By Warren Kozireski —
One year ago, Rochester rookie defenseman Jacob Bryson was in the final stretch of the regular season in his junior year with nationally ranked Providence College on their way to the Frozen Four in Buffalo.
He finished among the top-20 in Hockey East in scoring with 28 points in 42 games and was named the Len Ceglarski Sportsmanship Award winner for the second consecutive season.
Now in his first professional season with the Amerks after being selected in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo, he has experienced the same growing pains many young players—especially defensemen—need to adjust too, but there have been more than a few glimmers of what is to come.
“I just need to play my game and I think the points are going to come,” Bryson said in late-January. “Just get pucks to the net and the team is winning, so hopefully we can keep that going.
The London, Ontario native earned an assist Jan. 24in his return after being a healthy-scratch for the first time in his pro career two days prior. That came after his first real dry-spell offensively with four assists over a 23-game span.
“I made the decision that I felt it’s best for him as a young player that he needed a night off and I thought he had one of his best games all year for us tonight,” Rochester head coach Chris Taylor said about the game scratch. “Skating on pucks, getting pucks to the net, evading their forecheck—I thought he did a really good job and one of his best games.”
“It was kind of nice to sit up top and watch a game,” Bryson said. “I haven’t done that all year and played 40 straight, so it is different going from college where you play 40 games to playing 40 games and still have 36 left, so it’s a long season and to watch one up top was kind of good. Confidence-wise I knew I could come back and play well.
“Change the point of view on things and get right back into it.”
Playing most of the season paired with veteran Zach Redmond, the coaching staff decided to try some new pairings over the last few weeks and it seems to have sparked the group.
“I’ve played the majority of the season so far with “Reds” and I love playing with him…but kind of switch it up a little bit. When things are hitting the wall like they have the last ten games or so, sometimes you have to change things up and that’s what we’ve done the past few games.”
And he registered his first multi-point game two games later Jan. 31 versus Syracuse giving him 14 points in 43 games.
More importantly, the 5’9”, 179 lb. Bryson is among the best-skating blueliners in the league and uses that speed to get away from any potential heavy hits along the boards.
As the calendar turned to February, he was tied for second among all players on the team in plus/minus at +10, but near the bottom among the defensemen in shots on goal from his pass-first approach.
Rochester is backlogged in blueliners, but Bryson is making progress as he heads into the final two-plus months of his first professional regular season.
“It’s very demanding on the body as I’m learning, but learning from these older guys and the veterans about how to take care of my body and not being in school makes a difference.
“You have a lot of time at the rink or at home to recover and I think eating has been a big thing. We eat at home which I wasn’t able to do in college because we were in dorms, so here it’s all in your hands and so far, I think me and my roommates (Casey Fitzgerald and Brandon Hickey) have been doing a good job of coming to the rink every day prepared.
“I don’t cook that much, but my go-to is chicken and rice, especially for pre-game meals.”