Amerks: First half evaluations

January 18, 2019 - 11:37 am
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The Rochester Americans have officially reached the halfway point of the 2018-19 season, and currently sit with a 23-13-2-0 record and atop the North Division standings.

This season has already been an interesting ride for the Amerks, but they come out of the first half of the season as one of the top teams in the American Hockey League. On Friday, the second half of the season gets underway when the Amerks travel to Northeastern Pennsylvania to play the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. That game will be followed with a Saturday matchup on Saturday with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in Allentown, Pa.

Through the first 38 games of the season, it has been a pleasant overall team effort to help get the Amerks to the top of the division standings. Rochester has gotten plenty of contributions from everyone in the lineup, and head coach Chris Taylor has been very pleased with his group's mentality throughout the season.

"We've been really spreading it out," Taylor said on Wednesday with Howard Simon and Jeremy White on WGR. "We haven't been relying on two line, three lines. We've been relying on all four lines and six [defensemen] and giving everybody that opportunity. Until we get to that point that we have to go down a little bit, that's when we'll find out where everyone is at. Right now, everybody is getting a fair chance and that's nice because everybody is nice and refreshed going out there and happy for each other. We are a big family down here, that's what I like."

Overall, the Amerks have not been as productive of a team compared to the rest of the league. As of now, Rochester sits 17th in the AHL for team scoring with 123 goals. However, they sit as one of the better defensive teams, giving up just 111 goals this year, which is the fifth lowest total in the AHL. As for their power play, it has been better in the month of January, and has put the Amerks back in the top-five ratings in the AHL at a 22.5-percent conversion rate. However, the penalty kill has been Rochester's weakest link, giving up goals on 21.1-percent of their attempted kills.

In case you'd like to catch up on how the team has played in the first three months of the season, you can check out the Amerks' month in review articles below:

While some of the players mentioned below are no longer on the active roster, here is how they graded out through the first half of the season:

 

* - No longer on active roster

  • C.J. Smith - A+

Games Played: 34
Goals: 16
Assists: 17
Plus/Minus: +10
PIM: 10
Shots: 115

C.J. Smith has taken his game to another level this season and, more importantly, he's staying healthy. He has arguably been the player for the Amerks this season. The 24-year-old winger led the Amerks in scoring through the first 38 games and was tied with defenseman Zach Redmond for the team lead in goals. He was a bit snake-bitten to start the season, but really started to pick up his scoring in December and started to deposit the puck in the back of the net on a more consistent basis. His play earned him a call up from the Buffalo Sabres, where he scored his first NHL goal back on January 8. In addition, he scored a hat-trick in his first game back with the Amerks this past Saturday in Toronto against the Marlies. If he continues his strong play, he will certainly remain as the top offensive option to be called up to Buffalo for the rest of the season. As long as guys remain healthy with the Sabres, though, let Smith continue to rip it up in the AHL.

 

  • Zach Redmond - A

Games Played: 38
Goals: 16
Assists: 16
Plus/Minus: +3
PIM: 26
Shots: 125

To start the 2018-19 campaign, Redmond was on a pace to shatter the AHL record for most goals by a defenseman and also put up one of the best point totals from the blue line in a long time. As expected, Redmond fell off the pace in December, but, at this time, is still projected to score an AHL record 32 goals and register 64 points. Redmond started the year playing with Lawrence Pilut, and the two of them were offensive juggernauts. However, when Pilut got the call from the Sabres, he needed to find his groove again while finding a new consistent partner. He's now been able to spark his offensive game again on his own, and has picked up the pace a bit since the end part of December. Can he continue his record pace and, maybe, even get back into consideration for the league MVP honors? Only time will tell.

 

  • Lawrence Pilut* - A

Games Played: 16
Goals: 3
Assists: 19
Plus/Minus: +19
PIM: 10
Shots: 37

The transition from the Swedish Hockey League to North America has proven to be pretty seamless for Pilut. He started the season with the Amerks, putting up an impressive 22 points in 16 games played, and was on pace to break the AHL record for the most points recorded by a defenseman in a season. However, with his strong play in Rochester and a rash of injuries on defense in Buffalo, Pilut was the obvious choice to get the call from the Sabres. In addition, his play with the Sabres has forced general manager Jason Botterill to keep him in Buffalo and playing on the Sabres' blue line. We'll see if Pilut returns to Rochester when Casey Nelson is healthy enough to return from injury, but don't be surprised if the 23-year-old does not play another game this season for the Amerks.

