We’ve officially reached the halfway point of the 2018/2019 season for the Rochester Americans which means it’s time to take a look at where things are after 38 games. I’ve spent time breaking things down into five game segments which have been a roller coaster at times, but now it’s time to look at half of the overall season.
After the weekend games the team has finished with a record of 23-13-2 which is good for first place in the North Division and third overall in the Eastern Conference. The team finished the first quarter with a record of 12-5-2 (26 points) and the second quarter with a record of 11-7 (22 points).
One big difference between the first and second quarter is the goal scoring. Amerks scored 71 goals in games 1 to 19 and scored 49 goals in games 20 to 38. Goals against declined with 62 against in games 1 to 19 and 49 against in games 20 to 38. That goal scoring differential matches up with the reduction of scoring from players like Redmond and Olofsson.
The team has a 13-3 record when playing against the top half of the North Division (Utica, Syracuse, Toronto, Cleveland) and a record of 3-4-1 playing against the bottom half of the North Division (Binghamton, Laval, Belleville). Anyone can win on any given night in the American League and when your overall record is that much better over the top teams it’s a great sign. Is it sustainable? That’s for the second half prediction at the bottom. They’re also 3-0 against Bridgeport, the team that is second overall in the Eastern Conference.
When it came to grading the players I took a different approach and decided to combine thoughts from 11 different people (that includes myself) that are involved with watching this team on a nightly basis home and away. The grades are based on how they’re playing this season on the Rochester Americans. They’re not predicting or hyping NHL potential, that’s not what this site is about. We’re about covering the Rochester Americans and how players play on this team.
The team kicked off the season talking about being an elite playoff team and based on their record we can make the conclusion that with more consistency (and hopefully a top center) they’re on that path and have been since game three. There is a lot of excitement to see a motivated Scott Wilson come down and help this team. At this level he’s a dominant 2 way player. He could be the missing piece of the puzzle but we don’t know for how long? There was a consensus among the group of fans we discussed this with that the Amerks will advance to at least the 2nd round.
Before jumping into individual grades let’s take a look at some of the best.
MVP at the Halfway Point
A late edit to this category creates a tie between CJ Smith and Zach Redmond.
Zach Redmond was bringing a great defensive game to the team but the biggest surprise has been his offensive production. 32 points (16G+16A) in 38 games is good for second on the team overall. Redmond leads by example every night.
CJ Smith showed up to play in game 38 with three goals and an assist to take the team lead in points with 33 (16G+17A). The team was 2-2 without him and upon his return it was clear what kind of offensive threat he provides. He’s been the most consistent player from the start of the season.
By definition there’s only six rookies on the team this year and only two have played a significant amount of games – Rasmus Asplund and Will Borgen. The rookies are Rasmus Asplund, Will Borgen, Brandon Hickey, Judd Peterson, Andrew Oglevie, and Myles Powell.
Will Borgen wins this one by a long shot. A reliable defensive defenseman that plays with one mindset – clear the puck and get it to the forwards. There may be nights you don’t remember him being on the ice and that’s because he’s doing his job and doing it well. A physical defenseman that made the jump from college to pro’s look easy.
Danny O’Regan is a close second. He has 12 goals (tied with Wayne Simpson) and only behind CJ Smith and Zach Redmond who each have 16 goals. He may not have a flashy nickname when he scores goals but he still has one of the best shots on the team. He seems oddly disregarded by the Sabres fans but make no mistake – this guy is a prospect.
Dalton Smith. Although, is someone really an unsung hero when many know it? The team has a record of 21-7 when he plays and a record of 2-6-2 when he doesn’t play. There’s always more to it but that’s a big difference that’s worth noting. The energy, dedication, grit, and determination he brings to every shift isn’t going to show up on the scoreboard but has a direct impact on the outcomes of a game. It’s very clear he brings energy to the fans and to the bench.
Victor Olofsson. European prospects can be hyped up before arriving in North America but until they play a game you never know how they’ll adjust and produce. He hit a slump that everyone goes through at some point but hasn’t slowed down with effort.
Here are our individual grades:
- Scott Wedgewood (B+) He’s improved as the season goes on and is as reliable as they come for a starter and third NHL goalie in the organization.
