The parent club was in shambles for much of the 2013-14 season, but the plight of the Buffalo Sabres did not adversely affect the development of their deep pool of prospects. Though the Rochester Americans felt the effects of Buffalo's roster shuffle throughout the season, the organization's prospects at the junior and amateur levels performed well, with the majority of them qualifying for the playoffs in their respective leagues.
This is a good sign for the re-building franchise, who would like to get their prospects as much playing time as possible to further their development.
For the third year in a row, the Rochester Americans finished second in the North Division to their rivals the Toronto Marlies and were eliminated in the first round of the AHL playoffs. On paper, the season-by-season performances seemed to remain stagnant, but since Terry Pegula bought the Amerks, the team has served its purpose as a farm team, feeding a healthy supply of players to the Buffalo Sabres.
Though the early playoff exit was certainly disappointing, no thanks to some outstanding goaltending from Jake Allen (STL), there were a number of good signs. Joel Armia struggled during the season but led the Amerks in playoff scoring with six points, while Johan Larsson continued his strong two-way play as the two Europeans continue to acclimatize themselves on North American ice.
Phil Varone managed just three assists in the playoffs, but has been the Amerks' leading scorer twice over the past three seasons and received a nine-game audition with the Sabres.
Newcomer Nicolas Deslauriers contributed on the power play while Luke Adam did his best to convince the Sabres that he can still be a power forward in the NHL. All of these players will be vying for spots with the Sabres next year.
On defense, Rasmus Ristolainen continued to show his versatile abilities, becoming a linchpin on the blue line for the Amerks, while Chad Ruhwedel stepped up offensively with five points in five games.
On the other hand, Mikhail Grigorenko and Mark Pysyk were disappointing, as both players were held pointless in the playoffs. Grigorenko drew some praise from head coach Chadd Cassidy at the end of the regular season, but did not contribute offensively when the team needed him most. After spending most of the season with Buffalo, it seemed like fatigue caught up to Pysyk as he finished with an uncharacteristic 14 penalty minutes.
The situation in net was a little less optimistic until Nathan Lieuwen stepped admirably into the starting role midway through the season after wrestling the job away from Matt Hackett, but neither ended up playing in the playoffs. Due to injuries to the Sabres' goalies, both Lieuwen and Hackett were called up, which paved the way for Andrey Makarov, who began the season in the ECHL, to step between the pipes. After an impressive 44-save AHL debut, Makarov became the Amerks' starter down the stretch, and in five playoff games showed he was capable of being a full-time AHL starter, casting doubt on Hackett's future with the club.
Shawn Szydlowski and the Fort Wayne Komets made ECHL history this year after the Komets became the first eighth-seed to stage an upset in the opening round. The Komets advanced to the second round after defeating the defending champion Reading Royals in double-overtime of Game 5. Despite scoring just 11 goals in 63 games during the season, Szydlowski was a force in the playoffs, leading the Komets in scoring with 11 points in 11 games. Unfortunately for Szydlowski, there are simply too many bodies ahead of him on the Sabres' depth chart and the 23-year-old is unlikely to have a future with the team.
Logan Nelson was one of head coach Dave Lowry's most dependable players for the Victoria Royals and helped the team to a 100-point finish in the regular season, just one of five WHL teams to accomplish the feat. Nelson missed the opening game of the first round but did not miss a beat, collecting five points in the following three games. Nelson found it harder to find the score sheet against Portland, the eventual Ed Chynoweth Cup finalists, but certainly brought a physical edge to the series. He finished the playoffs with seven points and 19 penalty minutes in eight games.
Despite a remarkable individual season, Nick Baptiste's Sudbury Wolves did not have any bite in the playoffs as the Barrie Colts dispatched them quickly in five games, even though both teams finished with 77 points. The Wolves faded down the stretch, culminating in a 7-0 blowout loss in Game 5 as head coach Paul Fixter shouldered some of the blame for not getting more out of his players.
The Saginaw Spirit, featuring third-round pick Justin Kea and seventh-round pick Eric Locke, did not fare well in the playoffs either, though they faced a much stronger opponent in the Erie Otters, a team that featured three of the OHL's top five scorers and finished the season with 19 more wins and 35 more points. Locke and Kea played pivotal roles for the Spirit during the season and continued to contribute in the playoffs, finishing with five points and four points, respectively, in the five-game series.
