Friday, December 15, 2017

Seth Griffith vs Utica Comets 12/13/2017 (Grade C-)

Wednesday night the Amerks finally managed to exorcise their home ice demons against the Comets with a 3-1 victory. Even though Rochester had taken points in the last 3 games in Utica, the Comets had outscored the Amerks 7-1 in the previous two meetings at the Blue Cross Arena. After an early soft goal spawned from the inability of MacWilliam and Tennyson to clear the net, it looked as though a repeat was forthcoming. However, that was the only goal that Ullmark would surrender in a dominant performance. MacWilliam also grew into the game very well and played great physical hockey delivering blows behind the net on several occasions.  

Unfortunately, Seth Griffith was not able to find his game in a similar fashion. He played his worst game since arriving in Rochester (and still managed to record an assist). I am going to rate his performance a C-. 

Offensively, Griffith was very disappointing. He committed a litany of neutral zone turnovers in bad spots that led to odd man rushes.  Whether failing to skate the puck, or completely missing a pass, he just didn't have it. On one occasion in the offensive zone, he allowed his man to step right in front of him to intercept the puck and clear it up the boards with ease. The only bright spot (and only SOG) came on the power play when he flung a nice low shot to the far post. It led to a juicy rebound that CJ Smith cleaned up for a goal. This extended his point streak to 6 consecutive games. When your hot, your hot.  Based on how well Griffith has played in previous games, I’m sure this was an outlier game for him and I expect much better performances in the future. 

Defensively, Seth really wasn’t much better. He was on the ice for the only Utica goal and failed to cut down the angle on the breakout pass that started the play. If 39 was fore-checking more intensely he could have easily prevented the pass up the wing. I don't think he applied enough pressure on defensemen for the majority of the game.  Fore-checking or pressing the point, he just didn’t have enough energy and wasn’t able to effect the play. If not for a fantastic night from Linus, his turnovers also could have let the Comets right back into the game.  

It can not be said enough what a great addition Griffith has been to the Amerks. As a proven goal scorer at the AHL level, he will certainly play a massive role with this team going forward. I am looking forward to seeing how he bounces back from this shaky game. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Casey Nelson vs Hartford Wolf Pack 12/1/2017 (Grade B)

Although the Amerks looked the better team for the majority of the night they fell Hartford in a 5-4 shoot out loss. However, there was much more to take away from this game than just a point. Seth Griffith looked phenomenal in his debut and will likely be a key piece in Rochester this year. Also Fasching and Rodrigues continued to impress earning both of them a call up to Buffalo. The only real letdown of the night (aside from a less than stellar performance from Wilcox in goal) was blue chip prospect Alexander Nylander. He looked un-invested in the game, didn’t forecheck with any intensity and missed on a handful of scoring chances you would expect him to do better with. 

Casey Nelson played a very solid game, but there was a few things he could have done better with as well; mainly avoiding the penalty box. The two tripping minors he took will drop his grade to a B. 

The tripping minors that Nelson acquired no doubt stem from his defensive style. As player that consistently chooses to poke and play the puck instead of taking the body he will naturally accumulate more tripping penalties. As of now they represent 3 of the 6 minors he has been whistled for this year. Also instead of lifting the stick and removing his man from the crease Nelson chose to front him in order to deny access to the puck. It worked for him, but if Casey was unable to block incoming shots he would only be providing a double screen for a shaky Adam Wilcox. Though it seems to be a stylistic choice for Nelson to avoid contact he still executed very well. He was able to disrupt entry with his active stick and shut down shooting lanes to block shots consistently. He was always where he needed to be and did not turn the puck over at all. 

Offensively, Nelson has taken tremendous strides from where he began last year as a rookie. The nonsensical and frustrating defensive zone turnovers have been completely removed from his game. Instead he has replaced them with careful passes to clear the zone under pleasure, and some gorgeous tape to tape stretch passes in tight windows when given space. One stretch pass up the wing to Griffith turned a breakout into immediate offense as he was able to pick him out  while Hartford was changing. He made a similar play a week before to assist Nylander on the opening goal of their 10-3 victory. It looks as if the game has finally started to slow down for Nelson and he is handling the puck with much more confidence then in his cringe worthy past performances. 