 

  • Alex Nylander - A-

Games Played: 35
Goals: 9
Assists: 15
Plus/Minus: +10
PIM: 10
Shots: 55

Alex Nylander has continued his strong play this season after a really impressive training camp and preseason with the Sabres. This is a stark comparison to last season where the 2016 first round pick only managed to score eight goals and register 27 points in 51 games. This year, Nylander has been more engaged with his play in all three zones of the ice, and he's willing to do the little things to make a play that he was not doing last season. While there will be some lapses in his game from time to time, Nylander has, arguably, been the most consistent player for the Amerks in the 2018-19 season. His effort has been leaps-and-bound better from last year, night-in and night-out. In addition, his play has allowed Chris Taylor to play him in all sorts of situations and get the minutes necessary to continue building his confidence. It's still not out of the question that Nylander can get another NHL call up this season, but the more minutes and situations he gets with the Amerks this season, the more likely we could see him in Buffalo for the long-term.

 

  • Victor Olofsson - A-

Games Played: 35
Goals: 11
Assists: 20
Plus/Minus: +2
PIM: 8
Shots: 92

Like Pilut, Victor Olofsson's first season in North America has seemed quite flawless for the 23-year-old. However, like Nylander, there should be no rush to get him to the NHL. Olofsson stormed on to the scene with a 15-point effort in October to earn him CCM/AHL Player of the Month honors. However, as expected, his hot play cooled off a bit and he has only scored 16 points in his last 25 games. While the goal scoring has been nothing like his last season in Sweden, where he scored a league-leading 27 goals, Olofsson has been making smart offensive plays and is getting plenty of opportunity to contribute offensively. He's seeing plenty of ice time on the top power play unit and in his signature spot to the left of the goaltender, while playing some consistent hockey with Danny O'Regan and Rasmus Asplund. If Olofsson gets a look with the Sabres this season, that would be a very good experience and step for his development. However, his start with the Amerks has already been a promising one.

 

  • Scott Wedgewood - A-

Games Played: 24
Record: 14-7-1
Goals-Against Average: 2.80
Save Percentage: .911
Goals-Against: 62
Shutouts: 3

While his numbers may not paint the prettiest of pictures, Scott Wedgewood has been stellar through the first half of the season. He's been a stable back stop for the Amerks when they get into some trouble defensively, and he looks calm, cool and collective every night he's been in goal. Without Wedgewood, the Amerks may not be in the same spot they are through the halfway point of the season. Every goaltender has their off days from time to time, but Wedgewood has been another player who could be considered for the team MVP this season.

 

  • Brendan Guhle - B+

Games Played: 34
Goals: 4
Assists: 14
Plus/Minus: -5
PIM: 26
Shots: 84

It has been a rollercoaster ride for Brendan Guhle this season. The 21-year-old started the season with just nine points through the months of October and November, but he has steadily picked up his game and stabilized himself on the blue line since then. Since Pilut got the call up from the Sabres, Guhle has found himself playing a majority of his time with Redmond, and it has been beneficial for him with developing a nightly rhythm. He has been reading plays better in all three zones of the ice, and has been better in his own zone in terms of becoming more reliable defensively. Instead of just using his stick and trying to play defense that way, Guhle has been progressively rounding out his defensive play to utilize the right amount of stick work and physicality. If he puts his game all together moving forward, the youngster may find himself hitting quite a second wind of energy come the postseason.

 

  • Kyle Criscuolo - B+

Games Played: 19
Goals: 3
Assists: 7
Plus/Minus: +1
PIM: 6
Shots: 38

Kyle Criscuolo has missed half of the season, to this point, with a nagging injury he could not shake, but has been playing a vital role down the middle for the Amerks when he is healthy. The 26-year-old is providing stability at center on the first and/or second line, and has been relied upon to step in for any role that Taylor needs him to play. Let's hope Criscuolo can stay healthy so he can continue to be that stable force for the Amerks moving forward.

 

  • Wayne Simpson - B+

Games Played: 38
Goals: 12
Assists: 10
Plus/Minus: +5
PIM: 14
Shots: 90

The AHL's ironman continues to play a big role for this Amerks team. Wayne Simpson has played in 225 consecutive games over parts of the past four seasons, and finds himself sixth in team scoring while playing on the top line. The 29-year-old AHL veteran has been plugged in left and right on the power play, penalty kill, and other important on-ice situations for the Amerks, and he has filled all of those roles admirably.

