Amerks: Second half evaluations

Rochester just misses out on a North Division title, but finish the season as a top-three team in the American Hockey League

Brayton Wilson
April 18, 2019 - 10:47 am

Photo: Micheline Michaelina - Rochester Americans

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The 2018-19 regular season has come to an end for the Rochester Americans with the team ending the season with a 46-23-5-2 record and 99 points in the standings.

The Amerks remained in the race for the top spot in the North Division for a majority of the season with the Syracuse Crunch, but ended up losing out on the division title by three points. However, Rochester's 99 points placed them third in the overall American Hockey League standings behind the Crunch (102 points) and the Charlotte Checkers (110 points).

After getting out to a 23-13-2-0 start in the first half of the season, Rochester finished out the second half of the season strong with a 23-10-3-2 record. Despite a good, but not great 21-14-2-1 record on home ice, the Amerks finished as the best road team in the AHL this season with a 25-9-3-1 record. Rochester's 25 wins also tied a franchise record set back in the 1998-99 season.

The 2018-19 season also marks the best finish by the Amerks since the 2006-07 season when the team went 48-30-1-1 and put up 98 points in the standings.

It was also a successful year offensively for the Amerks, finishing as a top-three scoring team in the AHL with 254 goals. This after being in the middle of the pack at the halfway point of the season with just 123 goals in 38 games. Only the Checkers (255) and the Crunch (264) had more goals scored as a team this season. However, Rochester had six different players to finish the year with 20-plus goals in a season. No other team in the AHL had more than five players to score 20 or more in a season.

The defense served admirably this season on the Amerks blue line, but towards the later part of the season saw a setback with some key injuries and call ups to the Buffalo Sabres. At the halfway point of the season, Rochester had only given up 111 goals, which was fifth in the AHL through 38 games. The final total saw the Amerks give up 218 total goals, but that still ranked them 12th in the league for the lowest total of goals-against.

Perhaps where the Amerks saw the most inconsistency with their game this season was with the special teams play. After a rough start to both the power play and penalty kill to start the season, both units rebounded near the midway part of the season and into the second half. However, each unit had its hiccups along the way and slipped a bit in the last part of the regular season. However, the Amerks still ended up finishing with the eighth-best power play in the AHL at a conversion rate of 20.4%, and the 12th-best penalty killing unit in the league with an 81.7% kill rate. 

In case you'd like to catch up on how the team has played in the first half of the season, you can check out the Amerks' first half evaluation here:

Here is how a number of the players graded out through the second half of the season:

 

* - No longer on active roster

  • Victor Olofsson - A

Games Played: 66
Goals: 30
Assists: 33
Plus/Minus: +12
PIM: 12
Shots: 193

What an impressive first year in North America for Victor Olofsson. The 23-year-old finishes his first season with the Amerks with 30 goals and 63 points in 66 games played. This comes after a campaign of 27 goals and 43 points in 50 games played last season in the Swedish Hockey League with Frölunda. He kicked off the season with a CCM/AHL Player of the Month of October honor with 15 points in 10 games. After a bit of a cool down period, Olofsson picked up his offensive play and continued to put up the production. As the season went on, his responsibilities grew with head coach Chris Taylor, and his ice-time also started to increase. His overall game blossomed in his first season in North America as he adjusted well to the change of lifestyle in Rochester. Olofsson's speed, overall skating, defensive play, and his offensive instincts all improved from Day 1, and it eventually earned him a look at the NHL level with the Sabres. When he came back. Olofsson was able to eclipse the 30-goal mark, making him the first Amerks player to hit that plateau since Thomas Vanek (42) and Jason Pominville (30) did so in the 2004-05 season. Olofsson also finished the year tied with Zach Redmond for the most game-winning goals in the American Hockey League with nine. The next closest player had four game-winning goals.

 

  • C.J. Smith - A

Games Played: 62
Goals: 28
Assists: 30
Plus/Minus: +26
PIM: 26
Shots: 207

It was a career-year for C.J. Smith with the Amerks, potting 28 goals and 58 points in 62 games. He took his game to another level this season, even though his production certainly could have been greater if he had some more luck on his side. A couple of times this season, Smith found himself in stretches where he was creating a ton of offensive chances for the Amerks, but was snake-bitten on more chances than others. Nonetheless, 28 goals in his second full season is not a bad total when he could have potentially had 30-35 goals. In addition, he has remained relatively healthy for the entirety of the season. Smith was, often times, Rochester's most productive offensive player this season, using his speed, puck protection and high hockey IQ to generate chances for himself and his fellow linemates. He led the Amerks with 207 shots on goal this season, and finished tied for the seventh-most shots in the AHL. Smith will need to continue to create chances as the playoffs are about to begin. The more he pushes and continues to work, the sooner the positive results.