Overall, Nelson is one of the best defensive prospects in the organization because he continues to improve. Any time you see a player turn a weakness into a strength in such a short period of time it speaks to a fantastic work ethic. Before he makes the jump to the next level he will need to work on his physical play and showcase some ability to become a threat on the point. It may take some time, but by the start of the season next year, Nelson will be very close to NHL ready. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Evan Rodrigues vs Binghamton Devils 11/24/2017 (Grade A+)

Friday night (11/24) the Amerks thoroughly dominated the Devils in a 10-3 victory in front of what has been the most loud and energetic crowd of the season. Almost everyone on the roster played a phenomenal game and it seemed as if every puck off an Amerk stick was destined for the top corner. Nylander had the best shot of the night to open the scoring with a wicked wrister right off the bar to beat the Devils netminder on the far post. Fasching continued to improve as well, netting two goals and earning himself the third star. On the other side the scoring column, Casey Nelson and Sahir Gill passed the puck very well finishing with 2 and 4 assists respectively.  However, Nick Baptiste continues to underwhelm. In a game with 10 goals he only registered one assist, not making a strong case for a call up in a very crucial year of his development. 

One player who did look like an NHLer was Evan Rodrigues. He was the nights first star with two goals and two assists. He earned a definitive A+ in my gradebook for his performance. 

Offensively Rodrigues played great. He followed up Nylander early on with a perfect top shelf snipe for the games second goal. It was nice to see his shot measure up with one of the clear blue chip prospects of the organization. But Erod’s second tally was created by the blue-collar work ethic he’s become know for while playing in Rochester. After sneaking behind the net with a man advantage, he gained net front position and notched a nice deflection goal. In addition, zone entry was fantastic.  He made no neutral zone turnovers, and was always willing to sacrifice his body in the corner to dig out pucks. As good as Rodrigues played offensively, goal scoring is not likely to be his key contribution at the next level.  

Defensively Erod is an absolute terror. His fore-checking gave the Devils issues the entire night. He created multiple turnovers in the offensive zone and was able to frustrate their defenseman consistently. Erod showed a bit of this ability as an agitator at the NHL level as well when goading Dion Phaneuf into an altercation last year.  Still, the most impressive thing about Evan on defense is his motor. He is willing to lead a lung-busting fore-check for 60 minutes if that is what it takes to win. That attitude in combination with his speed, active stick, and tight angle control makes him a force to be reckoned with at any level. 

I was very glad to have the opportunity to scout Erod in Rochester this year, because I do not feel that he is an AHL caliber player. I think he is destined for a long NHL career as a 3rd or 4th line energy forward. Potential top 6 players like Nylander and Bailey will get more attention because of their flashy playing style, but in my opinion Erod is the most pro ready prospect in Rochester and should be transitioning to Buffalo full time shortly

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Alexander Nylander vs Hartford Wolf Pack 10/17/2017 (Grade B+)

Friday’s Military Appreciation Night clash against the Wolf Pack marked the second consecutive impressive home victory for the Amerks. Though the headlines going in were all about the return of Evan Rodrigues and Alexander Nylander, CJ smith stole the show with a massive night featuring two goals and two assists. Blackwell also impressed for the second game in a row notching a pair of assists himself to go along with a +3 rating. 

However, for many the most exciting moment of the night remained the return to action of Alexander Nylander. Although he looked to be shaking off a bit of rust on his first couple shifts Nylander looked amazing. He was able to showcase his lightning quick skating, supreme confidence on the puck and deadly shot. After watching him play it was clear that he was the most talented player on the ice. Im going to rate his performance a B+. 

Offensively, Nylander played very well, but I was bit disappointed his line featuring Rodrigues and Baptiste could not register a full strength goal. They did muster a few dangerous chances including a shot from Nylander in the slot that rung of the top corner of the post in the first period. I was most impressed with Nylander on the power play. As in the past he looked phenomenal in the role of point forward. The speed and vision he showcased while whipping pucks around the zone was exactly what this Amerk’s power-play has been missing so far. It was beautifully strung together combination of quick passes that spread Hartford out to create the chance for CJ Smith to score his second goal of the night. The only thing I worry about with Nylander is his ability to create when he doesn't have as much space. He took a a couple big hits on the night and had a couple turnovers behind the enemy net that looked to come from purely from a desire to avoid punishment on the boards. Though he is still extremely creative I worry that his toughness, (or lack there of) could negatively affect his decision making in certain situations.

