In the latest edition of Ask TCB, I sat down with contributor Austin Broad to talk about the Sabres, Amerks, Sabres prospects and much more! This conversation took place before the Sabres road trip, please keep that in mind
Let’s get right into it!
Bill: So Austin, where did you grow up and where are you living now?
Austin: I was born and raised in Fort Erie, Ontario right across the border from the States and I’m still living here today.
What school did you go to or do you attend?
I went to Brock University (in St. Catherines, Ontario) where I studied Sport Management. Then I went to Niagara College for Journalism.
When did you join TCB and what can readers expect from you in your writing?
I joined in May 2017. As for what readers can expect, you’ll see an in depth look at who is already in the farm system, more or less focusing on players in college or the AHL. It’s more of feature style writing, but I’ll do game recaps and help run the twitter.
You’ve been around TCB for a while now, how has it evolved and how has your role changed since when you’ve started?
With Jared working for the Sabres, I’m going to try to be more of an editor and help with leadership and the direction of TCB.
What are some of the things to come from TCB?
We’re going to try to get more into the news of the team and do our best to get the pulse of the Sabres.
And as a follow up to that, are media credentials in the scope of the future?
I’m not 100% sure. From what I can remember with the Sabres and their credentialing process, and especially for blogs, we just need to keep building a following. More fans and more followers will at some point open the gate to getting credentials.
Getting into the Sabres, when did you become a Sabres fan? Was it a specific event, player or season that sparked your love for the Sabres? Maybe a family member or a friend?
My dad was born and raised in Cheektowaga, so obviously he was a Buffalo sports fan growing up and that kind of led me into it. As for a specific moment, I was six or seven years old and I played in the first intermission of a Sabres game and ever since then, the Sabres have been my team.
As a Sabres fan what has been your favorite memory of the team?
My fondest memory of the Sabres was the 2006 Conference Semi Finals against Ottawa when Jason Pominville burned Daniel Alfredsson shorthanded to score the series clinching overtime goal to go to the Conference Finals.
I was at a bar with my dad when it happened with a bunch of kids from my hockey team who weren’t Sabres fans and the second Pominville scored, we took off, ran around and I jumped into my dad’s arms. We went nuts.
On the flip side of that, what is one thing about the Sabres you wish you erase from history?
Especially with fans our age, the most common answer would be losing both Drury and Briere after the 2006-07 season. Yeah, losing both of them is still the worst thing that I’ve experienced as a Sabres fan.
What do you want to see from first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin?
For specific players, I’m excited to see what Dahlin can do. I’m not just talking point wise and what he brings offensively. I’m really interested to see if he can bring that dominant two-way game had with Frolunda to the NHL right away.
What do you want to see from Jack Eichel this season?
I think I’m with everyone when I say I want to see him stay healthy. We want to see what he can do with a full 82 game season. Obviously he’s exciting to watch, but I really want to see him mature as a leader and become the captain which he should be named soon.
Without going through the entire lineup, how about the new guys like Skinner, Sheary, Berglund, Hutton and other Sabres roster locks that are new to the team?
Skinner – I want to see him do what he did in Carolina which is shoot the puck and score consistently. For his career his shooting percentage has been really high, he’s scored 35+ goal; I want to see him do that. Let Eichel magic with the puck on his stick, Skinner get open for Eichel to feed passes and Skinner tee off. That’s what I want to see this season.
Do you think he’s more of a one-timer guy who has goals setup for him and he finishes or is he more making his own plays with the puck and finishing that way? If the latter, that will take the puck off the stick of Jack Eichel, who is most engaged when he has the puck making plays
So I look at it in a few ways, Skinner hasn’t had the quality of centermen that Eichel can be, so I think he’s been a make the plays yourself kind of guy more out of necessity.He does have that ability but I think once he starts playing with an All-Star caliber centerman like Jack Eichel, he’s going to learn to adjust and to get to the open areas where Eichel can feed him for the shot.
Going back to some newcomers, what do you want to see from Conor Sheary?
I want to see Sheary use his speed to get up and down the ice, but mainly I want to see him provide that secondary scoring that the Sabres top 6 has been lacking.
Any you think Sheary is a top 6 player?
Yes I do. He played in Pittsburgh’s top 6 and he’s scored 20+ goals, he’s a top 6 player for the Sabres. It doesn’t sound like he’ll have a centerman like Crosby as he’s currently slotted with Berglund, but with Nylander being sent down, Sheary will slot in on the second line and will be carrying a lot of the offensive load when the first line is off the ice.
So lastly, he needs to be the guy on his respective line in the top 6? At least this season?
Yeah until Thompson can adjust and Mittelstadt is ready to be the second line center, it looks like Sheary is going to be heavily relied upon on the Sabres second line.