 

  • Zach Redmond - A

Games Played: 58
Goals: 21
Assists: 29
Plus/Minus: +13
PIM: 34
Shots: 200

Zach Redmond's hot start to the season had him set to shatter the AHL record for goals by a defenseman in a season. After a bit of a cool down period, Redmond was able to set the Amerks' franchise record with goals by a defenseman in a season, breaking Rick Pagnutti's record of 18 set in the 1972-73 season. However, in that same game, Redmond suffered a lower-body injury that seemed to have lingering effects throughout the rest of the season. It was his start to the season that really helped spark plug the Amerks' uprise and continued success. Even without him in the lineup, the team was able to keep on producing and playing well, but the power play was what really took a hit with Redmond out. His 21 goals ended up being a league-high for goals by a defenseman this season, and his nine game-winning goals was tied with Olofsson for a league-high. Those numbers this season was good enough to earn him team honors as the Most Valuable Player, and league honors as the winner of the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s outstanding defenseman.

 

  • Lawrence Pilut - A-

Games Played: 30
Goals: 4
Assists: 22
Plus/Minus: +22
PIM: 14
Shots: 70

Lawrence Pilut started his first season in North America with 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. That was halted after he got the call up to the Sabres in November, but his play took a hit while in Buffalo and it carried over a bit when he returned to the Amerks. However, he was able to rebound and finished the season off strong with his 26 points in 30 games. What has made Pilut such a hot prospect with the Sabres is his ability to move the puck and push the pace of play up the ice and into the offensive zone. While his passing took a slight decline as the second half of the season rolled along, Pilut is still one of the best puck-moving players in the organization. The 23-year-old will be relied upon quite a bit in this upcoming playoff run to be a catalyst on offense and be a difference maker in the transition game.

 

  • Alex Nylander - A-

Games Played: 49
Goals: 12
Assists: 19
Plus/Minus: +11
PIM: 12
Shots: 89

Where Alex Nylander's game took that next step this season was his overall play away from the puck. The 21-year-old was engaged in the play, getting into the dirty areas, moving his feet, and playing a responsible game in both ends of the ice. After a while, as well as some minor injuries along the way, it was time for Nylander to step up his offensive production and start to play with a little bit of hunger in his game. Before his call up to the Sabres, he did just that with goals in four straight games, as well as that instinct to shoot the puck a bit more and take some more chances. That helped him off to a good start with the Sabres, but his play cooled off a bit until he suffered a cut to the back of his leg in the later part of the season. When Nylander returns from his injury, hopefully he can get back to the way he played before his call up and continue to play with confidence in his overall game.

 

  • Scott Wedgewood - A-

Games Played: 48
Record: 28-17-2
Goals-Against Average: 2.68
Save Percentage: .908
Goals-Against: 121
Shutouts: 5

Scott Wedgewood was certainly an unsung hero for the Amerks this season. He had a career-year in his first season in Rochester with 28 wins and five shutouts, which placed him second in the AHL for both categories. While the goals-against average and save percentage numbers don't look all too pleasing, the Amerks goalie came up huge in a number of occasions to keep the Amerks in games and earn them some much-needed wins. Although he did struggle a bit in the final few games of the season, getting pulled in two consecutive starts in one instance, he has still been a solid backbone for the Amerks night in and night out. Wedgewood will continue to carry the load for the Amerks as they head into the Calder Cup Playoffs.

 

  • Rasmus Asplund - B+

Games Played: 75
Goals: 10
Assists: 31
Plus/Minus: +7
PIM: 26
Shots: 117

It was a slow start to the season for Rasmus Asplund with just two goals and 11 points in the first 38 games of the season, but Asplund's play really started to take off in the second half of the season with eight goals and 22 assists in 37 games. Asplund really started to find some consistency in his game in the second half in both ends of the ice, and became a heavily relied upon player for Taylor in all situations. It also helped that Asplund found some solid chemistry on a line with Olofsson and Danny O'Regan. His confidence grew as the season went on, and his transition from Sweden to North America has appeared to come full circle for the 21-year-old rookie. He has adjusted very well to the speed and size of the North American game, and looks as though he's ready to take that next step forward in his game. He ended up being voted as the Amerks' Most Improved Player of the 2018-19 season, as well as the team's Rookie of the Year.

