Friday night the Amerks suffered their most demoralizing game of the year, devastating playoff chances. Even in the face of what might have been a season defining loss, there were plenty of positives. Hudson Fasching continued his hot streak scoring two goals. Brady Austin continued make progress offensively, adding a tally of his own on a picturesque slapper off the far post. And the Rochester faithful finally got their first look at Derek Grant in an Amerks sweater.
After the long wait he did not disappoint. He notched two assists and went 15 for 25 in the face off circle. Grant even took the place of Cal O’Reilly as Coach Lambert’s go to face off specialist in the third period. His physicality and playmaking ability between Fasching and Nylander turned the line into the most productive unit of the night. I am going to rate his performance a B+.
Offensively, Grant was a near perfect fit for the Amerks. His work in the face off circle allowed them to enjoy the majority of puck possession with him on the ice. His play on the breakout allowed the team to make the most of those opportunities. Grant got into great positions in neutral ice allowing him to comfortably skate the zone or dump the puck. He used his physicality to become extremely effective on the boards. He was able to dig pucks out on consistent basis. Unfortunately, none of his centering passes found a teammates stick. However, Grant was most effective on the rush where he made two exceptional passes. The first he played to Mullen off the boards, allowing him to slide a centering pass to a wide-open Fasching who slammed it into the yawning net. The other was a picture perfect saucer pass just over the stick of a defender; Nylander was not able to finish though.
Grant was less consistent on the defensive side of the puck. His night got off to a rocky start when he took a bad penalty when the team was already shorthanded. Syracuse scored their opening goal only 10 seconds later. Outside of that his time on the kill was much better. He won several key draws in the defensive zone creating an easy clear. Grant also applied good pressure to the point and was even able to block a couple shots. At full strength he was also able to apply enough pressure to cause a few turnovers in the fore-checking game. However, I would have liked to see him use his big frame to finish more checks.
I think Derek Grant is a fantastic addition to the Amerks. The combination of speed and size he possesses is unlike any other player on the roster. The struggles he has had in Buffalo this year mean he will probably stay in Rochester for the remainder of the year. Sadly, I’m not sure he has a future with the organization beyond that. And although Grant seems to be a great fit for the Amerks it might be too little too late for the struggling franchise.