 

  • Danny O'Regan - B

Games Played: 38
Goals: 12
Assists: 11
Plus/Minus: -1
PIM: 26
Shots: 57

O'Regan has found himself playing consistently with Olofsson and Asplund this season, and is a regular on the power play with his nice shot from the right side of the ice. The 25-year-old is fifth in scoring for the Amerks this season, and is scoring at a good rate when he is shooting the puck. It has been just an average season for O'Regan. Nothing much better, nothing worse. If he can pick up his offensive production even more, that'd be a nice boost for the Amerks heading into the final 38 games of the season.

 

  • Kevin Porter - B

Games Played: 25
Goals: 6
Assists: 10
Plus/Minus: +4
PIM: 20
Shots: 40

The captain has been doing what is expected of him this season. That's doing your job on a night-in, night-out basis, no matter what the task at hand is. The 32-year-old Porter has produced at a decent rate this season, but nothing compared to where he was at last season with 42 points in 66 games. Mind you, Porter is just returning from a 13-game absence due to injury, but he is doing all he can to be a veteran, stabilizing force up front in the top-six of the lineup. While he will continue to put up points here and there, it's his leadership and solid two-way effort that is going to help this team moving forward.

 

  • Rasmus Asplund - B

Games Played: 38
Goals: 2
Assists: 9
Plus/Minus: +7
PIM: 14
Shots: 57

The transition from Sweden to North America this season has not looked as impressive for Rasmus Asplund as it maybe has for Olofsson or Pilut, but the 21-year-old center is learning the AHL game at a good pace. Every game he takes to the ice, Asplund looks more and more comfortable in his own skin. As mentioned already, Asplund has found some nice consistency playing with Olofsson and O'Regan on the team's third line. His confidence with the puck and what he's doing offensively is progressively growing, and he's finding more and more ice time in all sorts of on-ice situations. It will take some patience with Asplund in terms of getting him some time in the NHL. Like so many of the young players on this roster, the more ice time and experience that he is gaining in Rochester will be key to his development in Year 1 in North America.

 

  • Sean Malone - B

Games Played: 24
Goals: 2
Assists: 8
Plus/Minus: -1
PIM: 0
Shots: 26

Since returning from a knee injury suffered in the preseason with the Sabres, Sean Malone has found himself being a consistent and rock-solid force down the middle of the ice. He has been able to slot in on any line, fill in any role, and is playing quite confidently when he is healthy. The point production will never be super high for Malone, but is a perfect two-way centerman to plug-and-place anywhere in the lineup. However, Malone recently suffered another injury and his timetable, at this point, is day-to-day.

 

  • Will Borgen - B

Games Played: 38
Goals: 1
Assists: 4
Plus/Minus: -3
PIM: 30
Shots: 31

Borgen has always been a solid two-way defenseman, whether that'd be with the Amerks or at school with St. Cloud State, but the rookie blue liner is really solidifying himself as a top-four defenseman on this Amerks squad. He can generate some good offensive chances, while playing as a solid shutdown defenseman in his own end. He has not looked lost playing in his first season in the AHL, and he's been able to keep up with the change of pace from college hockey to the pros. It certainly helps having an experienced defensive partner like Andrew MacWilliam to lean on and grow from at this level. Borgen continues to look better and better with every shift he takes. If he can take the next step in his game, his stock will continue to rise.

 

  • Eric Cornel - B-

Games Played: 38
Goals: 4
Assists: 6
Plus/Minus: -4
PIM: 4
Shots: 40

Eric Cornel has certainly been a plug and place player in his tenure with the Amerks, but to expect him to make it to the NHL is a long shot at this point. 10 points in 38 games this season is certainly nothing to bat an eye at, but Cornel is on pace to play every game this season and set a career-high in points. Certainly filling in a role as a two-way forward who can play at center or on the wing.

 

  • Dalton Smith - B-

Games Played: 28
Goals: 1
Assists: 3
Plus/Minus: -3
PIM: 77
Shots: 26

It is certainly a surprise as to how much of an impact Dalton Smith has had on the Amerks when he's in the lineup. Smith may not provide much offensive production, but his speed and physical play has allowed the play to open up for his teammates night-in and night-out. His wrecking ball style of play takes its toll on the opponent, and has driven Rochester to some better offensive games. As long as he stays clean with his play and keeps the Amerks out of the penalty box, his play will continue to benefit them.