A side note but with players that have yet to play a full season in the NHL (i.e. Mittelstadt, Dahlin, Nylander, Thompson and even Pilut since he was so impressive in preseason): They haven’t gone through the grueling schedule, travel and lets not forget playing against grown men in the best league in the world. It’s not like the AHL where you have all week to practice for your games on the weekend, even though there are some midweek games thrown in. There is going to be some down times for these young players in the tough stretches of the Sabres schedule this season and fans need to remember that.
I agree 100%, I’m glad you touched on that because I don’t think people realize most AHL, college and juniors games are on the weekend. They’re still playing a lot of games, but it’s still nothing like and NHL schedule.
Let’s quickly touch on guys like Berglund, Sobotka and Hutton, three veterans that filled the biggest needs for the Sabres this offseason (besides drafting a future #1 defenseman)
I’ll start with Hutton because of these three players, he will have the biggest impact on the Sabres; obviously since he is the starting goalie. If Hutton can give you anywhere near what he did last year numbers wise, you’re going to be in good shape.
I know a lot of people think that was a fluke or they cherry picked easy games for him, but it seems like goalies get better with age, so who knows? As long as Hutton can give you 50 games of solid goaltending, I think Ullmark is close to being ready to be a starter. Then you’ll have Hutton supporting his rise, they’ll be in good shape.
Absolutely and it will be huge to get a big save when you need it, which was lacking at times in years past. How about Sobotka and Berglund, what do you want to see out of him?
I think the biggest thing Sobotka can do is try to replace O’Reilly faceoff value. That’s where O’Reilly was most dominant. Sobotka is very solid with faceoffs and he could be relied on heavily for defensive zone faceoffs and other key faceoffs. As long as he can succeed with that, it will be a success for the Sabres.
For Berglund, I mean you heard Eichel call him “The Godfather”. He’ll bring that veteran presence that Sobotka will and solidify the depth scoring and forwards in the bottom 6. They’re better than what we’ve had in the past and they’re certainly a step up from Girgensons and Larsson.
Switching gears a bit, who do you expect to be the team’s MVP this season?
It has to be Jack Eichel. He’s on the verge of a breakout year. He was nearly a point-per-game on the worst team in the NHL. Now that he has some better weapons around him and more depth in the forward lines, I’d expect a Nate McKinnon type of season. If it’s not Eichel, that means someone else stepped up and greatly exceeded expectations.
What’s the one thing you want Sabres fans to continue to remember as the season progresses?
First, not every first overall pick dubbed a generational defenseman is going to come out at put up 60 points in their rookie season. So, if Dahlin hovers around the 30 point pace, the sky is not falling.
30 points for an 18 year old defenseman in the NHL is pretty damn good.
Exactly and second, it’s only the second year of Botterill and Housley, so if they hit a rough patch, don’t go calling for Phil Housley’s head. It’s been said many times before, if the Pegula’s keep firing coaches after two seasons, not many coaches are going to want to come to Buffalo.
That being said, what are your thoughts on Phil Housley last year and leading into this season.
I think he still has a shot at being a good NHL coach. This season will be a very good indicator because now he has the type of defenseman he wants. If you look at Nashville where he was the assistant coach, they had skating defensemen who jumped up in the play and created offense.
This year, even if the players aren’t on the Sabres right now, but Pilut and Guhle can fill that in Rochester. As for in Buffalo, you still have Ristolainen, Dahlin and Beaulieu (if he can somehow figure it out). They have the type of defensemen Housley is best at coaching, so this season will be a good indicator of how good a coach he really is.
To add to that, Housley has his hand in all facets of the team since he has assistants just like he was in Nashville. Housley can’t get all the credit when the defense plays well and he can’t take all of the blame when they don’t. Yes, he has to shoulder a lot of the blame, but there are others that are involved with the defense.
Anyways, moving on: Are there any games you have circled on your calendar?
Living in Southern Ontario, I always have the Leafs games circled because I have to hear about the Toronto Maple Leafs 24/7 and I can’t stand it.
Backtracking a bit to the preseason, who impressed you the most that maybe you had low to no expectations? On the flip side of that, is there anyone that really disappointed you?
For who impressed me, I’m going to go with Lawrence Pilut because I didn’t know what he could do and I was expecting more of an Antipin-like experiment, so watching him able to hold his own and really push for a roster spot, he’s definitely a player to be excited for.
As for the disappointment, staying on the backend: Brendan Guhle. He was a big letdown for me in the preseason. A guy whose been highly touted for his skating ability and his ability to jump in on offense and countless times I saw people blow by him, his skating just looked off. I had Guhle penciled in for at least the top-6, but he quickly played his way out of that. It’s only his second pro season so I’m not worried at all.