 

  • Will Borgen - B+

Games Played: 71
Goals: 3
Assists: 11
Plus/Minus: +8
PIM: 56
Shots: 66

Like Asplund, Will Borgen's start to the 2018-19 season was a slow one as he played a pretty conservative game in the first half of the year. Although he didn't produce the same numbers that Asplund did in the second half, Borgen developed into, maybe, one of the most dependable players for the Amerks on the blue line. He has officially solidified himself as a top-four defenseman with this Amerks team, and even earned himself a call up to the Sabres late in the season and performed admirably. Where Borgen improved the most in his game through the season was his confidence in both ends, which allowed the strengths of his game to blossom. He wasn't afraid to take more offensive chances with his stellar two-way play, and looked more comfortable with the puck on his stick in terms of decision making. It has been nice to see Borgen take that next step in his development.

 

  • Danny O'Regan - B+

Games Played: 70
Goals: 20
Assists: 28
Plus/Minus: +4
PIM: 42
Shots: 117

It was an average 2018-19 campaign for Danny O'Regan as he went on to put up 48 points in 70 games this season, primarily on a line with Olofsson and Asplund. The 26-year-old did have some stretches of games where he stepped up his offensive game, but he was pretty quiet for most of the season without playing subpar hockey. Perhaps it would have been nice to see his game take off a bit, but he was a nice veteran presence on that line with the two young Swedes to help them grow their game in the AHL. He will continue to get plenty of looks and ice time as the playoffs roll along, but it would be nice for him to add a little more to the game to help get the Amerks to that next level.

 

  • Taylor Leier - B+

Games Played: 35
Goals: 12
Assists: 11
Plus/Minus: +4
PIM: 20
Shots: 85

Taylor Leier has been a very welcomed addition to the Amerks after he was acquired by the Sabres organization in January. He ended up being one of the six Amerks players to score 20 goals this season, although he started the year with 10 goals with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. What he brought was an extra bit of tenacity up front, and the will to take the puck to the net and make a play to produce a goal for the Amerks. Leier may never get a chance to get to the NHL level with the Sabres, but his impact in Rochester has been felt with his speed and offensive instincts that has shown up night in and night out. He has also been a very nice plug-and-place player up and down the lineup.

 

  • Tage Thompson - B+

Games Played: 8
Goals: 6
Assists: 3
Plus/Minus: +6
PIM: 4
Shots: 26

Tage Thompson's sample size has been quite small with the Amerks this season, but he has started to re-gain the confidence in his game in the eight games he has been in Rochester. While his short stint with the Amerks has not been perfect, he has started to look like the youthful kid that we saw when he first made his impression with the Sabres. His all-world shot has been more prevalent, he's skating well and creating more offensive chances for himself and his teammates. If he can limit the turnovers in his game and stay confident with his play, we could see Thompson's game continue to rise.

 

  • Remi Elie - B+

Games Played: 25
Goals: 8
Assists: 6
Plus/Minus: +2
PIM: 14
Shots: 53

Remi Elie got his game back going after being assigned to the Amerks in early February. Elie was able to score eight goals and register 14 points in 25 games played, and started to look more like the playmaking, grind it out forward that the Sabres got from the Dallas Stars before the season. However, he's been banged up a bit towards the end of the season, but it's hopefully nothing that will hinder him in the playoffs. Elie's presence will be welcomed as he was with the Texas Stars last season when they made the push to the Calder Cup Final against the eventual champion, Toronto Marlies. He will help this squad have a chance of advancing if he can stay healthy and get back to playing his game.

 

  • Brendan Guhle* - B

Games Played: 50
Goals: 5
Assists: 22
Plus/Minus: -11
PIM: 34
Shots: 137

Brendan Guhle was playing well at the time he was traded as part of the Brandon Montour trade with the Anaheim Ducks. He started the season up and down with just nine points in the first two months of the season, but he started his turn around in December and into the new calendar year. His offensive play was improving with better puck movement and more engagement in the offensive zone, while his defensive play was starting to shore itself up. However, when you have to make a deal to acquire some defensive help like Montour brings for the Sabres, giving up a player like Guhle is the price you have to pay.

 

  • Kevin Porter - B

Games Played: 58
Goals: 10
Assists: 29
Plus/Minus: +21
PIM: 37
Shots: 92

The captain produced another good season with the Amerks this season with 39 points in 58 games on the team's top line with C.J. Smith and, often times, Wayne Simpson. Porter missed a good chunk of the season with an injury, but his veteran presence is a stabilizing force for some of the young guys who needed that type of guidance this season. His leadership and two-way play will be very valuable to the team as they head into the playoffs.

