ROCHESTER – Almost three weeks after the Buffalo Sabres acquired Jack Dougherty from the Nashville Predators and assigned him to the AHL, the defenseman said he’s still in awe of his new surroundings.
Dougherty, 22, likes everything about the Americans, from their depth – “It definitely ups the compete level and the battles in practice,” he said – to the meals they serve to the team at the rink every day.
“We get treated so well around here,” Dougherty said Tuesday in Blue Cross Arena. “You hear a lot of horror stories about minor league teams everywhere, whether it’s baseball, hockey. But this place has been great, the guys have been so welcoming in introducing me to not only the culture around here, but what Buffalo expects as well.”
The Sabres expect the 6-foot-2, 196-pound Dougherty to join their blue line someday. They dished winger Nick Baptiste for Dougherty on Oct. 1, a swap of young players with AHL experience.
The trade caught Dougherty, a second-round pick in 2014, 51st overall, a bit by surprise. But after experiencing a new organization, he said moving was “the best thing.” He knows Sabres coach Phil Housley from their days in Nashville and center Jack Eichel from Team USA’s development program. He also skates with some of his new teammates during the summer in Minnesota.
“Two years with Milwaukee, great time there,” Dougherty said of Nashville’s AHL affiliate, the Admirals. “I felt like I was kind of stuck in a rut there. New organization, new eyes here and a new start.”
A lower-body injury Dougherty suffered Oct. 10 has slowed that start. When he returns, he’ll face stiff competition for playing time.
Right now, the Amerks have 10 defensemen, a high number for an AHL club. Every one is either a prospect or a veteran with NHL experience, meaning scratching a few every game is difficult.
“It’s good, healthy competition, no guarantees that you’re going to be in the lineup every night,” Dougherty said. “I mean, you see practices out here, the battle level is incredible. That was another kind of wow factor. In Milwaukee, we carried one extra forward and one extra D.”
Dougherty gives the Amerks a defenseman who’s “very reliable, very dependable defensively for a youngster,” according to General Manager Randy Sexton.
“He’s got good puck-moving skills,” Sexton said. “He’s got offensive capabilities, but you wouldn’t label him as a power-play quarterback. We just like the maturity of his game, he’s such a young player.
“He doesn’t get rattled, keeps turnovers to a minimum, (has a) really good defensive stick. He’s got a lot of details to his game for a young player that make him very attractive.”
Through 143 AHL appearances, Dougherty has produced three goals and 27 points. He understands his simplicity is an asset.
“A big thing for me is not trying to do too much,” Dougherty said. “I’m here for a reason, they wanted me in the organization for a reason. That’s what I bring to the table with my game.”
Dougherty, who hasn’t played in the NHL, said he learned to embrace that style in Nashville’s system.
“At times, I did try to do too much, and that’s kind of when my consistency in my game dipped and my confidence dipped,” Dougherty said. “It was just (the) coaching staff and management hammering home that they know what I can do when I’m at my best.”
Still, Dougherty generated offense during his lone major junior season, scoring 11 goals and 52 points in 68 games with the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks in 2015-16.
He signed his entry-level contract and left the University of Wisconsin following his freshman season to join Portland.
“College, it was a good time, but I kind of felt like I was stuck in a not-so-good place for me personally,” Dougherty said. “It helped that Nashville wanted to sign me, so that was a factor in the decision, too.
“Ultimately, it’s kind of throwing all my eggs in one basket here giving up a free education. I still want to play in the NHL. I felt like that was the best thing for my career. It turned out to be a good decision.”
On Saturday, Amerks winger Wayne Simpson played his 191st consecutive game, surpassing Bridgeport Sound Tigers center Ben Holmstrom as the AHL’s active leader.
“It’s kind of funny, I had no idea leading up to it,” Simpson said. “I guess you kind of got to get lucky (and) just (keep) trying to stay in shape and make sure you feel good every night. … It’s pretty cool.”
The 5-foot-11, 194-pound Simpson, 28, signed a one-year AHL contract with the Amerks in August. He spent last season with the Hershey Bears.
Friday’s home tilt against the Toronto Marlies will be Simpson’s 194th straight appearance, provided he plays.