 

  • Justin Bailey* - B-

Games Played: 37
Goals: 9
Assists: 11
Plus/Minus: 0
PIM: 18
Shots: 104

This season got off to a rough start for Justin Bailey, but he started to turn things around in December and into January. The 23-year-old has all the tools to be a really good player in the NHL, but he has never been able to consistently put together his speed, skills and size to have a long stretch of successful games. Unfortunately, his time ran out as he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday in exchange for forward Taylor Leier. Certainly wish Bailey all the best of luck with the Flyers organization. Maybe a change of scenery will be a benefit for him.

 

  • Matt Tennyson - C+

Games Played: 34
Goals: 1
Assists: 6
Plus/Minus: +10
PIM: 10
Shots: 115

Matt Tennyson has been a guy that can bring some offensive upside to the blue line, but his mistakes have been more glaring than the positive things he has done on the ice. He has seven points in 34 games playing primarily as a third pairing defenseman, but can be a liability at times in all three zones.

 

  • Adam Wilcox - C+

Games Played: 15
Record: 7-5-1
Goals-Against Average: 2.87
Save Percentage: .899
Goals-Against: 39
Shutouts: 0

Adam Wilcox has been pretty solid in the backup role for Wedgewood, but has struggled recently with three straight losses and some untimely goals-against. In the first two months of the season, Wilcox got off to a 5-1-1 start and was relied upon to handle the second nights of a back-to-back set on the weekend. Lately, Wilcox has been ok and has made some timely saves when the times get rough, but on the same note, in games where the team needs Wilcox to make a save or two, they have not been coming. Nevertheless, Wilcox will continue to hold down the backup role in Rochester to let Jonas Johansson continue his strong play in ECHL Cincinnati.

 

  • Andrew MacWilliam - C+

Games Played: 32
Goals: 1
Assists: 2
Plus/Minus: -6
PIM: 38
Shots: 34

MacWilliam has been a very stable defenseman on the blue line for the Amerks this season. He's not only been a solid defensive defenseman, but he's been a huge part of Borgen's development in his rookie season with the Amerks. Other than that, you can continue to expect more of the same from MacWilliam, which is certainly not a bad thing.

 

  • Jack Dougherty - C+

Games Played: 22
Goals: 1
Assists: 5
Plus/Minus: +12
PIM: 16
Shots: 19

Jack Dougherty has been a pleasantly nice addition to the Amerks' blue line when he's been healthy and in the lineup. The first-year Amerk dealt with an injury earlier in the season, and has since been rotating in and out of the lineup as the sixth defenseman. However, Dougherty shows some upside in both the offensive and defensive end. He can move the puck relatively well, get pucks to the net and also defend well in his own end. There is still room for Dougherty to grow, and that starts with earning some more ice time.

 

  • Brandon Hickey - C+

Games Played: 20
Goals: 1
Assists: 2
Plus/Minus: +3
PIM: 10
Shots: 24

Brandon Hickey is another young defenseman learning the ropes at the AHL level, and the growth in his game has certainly been a process. He shows some promising signs with some good puck movement, but he often times has lacked in his physical play in his own zone, not taking his man out of the play. He's another player that will need to earn some more ice time moving forward.

 

  • Andrew Oglevie - C

Games Played: 14
Goals: 1
Assists: 0
Plus/Minus: -3
PIM: 0
Shots: 17

It's very tough to grade Oglevie because he has been injured for most of the season. His most recent ailment is an upper-body injury, which has put him out on a week-to-week basis. Before his injury, he displayed his speed and playmaking abilities, but not enough to really stand out and earn more ice time among some of the top forwards. The only thing we can hope for is that he can get back to playing soon to continue with his development.

 

  • Tyler Randell - C

Games Played: 21
Goals: 1
Assists: 2
Plus/Minus: -2
PIM: 31
Shots: 11

Tyler Randell is a fourth line option for the Amerks that has been in and out of the lineup on a consistent basis. Has been relatively ineffective in his playing time, only picking up three points in 21 games.

 

  • Yannick Veilleux - C

Games Played: 20
Goals: 2
Assists: 0
Plus/Minus: -2
PIM: 32
Shots: 33

Another fourth line center that has not done much in his playing time. Veilleux has two goals this season, but is more of a bruiser-type player in his limited role this season.

 

Ungradeable: Nathan Paetsch, Scott Wilson

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