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Amerks confident they have right veterans to mentor, push prospects

The Sabres' young prospects in Rochester will get most of the attention, with good reason.

When Hudson Fasching scores a game-winner in the final minute like he did Saturday, it's important. When Linus Ullmark continues his maturation as a goaltender, it bodes well for the future. When Brendan Guhle capably joins the rush, people get excited.

But the big moves for the Amerks this season involve veteran players. They have longtime center Kevin Porter and defenseman Nathan Paetsch, who is entering his 15th professional season. If left wing Nicolas Deslauriers and defenseman Taylor Fedun clear waivers after being sent down by the Sabres, they will also provide knowledge of what it takes to play in the NHL.

More veterans could report to the Amerks when Buffalo blue-liners Jake McCabe and Zach Bogosian return to health. There have even been talks about signing former Sabres captain Brian Gionta, a Rochester native who wants to stay in shape for a chance to play in the Olympics.

Those players will help the prospects learn how to be professionals and, if things work out, learn how to win.

"They take this job very seriously," Amerks center Kyle Criscuolo said after a 3-2 preseason victory over Toronto in HarborCenter. "Having veteran leadership for a young team is super important.

"As the year goes on I think having great leaders means making the young guys feel comfortable, then by the end of the year you don't even notice who's a young guy because the leaders have done such a good job of integrating everybody."

The Sabres have tried in the past to develop and win in Rochester simultaneously. It hasn't worked.

There has been a concerted effort to make it work this time. In addition to Porter and Paetsch, the Amerks have players in their mid- to late 20s such as Conor Allen, Stevie Moses and Andrew MacWilliam.

"Sometimes I think teams miss out on an opportunity to develop older players," Amerks General Manager Randy Sexton said. "Old is a relative term, but I think it's important. Those players who are veterans, experienced, they still want to play in the NHL. They still want to get better. They still expect us as an organization to support them to get better.

"That was part of our message: We'll do everything we can to help you get back to the NHL. You have to come ready to work every day and ready to play the way we want to play. You do that, we'll do our part, and we'll see where things go from there."

Coach Chris Taylor echoed the thought.

"That's why we have these guys, to show the prospects how to be a pro," Taylor said. "But also why we got these guys is to push the guys in the lineup, make them be better. We want them to keep pride in themselves.

"I want Porter to be in the NHL, too. He's not there just to help the young guys out. He's there to get better every day, be a better player and maybe help the Buffalo Sabres out."

In the meantime, the "old guys" will help the minor-leaguers. AHL teams are permitted to dress five veterans (more than 260 professional games) and one "exempt" player, guys who are just above the 260 threshold.

"We won't sacrifice development for the sake of winning," Sexton said. "There will be a delicate balance. We think we've got the right mix of players here to do it. Chris and the coaching staff understand that they will be measured not only on the success of the team but the progress of each player in totality, so it is a delicate balance for them."

It's a balance that has the Amerks excited.

"It's good to have those guys there," Fasching said after scoring with 43.8 seconds left. "They set a high bar."

The Wraparound: Amerks 3, Marlies 2

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