Defensively, Nylander did not make much of an impact at full strength. I was impressed with what he was able to when called upon as a point forward though. He made a couple very nice plays under pressure to keep the puck in the zone and didn’t look uncomfortable defending the counter attack. He was called for a slashing minor trying to poke away the puck as a Wolf pack forward tried to skate the puck out of the zone; but I thought it was a terrible call and saw no wrongdoing.   

Overall, it’s only a mater of time before Nylander leaves Rochester for a permanent spot in Buffalo. I would not be at all surprised if that happens at some point this year. I think he possess elite playmaking ability even at the NHL level, and if he can become more accurate with that deadly wrister of his Nylander has the potential to be something really special.   

Friday, November 17, 2017

Colin Blackwell vs Albany Devils 11/16/2017 (Gade A)

Wednesday marked the Amerk’s first shutout victory of the year. And while Linus Ullmark did play fantastic, the story of the night was the 60 minutes of clean, conservative hokey played by the Amerks. Rochester took an early lead scoring two power-play goals in the first four minutes. It was a stark contrast from the way special teams have operated this year. I want to give a bit of credit to Coach Taylor because the team tried some quick zone entry plays tonight that seemed to catch the Devils off guard. On the theme of great special teams play, the Amerks only gave Albany one power-play opportunity, which should also be commended. 

On a night where conservative disciplined hockey took center stage, Colin Blackwell played a perfect game. With the first line of Fasching, Criscuolo, and C.J. Smith really humming and creating plenty of chances, mistake free hockey was exactly what should be expected from a third line center. Also, late in the game he did a fantastic job in the face off circle while the Devils were applying pressure. Blackwell won 4 of his 6 defensive zone face offs in the 3rd period. Im going to rate his performance an A.

Offensively, Blackwell did not contribute anything special. He did create one chance as a forechecker when he won the puck behind the Albany net, and then delivered a nice centering pass, but it didn’t lead to a goal. Most of his time in the offensive zone, he was camped in the high slot or covering for a pinching defenseman. I was shocked to see how high in the zone 43 was for the majority of the game, but it did led to smart possession oriented hockey, so it was perfect. On the breakout, his passes were measured and always tape to tape resulting in no neutral ice turnovers. Even though Blackwell is not going to be the guy that provides a spark on this team, his conservative brand of hockey was exactly what was required against the Devils Wednesday night.

Defensively, Blackwell did a serviceable job on the forecheck, but I would have liked to see a bit more intensity. After all, the one time he really pushed the envelope it led to his best scoring chance of the night. Outside of that, I didn't have any issues. His man-marking was exceptional, even trying to fight off forwards in front goal at times. He also did good job of digging pucks out in the corner to create outlet passes. On the one power-play opportunity the Devils had, Blackwell did a great job and was able to kill off precious seconds in the corner before clearing the danger. For the most part he didn't have to spend much time in the defensive zone because he was playing such mistake free possession hockey on the other side of the ice.

Overall, Blackwell proved to be a valuable cog in what has been a much improved machine in Rochester. While he may not bring some of the sexy playmaking ability of other youngsters, solid mistake free hockey has been a rare sight in the Blue Cross Arena during recent years. 3rd line center is the perfect spot for him on the roster, so If he can bring the same kind of workman like performance to the rink every night, Blackwell should be an ideal fit with the Amerks.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Barry Goers vs Hershey Bears 11/03/2017 (Grade B+)

Friday's shootout victory against Hershey was certainly a thriller by all accords. After a 6 goal second period for Rochester the Bears clawed their way back in to the game forcing overtime with only 5 minutes to go. And for the second night in a row Cornell played the role of hero in the shoot out with a game winning goal. I'm glad to see he is giving coach Taylor a reason to put him in the line up because he has been less than impressive during regulation. However, one player that continues to impress this year is top prospect Brendon Guhle. He took on some major responsibility on the power play taking the majority of the point shots. Most of them were low and generated long rebounds, but on one occasion he was able to pick out the top corner and tie up the game in the second frame.

