scoring, as he did in the NCAA ranks where he piled up 116 points in 153 contests for the Nittany Lions.

Matej PEKAR

The young 4th-round pick from the 2018 draft got his first taste of AHL hockey last season. In 25 games with the Amerks, the Czech winger potted 1 goal and 5 assists. Pekar plays a gritty, high-energy game and is always looking to stir a few drinks, as he racked up 50 PIMS, however he must learn to maintain discipline while playing the agitator role. Prior to joining the Amerks, Pekar was a point-per-game player across two seasons in the OHL, so he has the skill to compliment his agitating ways.

Linus WEISSBACH

NHL: SEP 28 Preseason - Sabres at Blue Jackets

Drafted in the 7th round of the 2017 draft, the Swedish winger finished his final collegiate season with the Wisconsin Badgers before being signed to an entry level deal. He scored 41 points in 31 NCAA games as he proved adept at playmaking with 29 helpers. Weissbach will look to make the transition to the pros in his first year with the Amerks this season.

Sean MALONE “A”

An original 6th round Sabres’ pick in the 2013 draft, Malone returns to the motherland after having played for the Chicago Wolves last season where he racked up 15 points in 23 games. The two-way centreman did make 1 appearance with the Nashville Predators, and as a veteran of 192 AHL games, he brings some leadership and experience to the Amerks’ forward group. Nicknamed Mugsy, he will sport an “A” on his jersey heading into the 21-22 season.

Jack QUINN

NHL: OCT 05 Preseason - Sabres at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Sabres 8th overall pick in the 2020 draft, Quinn is a pure goal scorer who scored 52 of them in 62 games during his last season in the OHL. Last year he got into 15 games for the Amerks where he scored 9 points, before hernia surgery ended his season. A highly touted prospect, Quinn, will be looked upon to drive the Amerks offense as he showed flashes of elite talent last year. So, here’s hoping he can put it all together during a full season of hockey.

Lucas CRAGGS

Another forward plucked from the Predators’ farm system, Craggs is an undrafted left wing out of Bowling Green State University. Craggs hasn’t put up flashy numbers in two seasons, split between AHL and ECHL teams, but the report on him is that he plays a hard, physical, 2-way game. He’s only had 30 total games in the AHL, and this will be his first in Rochester, so there is a lot of room for him to continue to develop his game.

Mason JOBST

The speedy centre was originally signed by the Islanders after a 4-year stint at “Thee” Ohio State University where he scored a few points, 164 in 150 games, and was named captain for two of the four years. Jobst hasn’t quite found that same scoring touch in the pro ranks as he most recently chipped in 15 points in 51 total games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers before being sent through the Lincoln Tunnel in a trade with New Jersey that netted the Islanders Travis Zajac. The Americans signed him to a 1-year deal this season in hopes he can bring back some of his Buckeye magic to Rochester.

Patrick POLINO

Another undrafted signing out of the collegiate ranks, Polino had a very successful 4 years at R.P.I., serving as an assistant captain in his last year, and potting 19 points. He played 20 games for the Amerks last seasons, adding 7 points to the cause. He was originally signed to play for the Cincy Cyclones but will look to find a roster spot with the Amerks this year.

Michael MERSCH “C”

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“Captain Americans,” Mersch earned the “C” on his sweater after serving as an alternate last season, his first in Rochester. The big winger is a veteran presence having played for 3 previous AHL clubs and even had a 17-game stint, in the show, for the L.A. Kings where he scored 1 goal and dished out 2 assists. Mersch is a consistent scorer in the AHL with his best season coming in 2018, for the Ontario Reign, dropping 49 points in 65 games.

Dominic FRANCO

A big center, who was a dominant player for the Army Black Knights, Franco is the first Army athlete to pursue a professional sports career while delaying his military service under a newly enacted 2019 U.S. government policy. A physical player with Army, he was also a consistent scorer racking up 97 points in 141 games, which earned him a contract with the Rochester team last season. In 23 games with the Amerks, he had 4 goals and 5 assists, but will certainly be looking to improve those numbers this season.

Brendan WARREN

Originally a 3rd round pick by the Arizona Coyotes in 2015, Warren is a good skater who excels at the defensive part of the game. Warren has yet to find a home as he spent some time in the ECHL before landing in the Roc’ for 10 games last season where he contributed 6 points and earned himself a spot on this season’s squad.

J.J. PETERKA

NHL: SEP 28 Preseason - Sabres at Blue Jackets

A second-round pick in the 2020 draft, the German born Peterka said ‘Guten Tag’ to the Sabres, scoring 3 goals during the recent preseason and looking like a legit player at the age of 19. The right wing showed some nice wheels, a quick shot and some silky hands around the net in what added up to him being one of the last cuts from the big club. Last seasons, Peterka played in the German DEL where he scored 9 goals and added 11 assists. This will be his first season in the AHL; however, if he keeps up his performance from the preseason, I can’t see him playing too many games in Rochester. One thing is for sure: he should be fun to watch!

Brett MURRAY

The big left winger scored 20 points in 27 games last seasons in Rochester. He was originally a 4th round pick in the 2016 draft, he joined the Amerks in 2019, after finishing his second year of hockey at Penn State. His rookie AHL campaign saw Murray find the twine 9 times to go along with 15 assists. The big man played well during this past Sabres’ preseason and will continue to work his way towards a possible call up in a bottom six Sabres’ role.

Ryan MACINNIS

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Originally an Arizona Coyotes 2nd round pick in the 2014 draft, the big, smooth skating center signed as a free agent this off season to compete for a bottom 6 job with the Sabres. Prior to inking the deal, Macinnis played the last few years in Cleveland racking up 24 and 30 points in respective seasons before things got weird with COVID. He plays a defensive game and brings an NHL pedigree to Rochester as he has suited up for 26 NHL games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, collecting 1 assist.

Ryan SCARFO

A versatile, defensive forward who can slot in as a wing or center, Scarfo played 9 games with the Amerks last year tallying 2 goals. He came over to the Amerks on a loan deal from his ECHL club, the Wheeling Nailers. Scarfo previously played a handful of games for the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and Belville Senators after playing hockey at Union College where he wore the “A” for 3 of his 4 seasons.

Mark JANKOWSKI

Pittsburgh Penguins v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Sara Schmidle/NHLI via Getty Images

Yet another big center, Jankowski could end up being a late steal of a signing by the Americans. Jankowski was just released from a PTO by the Devils before landing in Rochester. The 27 year old is a former Calgary Flames’ 1st round pick from 2012 and has spent the last 3 consecutive seasons in the NHL with the Flames and, most recently, the Pittsburgh Penguins. In total, the 6’4” Jankowski has 253 NHL games of experience under his belt and 75 points to his name. His best NHL season came in a Flames uniform, in 2018-19, when he buried 14 goals and dished out 18 assists. Jankowski still has a lot of hockey left in the tank.

SEASON PREVIEW

The 2021-22 Rochester Americans will be a fun team to watch. The team has collected a nice balance of size, skill and veteran leadership that should make for a competitive season. One trait that the Rochester management clearly pursued was ‘character’, as many of the players on the current squad have held a leadership role throughout their hockey careers. In addition to a balanced line-up, there are some interesting plot lines to watch for during this season. Peterka and Samuelsson have a very real shot at forcing a call up to Buffalo. Additionally, the Sabres’ brass will be keeping a close eye on the development of Luukkonen, Quinn, and Laaksonen, all of whom have some incredible potential. There are also some very interesting dark horse candidates that could make some big strides in their journey to the big club. Franco, Tischke and Pekar all have the tools to surprise some fans so it will be interesting to see how those players fare during a full AHL billing.