In 2016-17, the Sabres powerplay was first in NHL at 24.5%. In 2017-18, the Sabres powerplay only produced on 19.1% which was 20th in the NHL. What do the Sabres need to do to get back into the top 10 in the NHL on the man advantage?
Not to oversimplify it too much, but don’t pass the puck as much. I think they need to identify their trigger man (looks like Eichel will be) and do what the Caps do with Ovi and what the Jets do with Laine. Feed him (Eichel) the puck and let him unload. We saw that against Vegas a few days ago with Eichel’s first goal.
So everyone on the powerplay needs to be in the shooters mentality? Not just getting the puck on net, but for the playmakers to get passes to the guys who are your shooters?
Absolutely, it seems like they over complicated their powerplay last season. If Eichel is going to be your trigger man or if he’s going to be your playmaker, you need to establish that role on special teams.
On the other side of special teams, who do you think will slot in on the penalty kill? O’Reilly had a big role in that during his tenure.
I think you’ll still see Girgensons and I think Berglund will slot in on one of the two units. We saw it a bit last year, but I think Eichel is going to have a bigger role on the penalty kill this season.
Housley seems like one of those coaches who likes to use his skill players on the penalty kill. A shorthanded goal can change the complexion for a game, so I would hope he’s at least on the second unit. Also, I really like Evan Rodrigues, he has the skill and the smarts to be an effective penalty killer. It’d be good to see Eichel and Rodrigues together on the second unit.
Who do you expect to be the first call up for both forwards and defense if/when a player on the Sabres goes down? Also, would you do more a situational call up based on the player’s skill set or would you call up the best available player?
I support a situational call up because you don’t want a situation like you saw with Bailey and Baptiste. Under Bylsma, it seems whenever they got called up they were put on the 4th line. Those players aren’t going to be effective in a 4th line role and not getting much ice time. That’s why I’d go with the situational approach.
As for who the should call up first, Pilut, Guhle and Borgen in that order for the defensemen. Nylander, Smith and Oglevie would be the first forwards I’d like to see called up. Oglevie impressed me, I could see him in a middle 6 role, most likely on the third line.
Is there anything you wanted to add about Nylander?
Yeah, he’d be my first call up because, and this might contradict what everyone’s says; some players it just doesn’t work for them in the AHL. When I’ve seen him in the NHL, he shows why he was an 8th overall pick. He shows he fits in. He shows he belongs. For some guys, it just doesn’t click, it just doesn’t sync up.
So, watching him this preseason, he definitely earned a role on this roster. He has some stuff to work on, it wasn’t just a number thing that got him sent down, even though the roster situation definitely had something to say about it. That’s why he’s the logical choice as the first call up for the forwards.
Who will pick up the slack when it comes to point production after losing three of the top six scorers from last season?
If he picks up where he left off, C.J. Smith should be the Amerks MVP this year, if he’s down there for the whole year. He was great before he got hurt last season. Justin Bailey should be a contributor as well if he stays in Rochester. He’s proven himself in the AHL as a scorer so he should be able to pick up the slack as the season progresses.
Also, I know he’s young, he’s only 19 year old, but I firmly believe Rasmus Asplund will have a bigger impact on the Amerks than people think. Especially if he’s paired with Olofsson and if he can get to areas to get his shot off, he could be the surprise of the season.
Usually your best players are going to be the ones called up, but if they can get another season like they did out of Zach Redmond, that would be great. He impressed me so much, 47 points in 66 games, 15 of those points were goals. He’ll be a staple of the defense this season in Rochester. It was good to see his success over the year instead of being sent up and down, limiting his time and production with the Amerks.
That was a good trade by Botterill swinging Deslauriers for Redmond. Deslauriers didn’t have a future in Buffalo and they have a consistent producer on the back end in Rochester with Redmond.
Redmond is one of the veterans for this young Amerks team, who are some of the other veterans you expect will have an impact on the Amerks? What do you think they will do to help out the new guys not only to pro hockey, but life in North America?
A guy that I really like that fits that mold is Kyle Criscuolo. He and Kevin Porter, to me, will be the guys that the young players are looking up to. Redmond and Paetsch as well, they have a lot of guys that can be relied upon to help the coaching staff guide the new guys into that winning culture they are working on establishing.
In terms of what the guys are going to be able to do, it’s not exactly like an NHL schedule, but the new players are going to have to get used to playing 70-plus games a year. The vets will help them get used to the smaller playing surface and the North American style of hockey. Travelling might not be a huge issue since they have most if not all games against Eastern Conference teams.
What are your thoughts on Head Coach Chris Taylor? Do you think in a few years he could be on the radar for an NHL coaching job?