Another Amerks defenseman who continues to impress is Barry Goers. The new addition has been a very important cog in the machine with the absence of Paetsch, Faulk, and Fedun in the lineup. It's difficult to say a defensemen fulfilled their duties in a game where 6 goals were allowed, but his grade is a B+.

Offensively, I thought Goers did a great job and was able to make a positive impact on the game. While on the point, he chose not to take many shots opting to let his partner do most of the heavy lifting. Considering he was partnered with Guhle it was probably the right choice. Barry also picked all the right times to aggressively pinch and kept the puck in every time. He even skated the puck behind the opposing net at times (reminiscent of Fedun last year). What I liked most about his game was his ability to sneak forward during the opposing breakout and cut off passing lanes. He forced a couple turnovers early that led directly to instant offense.

Defensively, Goers was certainly busy. His first call to action came only 44 seconds into the game. Sadly, he was not up to the task. On a 2 on 2 he gave his man too much space and he was able to get off a shot from the high slot. Goers was unable to get his body in front of it and served more as a screen than anything else on the play. The result was a quick opening goal for the Bears. Fortunately, he learned from his early mistake and in similar situations for the rest of the game his man didn't come close to getting off a shot. Goers also did a serviceable job in front of net tonight. Outside of his first mishap he actually blocked a lot of shots and angle control was phenomenal, especially when shorthanded. The only area he struggled with was fending off the the 6ft 7' 235 pound Mathius Bau in front of goal. Goers did his best to lift Bau's stick but he was an immovable object on Friday (Hudson Fasching actually did his best impression and notched a great net front goal).

Overall I love what Goers has been able to do since he has arrived in Rochester. Even when others return I think he has the capability of a top 4 defensemen and I love the way he is gelling with Brendan Guhle. He would have to become a bit more consistent and incorporate more shooting into his game if NHL aspirations are in his future, but regardless he is a fantastic piece to have in Rochester.  

Kyle Criscuolo vs Syracuse Crunch 10/28/2017 (Grade A-)

In what was a reversal from the previous night (10/27) in every way, the Amerks played two great periods of hockey, but let a win slip away with a disappointing third period. As it should have been, playing a complete 60 minutes was a major theme in the post game press conference. Although it was a very disappointing divisional loss, there were definite positives. I thought Goers and Guhle played fantastic, and Sahir Gill extended his goal-scoring streak to 3 straight games.
Among others, I was extremely impressed by the performance of Kyle Criscuolo. The new addition has been a big time player for the Amerks, and was even sporting the Alternate Captain patch against the Crunch. Fittingly, I am going to rate him an A-.
Offensively, Criscuolo had a good night, extending his own goal-scoring streak to two. He did so after making a phenomenal forechecking play that directed a breakout pass on net. He drove the net hard and elevated the rebound over a sprawled goaltender. The net front turned into a place of residency for him on the night as he was designated to set up screens on the first power play unit. Despite his small stature, I thought he did a great job, even though he wasn’t able to tip anything past the goalie (it would be nice to see Fasching able take advantage of his size in that role). Kyle also did a good job in the face-off circle going a combined 12 for 18.
Defensively, Criscuolo was absolutely amazing. He was a complete pest in the forechecking game, creating countless turnovers. 51 was equally impressive backchecking, and was able to poke a few pucks right back to defenders and then start the breakout in the opposite direction. While short handed, he won several key draws and was able to make zone entry difficult by cut off shooting lanes on the point. Unfortunately, he did have a couple of lapses in the defensive zone where he lost track of his man, and Syracuse was able to punish those mistakes.
Overall, Criscuolo has turned into a massive piece with the Amerks this year. He is centering a top 6 line and contributing to both sides of special teams. Hopefully, when some skill players return to the lineup, he won’t need to handle such a heavy load on both sides of the puck. One thing is for sure; he is earning the A that has been placed on his sweater.