(10/13 PM Update)
For the third summer in the last 4 years, the Amerks roster looks good…ON PAPER. “Blah Blah Blah”, “Yeah, whatever”, and “So what”. I hear you, guys. But it’s October – so I’m going to put on my hopeful and optimistic mask for the time being.
I was excited about Cunneyworth returning last season and being joined by Paul Fixter. That clearly didn’t work out and an encouraging clean sweep of the coaching staff was made, resulting in a planned move of Dan Lambert becoming head coach. I REALLY like this guy. I’ve said before that the last time a rookie head coach replaced a Hall of Fame head coach we won the cup – with Torts replacing Boxie in 1996. I feel like Lambert is a straight shooter and has a desire to win here. I’m just as excited about the assistants. Brad Tapper seems like a no-nonsense guy who understands that competing for a Calder Cup is still important and Chuck Weber was a head coach I liked here in 2010-2011 and with a little roster luck might have won here that season. I think we’ve needed more fire from our coaching staff and these guys seem to have it.
Eventually, we will be at or near the full core of 5 veterans (320+ AHL+ games excluding postseason and goalies) and 1 exempt veteran (260+). You don’t win without this. The vets are a little younger this season overall, but at the same time, there are fewer rookies than last season. We’ll be crossing our fingers that the quality of our “prospects” is finally improving.
I DO have concern about Dan Bylsma’s comment about there being a lot of movement between Buffalo and Rochester this season. It’s one thing for injuries to cause the need for this, but PLANNING on it COULD mean inconsistent lineups and that could result in a lack of chemistry. Oh..and about those injuries….they’ve begun early and often for both clubs already before the puck has even dropped.
Here’s a quick summary as I see it based on our roster:
- Derek Grant making the Sabres is a tremendous blow for the Amerks. He was THE premiere off-season pickup. Good for him….BAAAD for us. He’s a proven goal scorer at this level and without him we’re left with more of a scoring by committee type of group. At this stage, replacing him will be difficult if not impossible. But that doesn’t mean a replacement shouldn’t be searched for.
- Our forward group is lead by Cal O’Reilly, who is a terrific playmaker and Cole Schneider, who is a proven point producer and had an impressive camp.
- This is a young-ish group upfront and we’ll need them to pick up the production slack. Lead among them is on the cusp of the NHL Justin Bailey (speed speed speed). Prized prospect Alexander Nylander will hopefully dazzle in his rookie season. It’s possible we could see very promising Hudson Fasching here at some point as well. Jean Dupuy and Nick Baptiste will hopefully continue to improve after somewhat mixed rookie seasons. I’m pretty excited about Dupuy’s upside.
- William Carrier, perhaps the team’s best 2-way forward, will hopefully continue his solid play this season. Evan Rodrigues is a smart player and could really be the unsung hero on this team. Dan Catenacci needs to produce more consistently but is a very good overall player at this level.
- Local product Matt Lane will be one of several players to provide depth, along with returnee Justin Kea and newcomers Daniel Muzito-Bagenda and 5-7 165 pounder Tyson Fawcette. I’m unfamiliar with injured rookie Vaclav Karabacek and what his role will become. After quick late season peeks the previous 2 seasons, we’ll get a whole season look at Eric Cornel…who has the capacity to be a point producer.
- A quick scan of the roster tells me we don’t quite have enough depth at forward. And a few of the guys will be playing through injuries as it is on opening night. The Sabres really need to acquire 1-2 more established NHL forward for the benefit of the entire organization. There were a plethora of good waiver claims available this week, too.
- I really like our D. We have some depth and we have some size to go along with good bit of experience. Last year’s circus will ideally become this year’s strength. Coach Lambert has talked about moving the puck quickly out of our own zone, and although most of the (albeit short and minus our core) preseason was like watching video of last season, the personnel is almost completely different, with the exception of 3rd year returnee Brady Austin, who could be ready to dominate the AHL.
- Veterans Tyson Strachan and Calder Cup champ Justin Falk should help stabilize and bring size to our back end.
- Experienced D like Erik Burgdoerfer (who turned some heads in Buffalo) and Taylor Fedun will be heavily counted on as well…with Fedun the likely PP QB.
- Mac Bennett and Paul Geiger were interesting pickups and prospect Brycen Martin helps round this solid D corp out. It appears Davis Vandane will be a depth recall in Elmira.
The prevailing belief is that a successful year depends on prospect Linus Ullmark getting back on track, although Jason Kasdorf comes with impressive credentials and John Muse has proven to be a reliable AHL goal-keep. If Lambert is actually allowed to play the hot goalie – I really don’t see this as being an area of weakness again this season. If the uber-talented Ullmark continues to struggle, he should not be allowed to start just because he’s the top prospect.
It feels like we have enough leadership in the room – but that is rarely crystal clear early on. It will again be Captain Cal, and my bet for the A’s is Austin and Strachan…but Falk is coming off a cup and players like Carrier will be looked upon for leadership roles as well.
I’m not going to make a prediction because I’m always wrong in recent years, but I’ll continue to maintain that unless the Amerks win a minimum of 6 playoff games the season will be disappointing. That is something that has only been done once since 2000…..in the 2003-2004 season (no, not the overrated lockout year, but the season before) where we came back from 3-1 down to beat Syracuse, swept Hamilton and lost to a superior Milwaukee team in the conference finals.
We’ll be watching.
Expanded rough draft roster of possible Amerks available this season: http://www.lga585.com/roster/ ***Will be updated frequently***