Longtime Sabres beat writer Bill Hoppe of BuffaloHockeyBeat.com, will be writing about Sabres prospects, the Rochester Americans and related topics this season.
ROCHESTER – On paper, Sabres prospect Rasmus Asplund appeared to be acclimating to the AHL slowly. Through his first 16 games with the Americans, the Swedish center mustered only a single assist.
But before Asplund, 21, started his rookie season, Amerks coach Chris Taylor told the former second-round pick he would be judged on his overall performance, not his offensive production.
“We told him right off the bat that points are not a factor for me,” Taylor said. “It’s what he does and how we play as a team, and he’s made the team a lot better.”
So Asplund plowed ahead, working on the details of his game and developing confidence beside his linemates Victor Olofsson and Danny O’Regan.
“Nothing fazes him,” Taylor said of Asplund, a versatile youngster he utilizes in all situations. “He’s one of those guys who understood what he was doing and the plays he was making contributed to our team.”
The 5-foot-11, 176-pound Asplund started contributing points Nov. 18, when he scored his first and only goal. In the last nine games, he has compiled eight points, including a three-assist night in the Amerks’ 5-2 win against the Utica Comets last Wednesday in Blue Cross Arena.
“Sometimes you have a great game and you get no points and you feel like, ‘Did I really help the team tonight?’ ” Taylor said afterward. “And he got rewarded for his play tonight.”
Taylor said it was Asplund’s best performance this season.
“He was in guys’ hands all the time,” Taylor said. “I thought he was on the puck all the time, he was touching the puck first on the forecheck. He was just everywhere.”
So what exactly has changed for Asplund in the last month?
“I’ve been trying to work a lot on small details,” said Asplund, who spent the last four seasons playing against men in the Swedish Hockey League and just turned 21 on Dec. 3.
Asplund improved his goal and assist totals every season in the SHL. Still, he produced that offense on the larger European ice surface. On the smaller North American ice, he quickly learned he must operate at a faster pace.
“I’ve tried to adjust small things in my game that works in the big rink but doesn’t work here,” Asplund said. “It’s really hard to say one thing. Small, small things you need to adjust it from the big rink. I think I’ve been doing that, I’ve been comfortable in the change I’ve been doing in my game the last couple of weeks now.”
Of course, adjusting to the smaller ice – European surfaces are more than 13 feet wider – can be tough, especially when you’ve played pro hockey for years.
“I’ve been playing pro over there for four years,” Asplund said. “You’re getting used to playing that game. Coming over here is a totally different game, I would say. The style the game is played, it’s very fast.”
Asplund’s wingers have boosted his development. Olofsson and O’Regan have flanked the youngster all season, giving him some stability in a league with regular roster movement.
“It’s a lot easier to work on details, really get together and talk a lot about what we want to do out there,” Asplund said. “Playing with the same guys helps a lot to work on the game together.”
That communication is critical.
“We’re just building more and more chemistry every game,” O’Regan said. “Easy guy to play with, easy guy to talk to. We come up with stuff after every shift or every game. We talk about little things we can do to create a chance.”
Asplund, Olofsson and O’Regan have morphed into perhaps Taylor’s most trusted trio.
“They get on pucks, they’re different styles, they’re used to each other, they’re creative but responsible in the same regard,” Taylor said. “They’re all the same almost but they have different tendencies on the ice. I just love that line. I can rely on them.”
He added: “I can put them on against the top lines, they’re very good defensively,” Taylor said. “I can put them on against a line that I think they’ll score us a goal.”
Taylor said Sabres defenseman Matt Hunwick’s conditioning stint with the Amerks will be treated “just like any other assignment.”
“Just bring him down and get him used to the guys and let him play,” Taylor said.
Hunwick, 33, played Wednesday against the Binghamton Devils and is expected to play Friday versus the Cleveland Monsters. He had an assist on the Amerks' lone goal in a 5-1 loss to Binghamton.
A neck injury he suffered training during the offseason has sidelined Hunwick all season. He recently began practicing with the Sabres.
Hunwick hasn’t played an AHL game since March 26, 2014 with the Lake Erie Monsters.
Taylor said Amerks captain Kevin Porter is week-to-week with an upper-body injury he suffered when he hit an opponent in Friday’s 2-1 win against the Providence Bruins.