SYRACUSE – When the Rochester Americans opened the playoffs Friday night, they scratched a U.S. Olympian and a two-time Calder Cup champion.
That's the kind of depth the Buffalo Sabres want.
While the Amerks participate in the postseason, the Sabres are back to the drawing board. The brain trust will be scouting players who can perform and push their teammates to be better. They hope some of those players come from Rochester.
"What excites us is that we're starting to build, which I think is key for us moving forward, some internal competition," Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill said. "That's what we have to improve on because right now when we have an injury or two – every team has injuries – but we don't have the depth right now to overcome those injuries."
The Sabres got almost no help from their part-time players this season. The replacements played 165 games and produced just 13 goals and 15 assists.
Rochester, meanwhile, entered the postseason with an abundance of riches. Among the scratches Friday in Syracuse were defensemen Will Borgen, who represented the United States at the Pyeongchang Games, and Nathan Paetsch, who won American Hockey League titles in 2013 and 2017.
Amerks General Manager and Sabres Assistant GM Randy Sexton knew there would be recalls and injuries, so he signed extra players with AHL experience during the offseason.
"A lot of guys filled in and did a great job with our depth," coach Chris Taylor said in Oncenter War Memorial Arena. "That goes to Randy signing a lot of depth players to achieve what we wanted to achieve.
"It's tough decisions for us as a coaching staff. That's the hard part about it. It's also we have a lot of tools in the toolbox, and it's great because we're going to need everybody."
The Amerks have three extra defensemen and four extra forwards, so players feel pressure to perform or risk losing their spot.
"Guys are going to be pushing each other in practice," right wing Justin Bailey said, "and I think it's good to have a guy ready to step in right after one another."
Borgen, signed a month ago following the conclusion of his junior year at St. Cloud State, played in eight regular-season games. He had no points, eight shots and an even rating.
"Will's had a great transition," Sexton said. "It's quite a whirlwind year for Will. He was on the No. 1 team in the NCAA. He was picked for the U.S. Olympic team, and now he's in pro hockey. That's a bit of a trifecta.
"If you talk to him, he's just enjoying every day. Every time I see him he's got a big smile on his face. He seems to be having fun."
The Amerks don't want to rush the 21-year-old into the playoffs before he's comfortable and can contribute.
"Part of the importance of him being here is to soak in everything that goes into preparing as a professional for playoffs," Sexton said. "He got a little taste of regular season. Now it's playoff time. Those are critical learning moments for young players like Will.
"Whether he gets in the lineup or not will remain to be seen, but equally important is he's here learning despite the fact he may not be playing."
The Amerks' forward lines featured Danny O'Regan centering for left wing Kevin Porter and Bailey; Kyle Criscuolo in the middle of C.J. Smith and Seth Griffith; Colin Blackwell between Alex Nylander and Nick Baptiste; and Sean Malone centering for Garret Ross and Hudson Fasching.
The defense pairs were Brendan Guhle-Casey Nelson, Matt Tennyson-Zach Redmond and Andrew MacWilliam-Taylor Fedun.