Last season was an anomaly for the Rochester Americans. The storied franchise, with a history that includes six Calder Cups and six consecutive trips to the playoffs, failed to reach the postseason. This year, however, Rochester is rolling right along, winning 20 of their first 27 games and showing last season’s sub-par performance is definitely behind them.
Many new faces have contributed to the team’s success. Rochester, AHL affiliate to both Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres, has a host of young talent that is making contributions up and down the roster. Leading the charge has been Sabres prospect Clarke MacArthur, with 34 points in 26 games. MacArthur was second on the team in scoring last season, behind fellow Sabres property Jiri Novotny, who is now playing in Buffalo.
Panthers prospect Janis Sprukts, an eighth-round selection in 2000, has proven his playmaking abilities with 27 points in 25 games thus far. This is his first season under contract for Florida, after spending time with HPK Hameenlinna of the Finnish league since being drafted. After a good preseason, the Panthers gave him a look on Oct. 20, when he made his NHL debut in a 3-2 loss to the Flyers. He played just over a minute, was -1, and was sent back to Rochester where he has found more success.
Forwards David Booth, Drew Larman, and Rob Globke have held a steady presence in Rochester while spending time with the Panthers as well. Booth, who played at a point-per-game level for Michigan State last season, has nine points in 18 games for the Amerks. He was called up to Florida for a week in November, and again on Dec. 13. In seven games with Florida, he has an assist and is averaging nearly nine minutes of ice time per game. Larman, a free-agent signee in 2005, has chipped in with six goals and two assists in 14 games for the Amerks. He also has 12 games with the Panthers, where he has added a couple of goals while averaging over seven minutes per game. His most recent call-up was on Nov. 30. Globke has six points in 15 games with Rochester, and zero points in seven games with Florida.
Stefan Meyer, last year’s Rookie of the Year for Rochester, has pitched in with five goals and two assists in 17 games. He is currently on pace to equal last year’s production of 28 points in 68 games. Kamil Kreps, a second-round selection in 2003, is also in his second season with the team, and has scored 12 points in 21 games.
One slight disappointment for the Americans this season has been the less than stellar play of highly-touted prospect Anthony Stewart. The 2003 first-round pick was a better than point per game player in the juniors, however has yet to hit his stride at the professional level. A serious wrist injury cut short his 2005-06 season, when he was a promising young player on the Panthers roster. Stewart’s 12 points in 24 games for the Americans have been helpful, but remain less than what many had expected from this talented right wing.
After losing their top five scoring defensemen from last year, much uncertainty faced the Americans at the start of the new season. Rochester responded by putting in an assortment of veterans and prospects at the blue line, and so far the plan has worked remarkably well. Thirty-three-year-old AHL veteran Brandon Smith is a +18 after 26 games, and his 22 points are second best for a defenseman in the league.
Martin Lojek, a fourth-round pick for the Panthers in 2003, is also putting up big numbers in his first full season in the AHL. He has three goals and six assists after 22 games, while posting a solid +13 rating and a team-leading 45 penalty minutes in the process. Other Panther blue line prospects Jeremy Swanson and Franklin MacDonald have played partial seasons. MacDonald played 11 games for the team before getting sent to the ECHL in exchange for Swanson on Nov. 27.
The crowd in net was eased a bit on Dec. 2 when goaltender Jean-Marc Pelletier signed a contract with the Manheim Eagles in Germany. Meanwhile Sabres prospect Adam Dennis and Panthers veteran Craig Anderson have been splitting time in net. Both puckstoppers have proven to be dependable while putting together solid numbers. Dennis has a 9-3-0 record with a 3.10 GAA and .906 save percentage, while Anderson is 7-4-0 with a 2.15 GAA and .909 save percentage. Each goalie has one shutout to his credit.
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