ROCHESTER – Taylor Fedun understands the depth that has forced him to watch four games as a healthy scratch is critical to the Americans’ success.
In his seven-year career, Fedun, 30, often has been one of the AHL’s best offensive defensemen. Two years ago, he scored five goals and 23 points in 28 games with the Amerks and made a career-high 27 NHL appearances with the Sabres.
Buffalo’s new regime, which passed on re-signing many of former General Manager Tim Murray’s players, inked Fedun to a two-year, two-way contract in June 2017.
But with a glut of defensemen this season, the competition among the Amerks is high. So Fedun, who’s earning $300,000 in the AHL, occasionally has sat out during the team’s torrid 7-2-1 start.
“It’s extremely tough,” Fedun said prior to Saturday’s 3-2 win, a game in which he returned and recorded his first assist this season. “I’ve sat out games at the NHL level, but not at this level in many years. It takes some adjusting.”
Fedun has adjusted well, handling the scratches “unbelievable,” Amerks coach Chris Taylor said.
“He’s upset that he’s not playing, which I want him to be upset,” Taylor said. “But he works his butt off like no other that he’s never missed a beat. He’s just a real pro to me. He’s still trying to get better. He’s not sulking about it.
“Is he mad? Of course, he is. He wants to play the game. I understand that. But is he a great teammate supporting his team? Absolutely.”
Taylor said Fedun’s reaction was “exactly what I expected from him.”
“He’s high character,” Taylor said. “He’s a guy that we put an assistant captain on for a reason. His true colors came out when we had to sit him.”
Of course, scratching a respected veteran like Fedun can be difficult.
“Believe me, it’s hard,” Taylor said. “I lose a lot of sleep over it. It’s not easy and it’s not fun, especially his character, what he brings to everybody in the room.”
Fedun, who has played 46 NHL games, including 34 with the Sabres, said the coaching staff’s transparency during their conversations has been helpful.
“They’re not sugarcoating anything for me,” the Princeton graduate said. “When I’m playing well, I know it. When I’m not, I understand. I understand with the depth we have in our locker room, it’s the situation we’re in right now.”
Injuries have whittled down that depth a bit. Taylor said he inserted Fedun for Saturday’s tilt against the Laval Rocket because defenseman Matt Tennyson has a lower-body injury. Jack Dougherty also is sidelined with a lower-body ailment.
Fedun responded by helping ignite the Amerks’ offense 8:02 into the second period, finding pinching defenseman Zach Redmond in front to tie the game in Blue Cross Arena.
The soft pass from the point through traffic illustrated Fedun’s hands and vision.
“What a great game he played,” Taylor said. “We expect that from him. He’s always giving us that experience, leadership. What a great pass on the first goal.”
Slick plays like that could help Fedun stay in the lineup. Still, even with some injuries, the Amerks have two extra defenders. Taylor also constantly tinkers with his lineup – “I go by individual basis and how they played,” he said – so he often changes it following wins.
Fedun has veteran status, meaning it can be tougher to dress him. AHL teams can only play six veterans. The Amerks have eight. Twelve skaters each game must have 260 or fewer games of pro experience.
“We’ve got such a good group of guys in there that I still find myself having fun and working hard in practice,” Fedun said. “It’s a fun group to be around, and as much as it sucks being on the outside looking in on games, it’s a winning formula for us right now, and at the end of the day, that’s what we’re here for.”
In Friday’s 4-0 home victory over the Utica Comets, struggling Amerks winger Justin Bailey, 23, reacted angrily to a third-period tripping call against him, shouting and slamming his stick.
So far, Bailey’s fourth season has gone poorly. After clearing waivers earlier this month, Taylor scratched him for the Amerks’ second game.
Through nine games, the Williamsville native has mustered zero goals and three assists.
“I think that was frustration for him not scoring, yeah, what’s going on with him,” Taylor said of the penalty. “Believe me, I looked at it like three times last night, he went right through the guy. I think he’s just frustrated about everything. For me, I think he’s just got to worry about what he can control.”
At times earlier in his career, Bailey ranked among the AHL’s best scorers, hitting the 20-goal mark twice and earning recalls to Buffalo. But right now, he’s enduring his worst start as a pro.
“I don’t know if he’s lost his confidence,” Taylor said. “I just think he’s getting frustrated that pucks aren’t going in the net for him. But if you stick with it, good things are going to happen. He’s talented enough and he’s strong enough, he can skate.
“He’s scored 20 goals in this league and he’s had success. I have no reason to think he won’t get rewarded for some of the things he’s doing.”
Thanks to a porous defense, goalie Scott Wedgewood started slowly, allowing 10 goals in his first two outings, the Amerks’ only two regulation losses this season.
But Wedgewood, 26, has settled down, winning five straight starts.
“The more and more I get out there, the more games and minutes you kind of accumulate, you’re going to figure things out and get back into a rhythm,” Wedgewood said following Friday’s shutout, his ninth in the AHL.
Wedgewood’s overall numbers – a 2.86 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage – are decent. His stats during his winning streak – a 1.98 and .933 – are among the league’s best.
“He’s been good right from the start of the year,” Taylor said. “I don’t look at his stats, what happened the first two games, nor should anybody. He played very well for us.
“In those first two games, we didn’t give him the support that he needed. These last two games, he’s come up big for us, a big part of why we got four points this weekend.”
Notes: Despite having his five game-point streak snapped Saturday, Amerks rookie defenseman Lawrence Pilut ranks third in AHL scoring with 13 points, trailing only teammates Victor Olofsson, Redmond and Lehigh Valley Phantoms forward Phil Varone. … Redmond’s nine power-play points (five goals and four assists) lead the league. … The Amerks have scored an AHL-best 13 power-play goals and converted 29.5 percent of their chances, the Eastern Conference’s best rate. … The Amerks have outscored their opponents 35-20 during their eight-game point streak (7-0-1).