My only experience seeing Taylor work is in development camp and the prospects tournaments. I haven’t seen many Amerks games, but I do like him a lot. Based on the season Rochester had last year, if he can string together a few years of having that success; I could see Chris Taylor getting at least a shot at being an assistant in the NHL.
Any final thoughts on the Amerks and their 2018-19 season?
- I think the Amerks get past the first round of the playoffs
- Scott Wedgewood is going to be huge for Rochester. His play is going to have a lot to say on where this team will go, kind of like Ullmark’s did last year.
It’s tough for people who aren’t in the Rochester area to look at the Amerks as anything more than the Sabres developmental team, which is unfortunate because they are a storied professional hockey team. They have a great fan base in Rochester and if they can make a run in the Calder Cup Playoffs, I hope people outside of Rochester can realize how important the Amerks are to not only developing future Sabres players, but to the Rochester community.
Is there a prospect in college, juniors or overseas you’re keeping an eye on this season? I feel like Oskari Laaksonen is automatic since he’s really progressed from unknown to solid prospect.
I’ll say Providence College Junior defensemen Jacob Bryson. He was a mid-round pick and if Buffalo is going to pull him out of college, it will be this year. He’s been really good for Providence the least two seasons. He’s pretty underrated in my opinion.
Who in the long run do you think has the best opportunity to make and impact Sabres in the future?
I’m going with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. With his size and athleticism, he has the physical package to be a good #1, if not an elite #1 goalie if he can piece together the rest of his game.
On the same note, what are your overall thoughts on the goaltending depth for the Sabres? Do you think they need to keep adding to that depth?
It never hurts to keep adding. Look at Philadelphia did, their goaltending stable is ridiculous and they’re setup for the long term future. So even though I do believe in what the Sabres have, it never hurts to keep building the pool of prospects.
What are your thoughts on drafting a goalie every draft? Kind of like NFL teams with quarterbacks that are looking for a diamond in the rough.
Yes I would easily support that. That’s exactly it, what if you can find that diamond in the rough? Look at Linus Ullmark, he’s a 6th round pick.
New draft strategy: Go for big, late round Swedish goaltenders. Any final thoughts on the prospects the Sabres have?
It was tough to watch Tim Murray draft because he was supposed to be a really good scout, but so far none of his prospects (besides the home run picks like Eichel and Reinhart) have really panned out like we’ve hoped.
Now with Botterill and his scouting staff drafting the past two seasons, the stable isn’t quite as full as it used to be, but it’s looking a lot better. It’s definitely something to be excited about going forward, especially with three first-round picks this upcoming draft (depending on conditions)
Flats or Drums?
I’m a flats guys
I usually go with hot sauce. No mild or medium, right to hot.
Who will win the Stanley Cup this season?
I’ll go with the Winnipeg Jets. They were close last year and without Vegas being the Cinderella story they were last season and San Jose might stand in their way, but it seems that every time a team gears up like the Sharks have this offseason, things fizzle out in the playoffs.
Any specific players/teams you like to keep an eye on ?
With the Sabres not in the playoffs for so many years, I’ve been a big follower of Washington and St. Louis. Mainly because Ovechkin and Tarasenko are two of my favorite players, but also they are teams that need/needed to get over the hump. Washington obviously did it last season winning the Stanley Cup and St. Louis feels like Washington in the west. They’re good every year, but seem like they can’t put everything together, so I keep an eye on those two.
Who will land Jack Hughes?
I’ll go with Colorado via Ottawa. It’s going to be a long season for the Sens, likely capped off by being the worst team in the NHL. It’d be interesting to see Ottawa mess up their rebuild that badly. It’ll make the Sabres rebuild look better if that happens. My buddy who was a life long Sens fan, but also followed the Sabres, converted fully to Buffalo this year.
Any other teams or athletes you follow outside of hockey?
I follow the Raptors, hopefully they can do something with Kawhi Leonard this season. For the NFL, die hard Bills fan, but we know how that’s going so lets not touch on that. MLB, I’m a Yankees fan. It’s unfortunate the Red Sox are as good as they are…
Favorite place you’ve visited and one place your really want to visit?
So hockey team aside, Ottawa is a cool place to visit. It’s my country’s capital city and I like to see the building and museums, things of that nature. The one place I really want to visit and I don’t know why is Brooklyn/New York City. It’s always been a place I’ve wanted to visit. It’s a city I’ve wanted to live in my entire life. I don’t know why it speaks to me the way that it does, but that’s the one place I really want to visit.
Any other hobbies outside of TCB and watching the Sabres?
I coach midget hockey, so I’m doing that this year. I do play some video games, Call of Duty and Fortnite mostly, so when I have the time every now and then I’ll play.
A big thank you to Austin for taking the time to sit down with me. Great conversation and insight, give him a follow! @austin_broad
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