Though several Buffalo Sabres prospects—most notably Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart—have graduated to the NHL, the minor league affiliate is stocked with new arrivals from the junior and collegiate levels.
The Rochester Americans have treaded water through 20 games, going 10-9-1 over that time. The Amerks aren’t scoring like they have in years past while defensively being very shaky, having given up the most goals in the Eastern Conference and the second-most goals in the AHL.
Given how young this group is, the fact that they are hanging in and staying competitive should be considered a plus.
Andrey Makarov, 22, G
The early going hasn’t been pretty for Andrey Makarov. His 4-4-1 record, .896 save percentage and 3.47 goals-against average are anything but stellar. That is especially disappointing for Makarov considering those numbers were much better in his first full season in the AHL in 2014-15.
It was clear in the WHL that Makarov is a talented netminder with the potential for bigger and better. He has good quickness and athleticism to cover the net effectively like the bigger goalies in the game. Still, he continues to struggle with consistency and confidence at the AHL level. Makarov definitely needs to work things out if he hopes to have a shot at the NHL.
Nathan Lieuwen, 24, G
As bad a start as Makarov has gotten off to, Lieuwen hasn’t been any better. In two fewer starts, Lieuwen has a 5-3-0 record despite an ugly 3.61 goals-against average and an even uglier .890 save percentage. The 6-foot-5 netminder isn’t flashy with his athletic ability, relying on his size to keep him in position. Lieuwen has not benefitted from split duties, lacking the kind of explosive talent to stand out in spot duty. With the depth in the Buffalo net both on the main roster and organizationally, Lieuwen could be the odd man out in the near future.
Linus Ullmark, 22, G
Considering the 2015-16 campaign is his first on North American ice, Ullmark has been a nice surprise both at the AHL and NHL levels. He began the year with Rochester, posting a 2.72 goals-against average and an impressive .932 save percentage in three starts. An injury to newly-acquired Robin Lehner brought Ullmark to Buffalo as a backup. He has filled in more than serviceably next to Chad Johnson, starting 11 games. With a 4-5-2 record, 2.64 goals-against average and .916 save percentage, Ullmark may not have many more AHL stints ahead of him.
Ullmark possesses good athletic ability to go along with his NHL-ready frame and shows a tremendous amount of poise for a 22-year-old. Lehner’s injury is a long-term one, so Ullmark will continue to see his fair share of starts for the Sabres.
Justin Bailey, 20, RW
Bailey’s debut season in the AHL has gone about as expected for a young player transitioning to the professional game. His ice time remains constantly in flux, having to earn his keep and show that he can be a total player. With just a pair of goals and eight points in 20 games, there is still much left to be seen from Bailey. He is lauded for his shot, but is also a fantastic skater—especially given his 6-foot-3 size.
Bailey has a ton of potential and the Sabres will no doubt want to bring him along slowly, especially given the level of talent suddenly on the main roster. Bailey has top-six potential and it is up to him to start applying that talent on a more consistent basis.
Nick Baptiste, 20, RW
Like Bailey, Baptiste is coming off a successful junior career and stepping into his first professional season. Also like Bailey, he has had to earn his ice time but has brought an entirely different toolbox to the job. Baptiste doesn’t have Bailey’s size, but he plays with an edge while bringing an underrated offensive game to the table. He has three goals and nine points in 19 games with the Amerks.
Baptiste is a power forward with enough hockey IQ to make up for his less than spectacular size. There is not a team in the NHL that doesn’t love smart, tenacious players with leadership abilities—and that is Baptiste all the way.
William Carrier, 20, LW
This is Carrier’s second go at the AHL level. In his debut season in 2014-15, Carrier was used sparingly in 63 games, and had seven goals and 21 points. He is off to a much better start in 2015-16, scoring four goals and seven points in 13 games with the Amerks. Still, Carrier needs to find consistency at the AHL level before he is ready to graduate to the NHL. His much-improved start in 2015-16 is a good sign, as he seems to be coming into his own offensively. With a bit more seasoning, Carrier could be a surprise NHL-roster addition.
Daniel Catenacci, 22, LW
2015-16 will be Catenacci’s third full season for with the Americans. There have been glimmers of offensive ability since his full-time debut in 2013, but he continues to struggle finding consistent ice time and can’t seem to find a regular role with the club. Given the fact that he is not the biggest guy and has built his game on his offensive prowess, the end could be near for Catenacci in the Sabres organization. He really needs to find a way to stand out, especially with the influx of young talent on the AHL level.
Jack Nevins, 22, LW
Nevins is in his second full AHL season, though the first was only spent partially with the Amerks. He debuted with the Hamilton Bulldogs before being moved to Buffalo as a part of the trade that sent Torrey Mitchell to the Montreal Canadiens.
His game is built around his work ethic and motor. He gives his all each and every shift, trying to make up for his noticeable lack of skill with maximum effort and energy. At 6-foot-2, he can be effective in the dirty areas. Given that his three goals this season are the only ones he has as a professional, it is clear that Nevins is reaching his ceiling. The only way for him to make the NHL will be as a fourth-line energy type grinder.
Evan Rodrigues, 22, LW
Signed as a free agent in the off-season, Rodrigues is something resembling a blank slate. He had two very different seasons for Boston University—34 points in 38 games in 2012-13 before falling to just 14 in 31 games in 2013-14—before making a name for himself as Eichel’s running mate last season.
