Americans’ defensive tandem of McNabb, Ruhwedel looking to grow into NHL defensemen

By Tony Androckitis
Chad Ruhwedel - Buffalo Sabres

Photo: Buffalo Sabres defensive prospect Chad Ruhwedel began his pro career in 2012-13 with the NHL club, but has begun the 2013-14 season with the AHL’s Rochester Americans (courtesy of Jason Mowry/Icon SMI)

 

After a slow start to the 2013-14 season, the Rochester Americans seem to have righted the ship heading into November. A big part of their recent success has been two defensemen that are poised to play at the next level in the very near future.

After finishing his third season with UMass-Lowell, Chad Ruhwedel made the jump straight to the NHL last season, finishing the year in Buffalo with the Sabres. In seven games in April, 2013, Ruhwedel went scoreless with an even plus/minus rating.

This season, after the Buffalo Sabres drafted two defensemen in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft, Ruhwedel finds himself beginning his first full professional season in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Americans. With two goals and four assists in his last six games, adjusting to the pro game will be key for Ruhwedel if he wants to make it to the NHL.

Brayden McNabb, entering his third year of professional hockey, appeared in 25 games with the NHL Sabres during his rookie season in 2011-12, but has since been in the AHL with the Americans. Coming off a 36-point season (5G-31A) in the AHL last year, McNabb is looking to fine tune his two-way game to make a push for the NHL if injuries or trades within the blue line corps arise during the course of the season. McNabb is also putting up points as of late, with 10 points (2G-8A) in his last seven games.

So far this season, Ruhwedel and McNabb have been the top pairing for the Americans.

“It's fun. He's a great player, a good guy,” Ruhwedel said about being paired with McNabb. “It's a lot of fun to play in the offensive zone especially. We communicate well in the defensive zone and I think we'll develop into a solid pairing.”

Both Ruhwedel and McNabb were on the list of final cuts from the Sabres training camp roster, which is a good indicator that they’re at the top of the list for an NHL call up.

On his impressions of his first Sabres training camp, Ruhwedel clearly enjoyed the experience.

“I thought it went well, a lot of good players up there,” said the first-year defender. “It's fun to play at that next level.”

And, while McNabb felt good about his performance at the Sabres' training camp, a return to Rochester meant that he still had more work to do.

“I thought it went pretty well,” said McNabb. “I thought during scrimmages and practices I played pretty well. In the games I held my own and played pretty good. So it's disappointing not being there.”

As for what they need to work on to get to the NHL full-time, Ruhwedel’s focus is more on adapting to the pro-style game.

“Keep developing as a player and as a first year pro, getting ready to hopefully have a career with it,” Ruhwedel said. “They felt this was the right decision and I will keep working hard and try to get back up.”

As a third year pro in an organization that is rebuilding and overhauling pieces, now is as good a time as ever for McNabb to make a statement. If not for a future with the Sabres, then a chance nonetheless to show NHL teams that he’s ready to make the jump.

“Be smarter on my pinches and read the play a little bit better, continue to work on skating,” McNabb said when asked what the Sabres were looking for him to improve upon.

As for goals for this season?

“Just playing hard and being a consistent defensman every night. Keep it sound and be a good teammate,” Ruhwedel said.

McNabb’s response to the same question seemed a little more pressing.

“Trying to get better each day and doing whatever I can to get to the NHL.”

Follow Tony Androckitis on Twitter via @TonyAndrock