Nikita Zadorov and Brady Austin finished third in a tough Midwest Division, but managed to sweep a much weaker Windsor Spitfires squad in the first round. The playoff run fell short, however, when the Knights were eliminated in the following round by Guelph, their division rival and the league's top team. Zadorov was his usual self in the playoffs, scoring four goals in nine games with his heavy shot while collecting 16 penalty minutes. Austin appeared in four of the Knights' nine playoff games, but performed admirably while recovering from the death of his father and a bout of mononucleosis.
By virtue of being hosts of the Memorial Cup, the Knights had the opportunity to avenge their loss against Guelph, but ended up losing all three round robin games and missing the cut for the semifinals. Neither Zadorov nor Austin had a noteworthy Memorial Cup experience.
William Carrier was traded from Cape Breton to a stronger Drummondville squad in January, but the Voltigeurs' playoff run fell short in the second round. A potential power winger with 22 goals and 87 penalty minutes during the regular season, injuries have hurt Carrier's production over the past two years. He played in only four of the Voltigeurs' 11 playoff games due to a lower-body injury, and was unable to contribute much in their elimination game against Val-D'Or in round two.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers entered the NCAA tournament as the nation's number one seed and featured Hudson Fasching, the prized prospect acquired from Los Angeles, and Christian Isackson, the Sabres' seventh-round pick in 2010. Playing on the top line, the Gophers could not have made the championship game without Fasching, who finished his freshman season with 30 points in 40 games, while Isackson posted yet another disappointing campaign with one goal in 19 games.
Wisconsin also returned to the tournament to seek a national title, but was upset in the opening game by North Dakota. It was not the ending defenseman Jake McCabe wanted, who returned for his junior season after some deliberation, but he signed with the Sabres shortly afterwards to begin the next chapter of his career.
Promising defenseman Anthony Florentino scored a goal to help Providence defeat Quinnipiac in the first round, but could not hold Union's offense at bay in the second round in a 3-1 loss to the eventual national champions. Senior Mark Adams, who has been hit with a rash of injuries over the past few seasons, did not play in the tournament.
Cal Petersen backstopped his hometown Waterloo Black Hawks to a first place finish and was named to the league's Second All-Star Team with a 27-7-4 record. His strong performance in the regular season extended into the playoffs, as the Black Hawks lost just one game in the opening two rounds before losing 3-2 in Game 5 in the best-of-five final against the Indiana Ice. Petersen posted a sparkling .928 save percentage in 12 playoff games, but was unfortunately unable to top Indiana goalie Jason Pawloski, who was named the Clark Cup Playoffs MVP.
Judd Peterson's Cedar Rapids RoughRiders were upset by Dubuque in the opening round, with Peterson appearing in just two of the four games. One of the RoughRiders' best offensive players, Peterson held the team's best goals-per-game average but did not score in the playoffs.
Like the RoughRiders, Connor Hurley's Green Bay Gamblers were also ousted in the first round. A top-ranked high school player from Minnesota, Hurley welcomed a trade to Green Bay from Muskegon to spark his offensive game, and later averaged over a point per game for the Gamblers before leading the team in scoring in the playoffs with four points in four games.
Wins and goals were hard to come by for MODO this season and the team relied heavily on promising young goalie Linus Ullmark. One of the SHL's stingiest teams, Ullmark backstopped MODO to an eighth-place finish, and despite a combined 80-save performance in two games against Linkoping in the best-of-three round, Ullmark could not secure a playoff spot for MODO. Speedy sniper Gustav Possler suffered a knee injury and did not play.
Jake McCabe was the lone Sabres prospect at the World Championships and was used sparingly by head coach Peter Laviolette. He played just 1:39 in Team USA's loss to the Czech Republic in the semifinals.
Notes and Signings
Justin Kea and Jake McCabe, both signed early April, represent the Sabres' newest additions. Nicolas Deslauriers signed to a two-year extension in late May.
Follow Jason Chen on Twitter via @jasonchen16