2019-20 ROCHESTER AMERICANS SEASON PREVIEW
By Warren Kozireski–
Though Rochester has had several solid teams of late, including last season’s 46-23-5-2 99-point campaign, it has now been 14 consecutive years since the team has either not made the playoffs outright or not advanced past the first round of the AHL postseason.
Randy Cunneyworth was the head coach the last time the Amerks won a first-round playoff series—during his first stint.
Looking ahead to the 2019-20 season that launches Oct. 4, Rochester again appears to be loaded with talent and numbers on the blueline, but have question marks in goal even after 2017 second round NHL draft pick Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen returns from hip surgery sometime in November or December.
And question marks about where the offense will come from should Victor Olofsson earn a roster spot in Buffalo as expected.
Veteran Zach Redmond, who set a team record for defenseman with 21 goals and was just the third player in franchise history to win the Eddie Shore award as the AHL’s best defenseman, is back along with veteran Andrew MacWilliam, second year Will Borgen, Brandon Hickey plus rookies in fourth round draft pick Jacob Bryson and third rounder Casey Fitzgerald. Kurt Gosselin, Devante Stephens or veteran Nathan Paestch may also earn a depth spot on the deep blueline.
“I feel a lot more comfortable and confident,” Borgen said during Prospect camp. “There are a lot of really good players and it’s going to be good competition in camp trying to earn spots.
“We’re playing a little different this year—I think it’s a little more aggressive. I like it. Trying to pressure the puck at all points…and get it moving quick up ice. We’re trying to be on it right away and I like that style of play being aggressive and limiting time and space.
“We had an unbelievable year last year and when we went to the playoffs it was disappointing. I thought we still played well; the other team just capitalized on their chances and I think that’s all it came down too.”
C.J. Smith and Kevin Porter are two key veterans returning up front along with Sean Malone, Andrew Oglevie, Taylor Leier, Eric Cornel, Dalton Smith and potentially Remi Elie, Rasmus Asplund or Tage Thompson depending on who makes the Sabres roster out of camp.
Newcomers up front that could provide also offensive depth include Jean-Sebastien Dea and potentially Curtis Lazar. Dea netted 14 goals in 46 AHL games last season with Springfield and Wilkes-Barre Scranton while Lazar, a former first round pick by Calgary, scored 20 goals over 57 games with Stockton one year ago. Another wide card is Sabres draft pick Brett Murray, who was still unsigned as of this writing after uncommitting to play for Miami of Ohio this fall. He left Penn State two seasons ago and netted 40 goals back in the USHL with Youngstown in 2018-19.
The crease for the first few months at least will fall to six-year veteran Andrew Hammond, who had a solid season in Iowa with 19 wins in 33 appearances, Sabres third round pick Jonas Johansson, who has only 19 games of AHL experience over three seasons but faired well in late season action in spring is also in the mix along with Michael Houser. Houser has seven minor league seasons under his belt and led Cincinnati last season with 29 wins.
As happens every pre-season, the make-up of Rochester’s opening night roster will be dependent on injuries and who ultimately makes the Buffalo roster to begin the campaign.
It appears that offense will again be at a premium as they were last April when the team managed only four goals in three playoff games after finishing with the third most goals scored in the entire league during the regular season. But their deep blueline may keep their opponent from scoring much and not needing as many goals to win.