- Adam Wilcox (B-) A reliable second goalie. He’s stolen a couple of wins and the team has as much trust in him as they do with the number one.
- Andrew MacWilliam (B) Reliable defensive defenseman. Protect your goalie, protect your teammates, clear the zone. The definition of keeping it simple.
- Will Borgen (B+) Reliable defensive defenseman. Protect your goalie, protect your teammates, clear the zone. The definition of keeping it simple.
- Nathan Paetsch (B+) It wouldn’t be fair to give someone that’s played only four games anything less than a B+. We’re sure his leadership and winning experience is invaluable in the room and in the community.
- Matt Tennyson (C-) 38 more regular season games plus playoffs until he’s on to the next organization. He shows up to every game collecting a paycheck and will make the occasional good play. For every good play there’s many more bad ones. If we’re missing something here we’re open to feedback.
- Wayne Simpson (A-) Definition of a consistent American League contributor. Tied for second on the team with 12 goals and one of only six players that have played all 38 games. To have this guy and not count against the vet limit feels like stealing.
- Kevin Porter (B) Leadership, goals, assists. Everything you want from a veteran captain.
- Victor Olofsson (B) A stretch of only three goals in 18 games after starting the season with five goals in the first six games is the one thing that lowered his grade. Still on pace for 20 goals which is the bench mark for a good season in the American League. As mentioned above, the biggest surprise. Create all the hype anyone wants but it always comes down to playing in the American League and proving it.
- Sean Malone (B-) A reliable third line center that will win you a crucial face off at any time in a game. 10 points (2G+8A) in 25 games isn’t good enough though. Is it the player or the position he’s put into? Even though the points aren’t there you can see that he never takes a shift off. He had the widest range of grades from an A+ to a C-, averaged out to a B-.
- Andrew Oglevie (C) Only played 14 games before going out indefinitely with a concussion. As a rookie it’s unknown what kind of player he can still evolve into.
- CJ Smith (A) The full package. An almost equal number of goals and assists provided on a consistent basis. He has that shoot first mentality and it’s paid off. He earned his first call up to the Sabres and scored his first NHL goal in his fourth game. It’s only a matter of time before he’s a full time NHL forward.
- Eric Cornel (B-) Reliable American League center whether it’s filling in on the first or playing on the fourth line. At the halfway point he has 4G+6A which is nearing his career high of 9G+9A from last season. Another guy who has experience but doesn’t count again vet limit.
- Zach Redmond (A) MVP. Enough said. After starting the season chasing down records he’s slowed a bit on goal scoring with only three goals in his last 19 games he’s still the team leader and has five assists in the last six games.
- Jack Dougherty (B) Currently leading the team with a plus-11 and that’s not by luck, it’s for a reason. Dougherty arrived in a trade for Nick Baptiste and has developed into a real potential defenseman in the organization. Good trade for this organization.
- Rasmus Asplund (B-) Only 11 points (2G+9A) isn’t good enough when you’re playing on a line with Olofsson and O’Regan. He’s technically the second line center on the team but has fourth line points. Much like Malone and Cornel he isn’t playing bad but there isn’t anything exceptional. He does do a lot of little things correctly and definitely gets players off their game.
- Lawrence Pilut (A+) At this point he’s more of an NHL player that had a brief visit with the American League. He played a sloppy first period to start the season but after 20 minutes his adjustment to North America was complete and was instantly a dominant player. Not too shabby! The only chance we’ll ever see him in an Amerks jersey again is if the Amerks are still in the playoffs and the Sabres are eliminated.
- Dalton Smith (A-) The team plays differently when he’s on the bench. There’s the hockey cliche of creating time and space and that’s exactly what he does. Every player recognizes the value he brings and they all know that he has their back. When it was announced that the team signed him for another season it created doubt. Dalton Smith has proven everyone wrong that had doubt.
- Brandon Hickey (B-) An American League defenseman trending in the right direction after only 20 games. Has made some mistakes and has learned from them.
- Brendan Guhle (C+) He set the bar high last season and hasn’t met those expectations. Leading a rush up the ice was common, now it’s the exception. Just needs to get his mojo back and play with more confidence. The potential hasn’t vanished, the second half is up for grabs.
