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Sabres Notebook: Taylor provides familiar face; newcomers out to make name

The catchphrase for the Sabres and their prospects is "fresh look." New general manager. New coaches. New start.

That's only partially true in the case of Chris Taylor.

Sure, he's entering his first year as head coach of the Rochester Americans. But he was on the Amerks' coaching staff from 2011 to 2016, so he's hardly an unknown at the Prospects Challenge.

"He's someone who's been one of the more influential hockey people in my life," Sabres forward Justin Bailey said.

Bailey, Nick Baptiste, Brendan Guhle and Eric Cornel, who are participating in the tournament, played for Rochester while Taylor was as an assistant. There's a comfort level, especially for Bailey.

The right winger struggled early as a first-year pro. Taylor, a forward who bounced from the minor leagues to the NHL to Germany for 19 years, was there to offer advice. After putting up just five goals and 12 points in the opening 39 games, Bailey exploded for 15 goals and 33 points in the final 31.

"He's someone who was huge for me," Bailey said in HarborCenter. "I wasn't a happy camper around Christmas, and he was someone who consistently picked me up, consistently told me the good things I was doing, helped me get out of that funk and have a good rookie season.

"He's someone I kept in touch with throughout last season through texts, through phone calls sometimes, just to see how he's doing."

Taylor was doing well. He spent last season as an assistant coach for Pittsburgh's affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Baby Penguins led the American Hockey League with a 51-20-5 record.

When Jason Botterill accepted the Sabres' GM job, he hired Taylor to lead the Amerks. The 45-year-old is getting a head start by running the prospect team.

"Just like the players, I'm so excited to be here and be part of this new culture here with the Sabres, the new organization, how we're going to run it," Taylor said. "Everybody's new, everybody's happy. It's a refreshing start for everybody."

Chris Taylor plans to instill winning attitude in return to Amerks

Taylor is expected to be around when the Sabres hit the ice Friday for the start of NHL training camp. After a few exhibitions, Rochester will break off into its own camp. That's when Taylor will fully take charge of the Amerks.

As a member of the team's Hall of Fame, he's eager to bring a winner to a city that hasn't won a playoff series since 2005.

"I'm really happy for him," Bailey said. "He's definitely someone who's paid his time. He's been an assistant coach for a while.

"I know just how much he means to the City of Rochester. It's a great situation that he's earned and something that he definitely deserves."

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Of the Sabres' 24 prospects playing in the tournament, 19 have familiar names through the draft, development camps or time spent in the organization. Five need an introduction.

Harvard product Colin Blackwell made himself known during Friday's opener when the free agent scored twice. The second free agent on the Sabres' roster is goaltender Jake McGrath. The 18-year-old is the starting goaltender for Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League.

The third UFA is defenseman Carl Neill. Vancouver elected not to offer him a contract after selecting him in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft. If he doesn't sign with NHL organization, he has a deal in place to skate for Concordia University in Montreal.

Forwards Alex Kile and Justin Danforth have signed AHL deals with the Amerks. Kile finished a four-year career at Michigan last spring and joined Rochester on an amateur tryout for the final 11 games. He scored twice and added an assist.

Danforth, who played for Sacred Heart University, also got an amateur tryout at the end of last season. He scored twice in five games to earn a contract.

Defenseman Arvin Atwal will again play for Cincinnati of the ECHL, who signed on as the Sabres' affiliate this year.

Although they're unknown, the newcomers feel they are getting just as much attention as the guys who've been in the organization.

"They don't care about what you've done in the past or what your status might be, who you are," Kile said. "They want to see you compete, compete in those 3-foot battles, go to the net front and win your battles."

Colin Blackwell makes most of first chance with Sabres

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