In a limited role for the Amerks in 21 games, Rodrigues has tallied a pair of goals and six points. After his huge offensive explosion next to Eichel (his 61 points were more than he’d tallied in his previous three years combined), Rodrigues is looking to prove that his success was not entirely dependent on Eichel. Rodrigues possesses good offensive instincts and is a strong skater. He will have to navigate through all the other youngsters trying to make a mark at the AHL level, but will likely be given a few years to get used to the pro game and find his own game.
Jean Dupuy, LW, 21
One of the pleasant surprises for the Amerks this season has been none other than Dupuy, the 2014 free-agent signee. Known primarily for his size (6-foot-3) and toughness, Dupuy has surprised many by placing fourth on the team in scoring (10 points) and leading the team in plus/minus (plus-7).
Dupuy uses his size to create chances in front of the net, putting his nose to the proverbial grindstone and creating havoc. Given his historic lack of offensive prowess, his numbers will likely peter out, but it has been nice to see that he can contribute.
Tim Schaller, 25, C
Schaller has been something of a bright spot the past year or so. He exploded offensively for 15 goals and 43 points in 65 games in 2014-15, even taking on a leadership role as an alternate captain for the Americans. He has also seen action both this and last season for the Sabres, albeit sporadically.
In 2015-16, Schaller has yet to find a permanent home. He has split time between Rochester and Buffalo, but it seems that his role is clearly defined: he is a big, aggressive, defensive forward. His offense was intriguing last year because it leaves you to wonder if there is more to his game than previously thought. In any event, Schaller has proven himself a valuable bottom-six defensive forward with offensive upside.
Chad Ruhwedel, 25, D
Ruhwedel was a victim of the numbers game on the Sabres blue line. With a logjam of veterans flanked by a few high-end youngsters, Ruhwedel began the year in Rochester—where he has played well.
With seven points and a plus-six rating through 20 games for the Amerks, Ruhwedel is almost certainly the next man up for the Sabres should a hole arise on the defense. He plays a very sound two-way game and has quality offensive skills to go with strong skating and sound decision-making.
Ruhwedel’s chance at making the NHL as a regular may not come in Buffalo, where guys like Rasmus Ristolainen, Josh Gorges, Zach Bogosian and Jake McCabe seem to have a lock on their spots. If there is a downturn in quality or an injury to the lower half of the pairings, Ruhwedel could slide in seamlessly, but for now he has to wait.
Brady Austin, 22, D
In year two with the Amerks, Austin is a bit more of use than he was in year one. He has managed 16 games compiling a pair of assists and a minus-4 rating. Austin has ideal size at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, but doesn’t play an overly physical game nor is he much for fighting—though he has been known to drop them when necessary. Austin needs to continue working on his overall skating as his size is only valuable if he can catch skaters near him.
Going forward, Austin’s ceiling is as a bottom-pairing defenseman using his reach and decision-making more than his size or physical skills. He still has a lot of learning and growing to do if he hopes to make it to the NHL in the future.
Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, 23, D
The clock may be ticking on Leduc. When he was drafted back in 2010, there were high hopes for him given his outstanding offensive numbers for Rimouski of the QMJHL. Since then, however, he has been nothing but an enigma.
Leduc has tremendous skating ability and good offensive instincts, but those have been almost non-existent to this point. He showed a little life with 25 points in 76 games in 2014-15, but that is nowhere near where the Sabres had hoped for. Coupled with his work-in-progress defensive game, there can’t be much more patience left. Leduc still has the talent and upside, but it is looking more and more like he will never put it all together professionally.
Justin Kea, 21, C
Kea has struggled to find a role for the Buffalo organization the last couple of seasons. He split time between Rochester and the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals in 2014-15, failing to show much of the scoring touch he displayed in junior. The story has been no different this year. He has managed just six games for Rochester before being sent back to Elmira.
With good size (6-foot-4), Kea has the body and willingness to be an effective defensive forward. He is responsible at both ends of the ice, but it seems that the scoring touch he had in junior did not carry over. Kea needs to find some consistency and perhaps develop a niche before he can truly continue developing. Right now, he is simply struggling to find a place.
Top performing non-minor pro prospects
It has been a pretty good month for Brycen Martin over in the Western Hockey League. First and foremost, Martin was the feature player in a trade that sent him from Saskatoon to Everett, a team slightly higher in the standings. Secondly, he had a fantastic month with 12 assists and 13 points in 11 games for Saskatoon. Martin is having a fantastic season offensively and will look to build on his recent play with his new team.
Over in the Ontario Hockey League, Eric Cornel had a decent start to his season in October and has only gained momentum since. He is right in the hunt for leading scorer on Peterborough, who sits just two points out of the lead in the East Division. Cornel has had himself an impressive month, too. He posted 10 goals and 18 points in a dozen games for the Petes, finding confidence in his budding offensive game.
A pair of collegiate netminders are turning in quality performances despite less than thrilling results for their teams. Jason Kasdorf is just 3-4-0 for RPI, but has an impressive .927 save percentage over those seven starts. Meanwhile, Cal Petersen has a 6-4-4 record for Notre Dame while turning in a .913 save percentage and a 2.55 goals-against average. Neither has been all-world, but both have been quite good for their respective teams.
Prospect of the Month: Eric Cornel
With all due respect to Martin, Cornel has kicked it up to another level in November. Thanks to his outstanding month, he finds himself on the doorstep of the top 20 in OHL scoring and has the Petes right in the thick of the divisional race.
Cornel is being leaned upon more heavily in every aspect now: leadership, score sheet, etc. If the Petes want to remain near the top of the standings, Cornel will have to continue to be one of their key contributors alongside Hunter Garlent and Greg Betzold.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @kindofawriter