As we head into the quiet of August, it’s a good time to check in on the Buffalo Sabres’ AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, and see how things are shaping up for that team for the upcoming season.
Last Season Recap
Last season saw the Amerks play 76 games, one of a handful of teams throughout the league to do so. They were one of only three teams in the North Division to play 76 games and finished the year with a 37-29-7-3 record and 84 points.
The Amerks were an offensive powerhouse; with 254 goals-for, they were the third-highest scoring team in the league. But just as much as they were scoring goals, they were allowing them, too. Their 270 goals-against were second-most in the league, a pretty strong indictment of their goaltending. They were also among the top-ten most penalized teams.
After rookies JJ Peterka (68 points) and Jack Quinn (61 points), captain Michael Mersch played a big role in the team’s offense. He recorded 26 goals and added 28 assists for 54 points in 65 regular-season games. On and off the ice, he truly was the heart of the team.
It wasn’t an easy path to the Calder Cup Playoffs, but the Amerks made it, partly through their own graces and partly through the misfortune of others. Unfortunately, their inconsistencies eventually stopped them in their tracks. After sweeping Belleville in the two-game play-in series, the Amerks bested Utica in five games. Then they hit a brick wall, being swept by Laval in three games in the division final.
As of writing, here’s what the Amerks potential roster looks like for the 2022-23 season.
Obviously there are some players on this list (*) who will fight for a roster spot in Buffalo. Like any AHL team, the Amerks are for the most part at the mercy of their NHL club. Jack Quinn, JJ Peterka and Lawrence Pilut are among those who could start or end the season with the Sabres, but could also play in Rochester.
Realistically, I think all three will spend at least a good chunk of the season in Buffalo. Any time they spend in Rochester will simply be a nice bonus boost for the Amerks.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen remains an unsigned RFA.
When it comes to the front office, I’d expect Seth Appert to return as head coach with assistants Michael Peca and Mike Weber.
- Brandon Biro*
- Mason Jobst
- Sean Malone
- Michael Mersch (captain)
- Brett Murray*
- Kohen Olischefski
- Josh Passolt
- Matej Pekar
- JJ Peterka*
- Jack Quinn*
- Lukas Rousek
- Linus Weissbach
- Zachary Berzolla
- Kale Clague
- Jeremy Davies
- Mitch Eliot
- Casey Fitzgerald*
- Oskari Laaksonen
- Lawrence Pilut*
- Chase Priskie
- Ethan Prow
- Peter Tischke
- Michael Houser
- Malcolm Subban*
- Beck Warm
Amerks from last season who won’t be in Rochester:
- Josh Bloom (will return to the OHL)
- Aaron Dell (signed with San Jose)
- Dominic Franco (signed with Charlotte)
- Mark Jankowski (signed with Nashville)
- Peyton Krebs (let’s face it, he’s an NHL player. No doubt about it.)
- Arttu Ruotsalainen (signed overseas)
Players who remain unsigned:
- Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (unsigned RFA)*
- Mark Alt (D, 3-6-9, 60 GP)
- Nick Boka (D, 3-1-4, 24 GP)
- Brandon Davidson (D, 1-5-6, 23 GP)
- Ben Holmstrom (C, 0-6-6, 25 GP)
- Nate Knoepke (D, 0-0-0, 4 GP)
- Ryan MacInnis (C, 11-16-27, 49 GP)
- Jimmy Schuldt (D, 5-12-17, 61 GP)
- Josh Teves (D, 6-15-21, 72 GP)
- Brendan Warren (LW, 4-2-6, 51 GP)
The Season Ahead
The AHL season ahead will be slightly more balanced, as each team is scheduled to play 72 games. The Amerks are expected to play 14 other teams, with most games coming against North Division teams.
They’ll play the Syracuse Crunch a whopping 12 times, and the Utica Comets 10 times. Otherwise, the schedule is heavy with Toronto, Belleville, Cleveland and Laval. As usual, it’s a loaded schedule, with 28 back-to-backs in total and five sets of 3-in-3 in the second half of the season.
The biggest keys for the Amerks for the upcoming season are to keep up the offense, but work on strengthening the defense and keeping pucks out of the net. As I mentioned in the first two paragraphs, they did allow the second-most goals of any team and then utterly collapsed when it counted against Laval in the playoffs. If you’re building a championship-caliber team, that can’t happen. It’s also critical to have the depth to maintain a strong record even if they lose some of their big-name players to the NHL over the course of the season.
What To Expect
So - what can we expect from the 2022-2023 Rochester Americans? I asked Steve Lopez (steelopus) to chime in. Here’s what he had to say:
The 2022-23 Amerks have a difficult task ahead of them in their quest to build on a surprisingly deep playoff run last season. It’s widely expected that several key pieces will graduate to become near-full time Sabres players, leaving some gaping holes to fill, particularly on offense. There was a little buzz before last season that we might see a breakout from the young rookies, but absolutely no one was predicting the output we saw from Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka; both players had historic seasons for AHL rookies (check the u22 stats in this thread). They’re also losing the output from Arttu Ruotsalainen (Swiss League) and Mark Jankowski (Nashville). Reinforcements will arrive, but no one can expect them to replace what’s been lost.
We’ll hope Malone and Mersch can build off their career years last season, and for increased (and more consistent) output from names like Biro, Murray, Rousek, Weissbach, and Jobst as well as contributions from new faces, in particular Isak Rosen and hopefully also Filip Cederqvist, Alexander Kisakov, and Josh Bloom (I am admittedly not 100% sure on the contract rules for all these players).
The elephant in the room is that while the Amerks were a powerhouse on offense last season, they were also a sieve in their own zone, and things aren’t likely to get much better, at least not immediately. Fans were hopeful that Ryan Johnson would sign an ELC and join the Amerks, but we know that’s not going to happen at this point as he’ll return to finish his career at U of Minnesota. Mattias Samuelsson can all but be penciled in as a full-timer in Buffalo. The team re-signed assistant captain Ethan Prow after his career-best season. Oskari Laaksonen will return for the final year of his ELC and he will hopefully be trying to prove that his defensive struggles last season were just a blip (unlikely) or that he has made significant improvements in the offseason - remember that he skated in 71 of 76 regular season games for the team last year… and then they made him a healthy scratch for all but the final two playoff games. If that doesn’t light a fire under a young player, I’m not sure what will.
It’s good to see Lawrence Pilut back in the fold and I’d assume he spends most of the season in Rochester where he should run one of their two PP units. New names include Chase Priskie, Zach Berzolla, Kale Clague, and Jérémy Davies, who are all basically clones of one another - plug and play bodies for an Amerks team that had difficulty fielding a full roster at times last season.
Finally, in goal: the organization said goodbye to Aaron Dell. For anyone who was only familiar with his performance in Buffalo last season that probably doesn’t seem like a major loss, but Dell actually put up respectable numbers in Rochester and bailed them out for a significant chunk of the year while UPL was struggling. UPL did seem to turn things around in the last month of the season before suffering an unfortunate injury in the final week. Most people assume he’ll start the year in Rochester but eventually find a permanent spot in Buffalo, leaving the Amerks with a duo of Malcolm Subban and Michael Houser. It’s far too early to tell how that will work out, but on paper it does sound like a downgrade from the UPL/Dell tandem.
I think the Amerks will be fighting all year long to stay afloat in a tough AHL North Division and sneak into the playoffs just as they did last season, but as we recently saw, anything is possible once the playoffs begin.