After not making the AHL playoffs for the first time in 16 years, the Rochester Americans showed that 2005-06 was merely a dip in the road, finishing eighth out of 27 teams in 2006-07. Unfortunately for the Americans, who are the minor league franchise for both the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers, they ran into a hot Hamilton Bulldog team in the first round of the playoffs. The Amerks lost in a close, hard-fought, six-game series. The Bulldogs rolled along after ousting Rochester, finishing off the Manitoba Moose in six games and the Chicago Wolves in five games.
Sabre prospects Clarke MacArthur and Mark Mancari led the way offensively for the Americans in the playoffs, each scoring six points in six games. Florida property Craig Anderson posted a respectable .909 save percentage, allowing only one goal more than Bulldog goalie Carey Price.
Rochester’s regular-season resurgence was largely due to their improved defensive play. The Americans allowed 20 fewer goals than in 2005-06 thanks in part to Sabre prospect Andrej Sekera who was +14 in 54 games and who anchored their defense. Sabre forwards Drew Stafford, Dan Paille and veteran Michael Ryan all had plus/minuses in double digits, showing the improved defensive play didn’t come only from the back end.
The Amerks’ defense was a patchwork from start to finish but it got the job done. Only veteran Brandon Smith and Florida prosepct Martin Lojek played more than 62 games, but both Panther properties contributed in their own way. Smith led Amerks defensemen with 45 points and Lojek, a 6’5, 225-pound Czech, took care of business in front of Rochester’s net.
Twenty-one-year-old Sabres defensive prospects Mike Card and Mike Funk continued to improve. Card scored nine points and +1 in 50 games while in 61 games, Funk scored seven points and finished with a -4 in his first pro season.
Rochester had a balanced attack led by MacArthur’s 63 points in 69 games and Florida’s 25-year-old Latvian Janis Sprukts, who managed 59 points in 58 games. This was Sprukts’ first season in North America. At 6’3, 235 lbs, he does not look like a playmaking center yet his 41 assists in 58 games show he can pass the puck. Mancari had 57 points in 64 games, good enough for third on the team.
Stafford and Paille were huge contributors when they did dress for Rochester. Stafford, January’s AHL Rookie of the Month, scored 6 goals and 13 points in seven games that month. He finished the year with 22 goals and 44 points in only 34 games. Paille scored 21 points in 29 games and finished with an impressive +12.
Sabre prospects and AHL rookies Marek Zagrapan, Dylan Hunter and Patrick Kaleta scored 38, 28 and 15 points respectively. It was a decent pro debut for Zagrapan, a 20-year-old Slovak playmaker. Hunter, son of former NHL star Dale Hunter, was a steal for the Sabres in the ninth round of the 2004 draft. Taken 273rd overall, the 21-year-old proved this year he can contribute at the pro level as a third or fourth-line player. Kaleta led the Americans in PIMs, not a mean feat for a 200-pound 20-year-old. Kaleta is going to have to put on some weight and score more than five goals in 58 games to become a power forward in the pros. Time is certainly on the side of the young Buffalo native.
Highly-touted Florida 2003 first-round-pick Anthony Stewart was a disappointment for the Americans in 2006-07. Stewart, a budding power forward was a point-per-game player in junior hockey, but has yet to fulfill his promise in the pros. A wrist injury cut short his 2005-06 season and 27 points in 62 games in 2006-07 is somewhat less than expected for a player taken so high in such a bountiful draft. In his defense, at 6’1, 225 pounds, Stewart has potential as an NHL power forward — players who are notoriously slow to develop. Keith Primeau took four years, Cam Neely five years and Todd Bertuzzi seven years before each contributed consistently at the NHL level.
Sabres prospect Adam Dennis and Florida’s Anderson split time in net all season. Anderson, 26, had a 23-10-0-1 record while recording a 2.56 GAA and .919 save percentage. Dennis, 22, had an 18-17-0-0 record with a 3.34 GAA and an .894 save percentage. Dennis seemed to wear down over his first pro season after a great start.
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