 

  • Wayne Simpson - B

Games Played: 72
Goals: 21
Assists: 24
Plus/Minus: +1
PIM: 16
Shots: 161

Voted on as the Amerks' Unsung Hero this season, Simpson helped get the Amerks off to their hot start with 12 goals in the first 38 games of the season. Although his ironman streak was cut short due to a minor injury, his veteran presence as an experienced AHLer was welcoming to the young group of players in Rochester this season. He's not a flashy player, nor has he really ever been, but his hard work and dedication throughout the year has gotten him the production you see on paper. His depth will be much needed for Rochester's playoff run if they are going to go deep.

 

  • Jack Dougherty - B

Games Played: 56
Goals: 2
Assists: 10
Plus/Minus: +15
PIM: 32
Shots: 61

After coming over in a trade from the Nashville Predators just days before the start of the season, Jack Dougherty has carved himself out a nice spot on the Amerks blue line. Once thought to be more of a defenseman that would be in and out of the lineup every other game because of depth purposes, Dougherty ended up being in the lineup more often than not and playing a solid two-way game for the Amerks. He was relied upon in the offensive side of the game to move the puck well in transition and create some chances, while also being a good shutdown guy in the defensive end. Dougherty was also able to be plugged and placed on the right side of the defense as a left-handed defenseman, but filled that role very well. As long as he continues to play well, he should be a nice piece on the blue line throughout the postseason.

 

  • Sean Malone - B-

Games Played: 38
Goals: 4
Assists: 9
Plus/Minus: -6
PIM: 4
Shots: 40

Injuries have not helped Sean Malone's cause this season. The 23-year-old has been in-and-out of the lineup for half the season with a number of minor injuries since his preseason injury to his knee. When healthy, Malone is a very versatile two-way centerman who you can depend on to win some crucial faceoffs. The goal and point production will never really get that high, but he can certainly contribute offensively in the right situations. If Malone is in the lineup to start the playoffs, he will be likely be Rochester's fourth line center. However, Taylor will have some tough roster decisions to make heading into the playoffs.

 

  • Kyle Criscuolo - B-

Games Played: 43
Goals: 6
Assists: 14
Plus/Minus: 0
PIM: 14
Shots: 79

Injuries have also hindered Kyle Criscuolo's season, but he has been a vital piece to the puzzle this season in Rochester. Criscuolo has not been as productive as he was last season in Rochester, but he will provide some stability down the middle as the Amerks' third line center. He can take the key faceoffs, as well as play on the power play and penalty kill when called upon. Wherever Taylor needs Criscuolo to fill in, he is the guy.

 

  • Eric Cornel - B-

Games Played: 76
Goals: 9
Assists: 13
Plus/Minus: -2
PIM: 34
Shots: 84

Eric Cornel put up a career-year with the Amerks this season, even though he has never really been an offensive juggernaut in his professional career. He's certainly earned his role on the team because of his determination, hard work and dedication to his craft. He is also the only player this season to play in all 76 regular season games for the Amerks. Cornel will probably not get too much ice time in the playoffs, filling a fourth line role, but he could be a nice plug-and-place piece in the depth chart.

 

  • Matt Tennyson - C+

Games Played: 47
Goals: 4
Assists: 17
Plus/Minus: -8
PIM: 42
Shots: 90

It is the same old, same old with Matt Tennyson. He can be a very gifted offensive threat to put on the power play or get the pace of play going in the offensive end, but is, often times, a liability at both ends of the ice. His 21-point campaign is the best season he has put up in quite some time, but he has to lock it down in his own end and make the right decisions with the puck on his stick. If he doesn't, other teams will have a hay day playing against him on the ice.

 

  • Adam Wilcox - C+

Games Played: 28
Record: 13-8-5
Goals-Against Average: 2.82
Save Percentage: .896
Goals-Against: 72
Shutouts: 0

Wilcox has played much better in goal down the stretch of the season, being a very solid backup option for Wedgewood, especially when he has struggled. The 26-year-old AHL veteran may not have the prettiest of numbers, but he has appeared to have shaken off his mid-season slump of consecutive games without a win and some of his leaky goals to tighten up his game in the Amerks' crease. Come playoff time, if Wedgewood starts to struggle again, you can start to feel more comfortable with relying on Wilcox to step in in a pinch.

