This summer was filled with skating. Lots of skating. More skating than he’s probably done in a very long time.
It’s what Jason Akeson thought would help his game. The 25-year old is looking for that edge to take him from American Hockey League player with special guest appearances in the NHL to full-time in the show.
The forward made it through the first round of sending players to Rochester to start the season in the AHL.
And he’s hoping to earn his keep on an NHL roster.
That’s where the summer work comes into play.
“There was a lot more skating for me this summer,” Akeson said. “Before I never skated much in the summer, just come July and August. This year, I did a lot of on-ice stuff and a lot of quick feet stuff.
“You can never be too fast for the game right now. The way the new game is going, everyone just wants to use speed and size. I wasn’t gifted with a tall suit so just trying to take the body when I can and be good positionally and also be quick off the first two steps.”
Akeson is a small forward – listed at 5-10 and 190 pounds. But he’s not afraid to use every ounce of his frame. That was evident in the game against Ottawa at First Niagara Center where his hit on Colin Greening sparked a fight and a hearing with the Department of Player Safety. There was no supplemental discipline issued.
“He’s a very skilled player and he can play a harder game and he showed it in the game against Ottawa where he throws a big hit and still stands in there for himself when the stuff came,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “But again, almost every day you see his skill and ability with the puck and being able to play that game. That’s why he’s been able to bring what he needs to bring. … He’s got to take a page out of Tyler Ennis’ book – The smaller guy with skill and be able to play that game for our team.”
Akeson can put up points. The native of Orleans, Ont., notched 108 in his final year of juniors with the Kitchener Rangers in 2010-11. He was signed by the Philadelphia Flyers to a three-year entry-level contract. In his rookie season with the Adirondack Phantoms, he had 55 points (14 goals, 41 assists) in 76 games.
The next three seasons were spent primarily in the AHL. Last year, he earned him some time with the Flyers, playing 13 NHL games. He was scoreless in those games and returned to the Phantoms (now in Lehigh Valley), where he threw up 53 points in 57 games.
In the summer, Akeson found a chance for a fresh start, signing a one-year deal with the Sabres.
“It’s fun because you have to prove yourself again and show what kind of player you are,” Akeson said. “I’m happy to be here, happy to be part of the organization. It looks like things are moving in the right direction. If there’s opportunity here I want to jump on that.”
He’s happy to be in Western New York but frankly it didn’t occur to him that the move would bring him closer to his brother.
While Jason is an offensive-minded forward, Tyler, three years younger, is a stay-at-home defenseman at Niagara University. Tyler played in just 10 games last season with a lower body injury. He had off-season surgery and had returned to the Purple Eagles healthy and ready for his junior season just up the road from where Jason is trying to make an NHL opening night roster.
“I didn’t really think about it at first and then after it was done I was talking with my dad and he was mentioning that now we’re close,” Akeson said. “It’s pretty neat especially if I can get up there to see him play a game or something like that. I haven’t seen him play in a long time. I didn’t think about it at first but now that it’s happened, it’s pretty neat.”