- Kyle Criscuolo (B+) A team leader that was missed when he was out with an injury. Had an immediate impact with 2G+4A in his first six games back.
- Tyler Randell (C) Fourth line forward. Takes up a vet spot that Dalton Smith better performs in. Doesn’t seem to be enough of a physical presence.
- Danny O’Regan (B+) Tied for the team lead in goal scoring and shows up to play every game. Tied with Wayne Simpson at 12 goals.
- Yannick Veilleux (C) Fourth line forward. Doesn’t count as a vet, which helps him get into lineup over Randell.
- Alex Nylander (B) He’s turned into a consistent player that has improved his game year over year. There are still too many invisible games for a first round draft pick but as long he continues to improve play there’s only nitpicking when it comes to the way he plays. Another year and a half and he’ll be NHL-ready and still a pup at 22.
- Justin Bailey (C+) To make it to the NHL he has to become a reliable bottom 6 guy at this level. To help this team he needs to capitalize on opportunities he creates with his blazing speed. It’s a tough balancing act. The game may not be going his way at times but he continues to takes pride playing for the Rochester Americans.
- Judd Peterson, Vasily Glotov, Myles Powell – Didn’t play enough to grade them as American League players.
Overall Team Grade (B+)
They’ve been in first place since the second week of the season and only fell out of the top spot once since then. They’ve had a five game winning streak along with two other three game winning streaks. There’s only been one three game losing streak. They’re beating the top teams when it matters. There’s been a handful of concerning losses but those were one game situations, not extended periods. The power play improved in the second quarter but the penalty kill unit has gone in the opposite direction. A better home record and better penalty kill would improve the overall grade and overall record.
The team set the goal of being an elite playoff team and they’re on that path when you look at the big picture. Is the direction they’re on sustainable?
Second Half Predictions
They’re a playoff team but how far they make it in the playoffs is up for debate. The North Division has tightened up a lot over the past month with teams improving while the Amerks have remained relatively consistent. We saw the same scenario last season where the team started to struggle in the second half after a strong first half. 30 of the next 38 games are against North Division teams. We’ll see who gets better, who remains the same, and who gets left behind.
Syracuse has lost five of their last six games which has helped the Amerks stay in the top spot. That same Syracuse team is known for going on long winning streaks and still has the capability to run away with the division. There’s till nine games between Rochester and Syracuse to be played through the end of the season.
Finishing the month of January with a winning record will be key to the second half as it starts to accelerate. There’s going to be losses but the team has to find a way to avoid the 5-1 type of loss they had against Toronto on Friday. Two games to look forward to will be against Charlotte in mid March for a rematch of the opening weekend of the season. Charlotte dominated those two games and has stayed at the top of the Eastern Conference since.
A healthy Buffalo Sabres team will also factor into how the second half goes along with the trade deadline. Right now the Sabres are at their roster limit with only three players that could be sent to the Amerks without having to clear waivers – Lawrence Pilut, Casey Mittelstadt, and Tage Thompson. All three have proven they are NHL players. The only opportunity for anyone to be called up would be a player going out on injured reserve. Once Casey Nelson returns from an injury and comes off of injured reserve the team will have to open up a roster spot. Do they send down Pilut? Try and waive Nelson? That’d be a massive boost for Rochester either way. Do they find a way to trade someone? Do they risk putting Remi Elie on waivers? As long as the Amerks don’t lose a player they’re in a good spot.
A season ago we saw this team in a similar position but in the second half everything trended in the wrong direction. The second half is loaded 30 divisional games, that’s a lot of points on the table to create some distance or intense playoff competition.
It’s going to be close finishing in first or second place and it doesn’t matter where they end up. There was a time when home ice advantage was the goal but with a better road record maybe that doesn’t make a difference anymore.
Win a game or two in the first round – 1 person
Second round – Six people
Third round – 2 people
Lose in the finals – 1 person
Calder Cup Champs – 1 person
Overall consensus is that this is a second round playoff team. History and trends show that other teams are getting better, this team is simply remaining consistent.
This team will go as far as the consistency of Scott Wedgewood takes them. He can’t do it all himself either which means the 18 skaters in front of him need to play a better defensive game.
Come back on April 16th when the regular season is over to compare first half and second half report cards.