 

  • Andrew MacWilliam - C+

Games Played: 66
Goals: 3
Assists: 7
Plus/Minus: -1
PIM: 90
Shots: 84

MacWilliam has been a very solid presence on the blue line, especially playing with a young kid like Borgen consistently throughout the season. He has been proven to lock things down in his own end, while allowing a kid like Borgen to grow his game and be the two-way threat that he has become. Whoever he has been paired with this season, MacWilliam has been a player to keep things in check in the defensive end.

 

  • Brandon Hickey - C+

Games Played: 38
Goals: 1
Assists: 8
Plus/Minus: +12
PIM: 18
Shots: 51

Brandon Hickey's first season in the AHL has been an up-and-down experience with some rookie struggles here and there. When he has been on his game, Hickey is the good puck-moving defenseman that can contribute offensively and get the puck down the ice in transition. When he has struggled, his play has tended to be sloppy in both ends. He will likely continue to be a piece that comes into the lineup every once in a while for the playoffs, but there is still room for growth in Hickey's play moving forward.

 

  • Andrew Oglevie - C

Games Played: 28
Goals: 5
Assists: 5
Plus/Minus: +4
PIM: 2
Shots: 44

Injuries have really hampered Andrew Oglevie's 2018-19 season, especially when he suffered a pretty significant concussion in late November. When he has played and has been healthy, he plays with a lot of speed down the wing, and is always looking to make a play with the puck on his stick. When he returned from his concussion in February, he was able to put up four goals and five assists in 14 games, but has been set back, yet again, due to injuries. Here's to hoping he can get healthy and find his way back into the lineup, because he can certainly be a nice piece for the Amerks' bottom-six forward group.

 

  • Dalton Smith - C

Games Played: 48
Goals: 2
Assists: 6
Plus/Minus: -4
PIM: 111
Shots: 44

When Dalton Smith finds himself in the lineup, he is a very good, bruising type of player that can wreak havoc on his opponents. He will throw his body around at will, and when he hits someone, it is going to hurt. However, Smith has found himself in some trouble with taking some untimely penalties, especially when he tries to be more physical. If he is going to play this way heading into the playoffs, he will need to be smart about when he tries to make a physical play. He cannot cost the Amerks with taking some dumb penalties.

 

  • Tyler Randell - C

Games Played: 36
Goals: 3
Assists: 4
Plus/Minus: -2
PIM: 45
Shots: 24

Randell is another fourth line talent, like Dalton Smith, that is not afraid to throw his body around at will. He is a guy that will be tough to play against along the boards, while also providing some offensive flair here and there. He will likely find himself as a guy who will be out of the lineup until his name is called upon, if needed by Taylor.

 

  • Yannick Veilleux - C

Games Played: 50
Goals: 5
Assists: 3
Plus/Minus: -1
PIM: 64
Shots: 59

Just like Randell and Dalton Smith, Yannick Veilleux is likely to find himself being a guy that will not play unless his name is called upon in a pinch. However, he has played very admirably in a fourth line role with the Amerks, while also being a suitable option on the penalty kill.

 

  • Nathan Paetsch - C

Games Played: 11
Goals: 1
Assists: 2
Plus/Minus: +1
PIM: 2
Shots: 20

The veteran defenseman has filled quite the important role this season as a leader on and off the ice for the young players on this team. When he has been on the ice, Paetsch has stepped in and played anywhere for Taylor, while filling any role needed to play. No matter what his role is, as he has said himself, "My whole reason for being here is to help the Rochester Americans win a Calder Cup."

 

Amerks end of season awards:

Game-winning goals: Victor Olofsson and Zach Redmond (9)

Most Improved Player: Rasmus Asplund

Rookie of the Year: Rasmus Asplund

Rob Zabelny Unsung Hero award: Wayne Simpson

Fairand/O’Neil Sportsmanship award: Danny O'Regan

McCulloch Trophy: Nathan Paetsch

Amerks Man of the Year award: Nathan Paetsch

Amerks scoring champion: Victor Olofsson

Booster's Club Most Popular Player: Zach Redmond

Most Valuable Player: Zach Redmond

 

My Amerks end of season awards:

Most Improved Player: Will Borgen

Rookie of the Year: Rasmus Asplund

Unsung Hero: Scott Wedgewood

Most Outstanding Player: Victor Olofsson

Most Valuable Player: Zach Redmond

 

Game 1 of the Amerks' first round playoff series with the Marlies is set for 7:05 p.m. at Blue Cross Arena. You can catch all of the action with Don Stevens and Ric Seiling on the call on 95.7 FM and 950 AM, ESPN Rochester.

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