By Warren Kozireski —
The first step in the inaugural year for the new Buffalo/Rochester regime was the Amerks returning to the American Hockey League playoffs after finishing third in the North Division in 2017-18, but they were knocked out in the first round by Syracuse.
Step two is obviously to now win a playoff series for the first time in 13 seasons, but with the roster assembled by Buffalo General Manager Jason Botterill and Rochester GM Randy Sexton, don’t be surprised if this group exceeds those modest expectations.
If you believe that defense and goaltending win championships, then you will approve of the make-up of the opening night roster.
Two veteran goaltenders in Scott Wedgewood and Adam Wilcox, who combined have appeared in 221 AHL games and 25 NHL contests. Wedgewood played in 20 NHL games last season with Arizona.
In front of the goal are seven veteran or solid prospects on the blueline led by the Amerks leading scorer last season Zach Redmond, veterans Jack Doughtery, Nathan Paetsch, Andrew MacWilliam and Taylor Fedun plus future NHLers Brandon Guhle, Brandon Hickey and Will Borgen. Add 22-year old free agent signee Lawrence Pilut, who netted eight goals and 30 assists in 52 games in Sweden and was named SHL Defenseman of the Year last season and competition will be keen for playing time.
“That’s what we want—internally we want competition and for us to succeed we need hard choices,” head coach Chris Taylor said. “If we don’t have hard choices, then I wouldn’t have a bright look at our season. I thought last year we had some tough choices and this year we have even more and that’s good for the organization; it means we’re going in the right direction.”
The key to the season could well be where the team finds offensive production.
Returning forwards include C.J. Smith, captain Kevin Porter, Kyle Criscuolo, Justin Bailey, Danny O’Reagan, Alex Nylander, Eric Cornel and Dalton Smith. Prospect newcomers as Rasmus Asplund, Victor Olofsson and former St. Louis Blues fourth round draft pick Yannick Veilleux with Notre Dame free agent signee Andrew Oglivie along with depth forwards Tyler Randall, former RIT Tiger Myles Powell and Wayne Simpson and there are some questions about offensive production beyond the first five.
Smith and Porter finished last season third and fourth respectively in team scoring one year ago and O’Reagan netted 15 points in just 18 games after he was acquired in the Evander Kane deal with San Jose.
“He’s a guy we’re going to count on this year,” Taylor said about Smith. “Sometimes a lot people, especially in their second year, have a hard time but I thought he has played very well for us.”
Rochester will open their 63rd AHL season Friday, Oct. 5 in the first of two consecutive home games against Charlotte.
By Warren Kozireski —