Longtime Sabres beat writer Bill Hoppe of BuffaloHockeyBeat.com will be writing about Sabres prospects, the Rochester Americans and related topics this season.
ROCHESTER – With so many of his Rochester Americans teammates tearing up the AHL, Buffalo Sabres prospect Danny O’Regan often gets overshadowed.
O’Regan’s linemate, rookie Victor Olofsson, has scored a league-best 14 points through the opening eight games. Another newcomer, defenseman Lawrence Pilut, has compiled 10 points in six contests. Veteran Zach Redmond’s 12 points rank first among AHL defensemen.
Three Amerks are among the league’s top five scorers.
Meanwhile, winger Alexander Nylander just had his career-long six-game point streak snapped. The former eighth overall pick looks like a top prospect again.
You get the idea.
The first-place Amerks, who had won five consecutive games before Saturday’s 5-4 overtime road loss to the Belleville Senators, are stacked.
The versatile O’Regan, an older prospect at 24, easily gets lost in the shuffle on the AHL’s highest-scoring team.
“That’s kind of been my career my whole life, just kind of an under-the-radar guy,” O’Regan said Friday after scoring two goals in Blue Cross Arena. “Maybe you look at the end of the year, I’ll have some solid numbers. It’s a blessing and a curse, getting a lot of the hype and attention. It creates some distractions sometimes.
“I know guys feel a little pressure to produce. I don’t mind staying under the radar.”
O’Regan, the AHL’s Rookie of the Year with the San Jose Barracuda in 2016-17, owns some terrific numbers. The Boston University product has produced 40 goals and 104 points in 120 AHL games over three seasons, including four goals and six points this year.
"Danny’s been a good two-way, solid player," Amerks coach Chris Taylor said. "He’s getting rewarded now with some points. He’s got great vision, gets over pucks, he can make plays, he’s very reliable on the defensive side of the puck. He kills penalties, he does faceoffs, power plays.
“He’s a big person in our lineup that we tend to use a lot. He’s very underrated.”
In Friday’s 5-4 shootout win against the Toronto Marlies, O’Regan opened the scoring by redirecting Redmond’s pass as he got knocked down at the crease. In the second period, O’Regan spun around in the right circle and roofed in a backhander.
“I kind of blacked out for a little bit,” O’Regan joked of the highlight-reel goal.
Still, following the game, two of O’Regan’s defensive plays – clearing the puck from the defensive zone and tying up an opponent at the net following a rebound – stood out to Taylor.
“There’s a reason why we put him in situations where we put him in,” Taylor said. “He’s very reliable, but he’s also very sneaky offensively. He … gets over pucks, he escapes guys in the corners and he’s a really good passer. He’s getting more confidence. When he gets confidence, he’s a really, really good player.
“He gets to that next level, that’s why he got recalled last year, because he was at that level.”
O’Regan performed at a high level last season after the Sabres acquired him from the San Jose Sharks in the Evander Kane trade, compiling six goals and 15 points in 18 games with the Amerks.
The Sabres quickly rewarded O’Regan with a two-game recall. He had four points in 19 games with the Sharks earlier in the season.
“I played a bunch of NHL games last year, that definitely helped me getting used to what it’s like playing up there,” said O’Regan, who made 21 of his 24 NHL appearances last season. “I’d like to get another shot with the Sabres … but I think I’m learning a lot here. I still got some stuff to improve on.
“It’s nice having Tails around, he’s great to talk to and he’s really helpful with a lot of the little things.”
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound O’Regan began the season centering Olofsson and rookie Rasmus Asplund before Taylor moved Asplund to the middle and O’Regan to the right wing.
While Asplund has only recorded one assist, the line has been one of the AHL’s best.
“(There is) definitely a natural chemistry and I definitely think we’re building and getting better every game, too,” O’Regan said. “They’re really good guys and unselfish players. I think we just keep talking off the ice and getting a little better and stronger every game.”
Just over halfway through Friday’s tilt, Amerks defenseman Brendan Guhle scored what Taylor called “an unbelievable goal” by jumping into the rush and backhanding winger C.J. Smith’s pass in.
Guhle joined the forwards so seamlessly he looked like a center leading the attack. Taylor said Guhle’s first goal this season showcased the prospect’s best talents.
“He just kind of took off,” Taylor said. “That’s what we want from him, we want him to have confidence in what he does, his speed and how he utilizes it and makes offense, but also how he can come back after the play. …
“He’s got to use that speed more but he’s got to have that confidence when to jump and when not to.”
Guhle scored again Saturday and has a five-game point streak.
An upper-body injury forced Pilut, 23, to miss both weekend games. The Swede is day-to-day, Taylor said.
Pilut was hurt in Wednesday’s 6-1 road win against the Utica Comets. At first, Taylor said, Pilut thought he could battle through the injury.
“Long-term for him, if he has to miss one game or two, I’d rather that than two weeks or three weeks,” Taylor said.
Pilut, who has a four-game point streak, ranks second among AHL defenders in points. The rookie has recorded seven of his 10 points on the power play.
The five-game win streak was the Amerks' longest since April 2014. ... Redmond has a league-high eight power-play points and the Amerks are the first team in the league to reach double-digit power play goals. His seven-game point streak is the longest active run among defensemen and the second longest overall. ... Olofsson’s six-game point streak ranks third. ... The Amerks host Utica on Friday and Laval on Saturday.