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Sabres prospect Kyle Criscuolo working way back into form after injury

Longtime Sabres beat writer Bill Hoppe of BuffaloHockeyBeat.com, will be writing about Sabres prospects, the Rochester Americans and related topics this season.

ROCHESTER – Center Kyle Criscuolo knew he was taking a risk leaving the Detroit Red Wings organization to join the Sabres after winning the Calder Cup as a rookie in 2016-17.

The undrafted former Harvard captain enjoyed regular duty with the Grand Rapids Griffins two seasons ago, scoring 17 goals and 41 points for the American Hockey League affiliate.

The Red Wings, of course, have a terrific track record of developing their own talent. Still, the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Criscuolo liked what the Sabres’ regime pitched to him and how much they valued a player with his talents.

“One of the big reasons I came here is because of the management and what they stood for and they saw in terms of where the organization was going,” Criscuolo said last Friday following his first appearance since Oct. 26. “I think everything they said was pretty spot on. It couldn’t really have worked out better in terms of that.”

Criscuolo, 26, helped lead the Amerks’ resurgence last season, compiling 15 goals and 34 points in 51 games. He also earned his first trips to the NHL, playing nine games with the Sabres.

“It just made me hungrier,” Criscuolo said of his taste of the big leagues.

Then Criscuolo, whose durability has been an asset, suffered a lower-body injury nine games into this season. After rejoining practice in November, he experienced a setback.

Criscuolo finally returned after a 19-game absence, recording an assist in the Amerks’ 4-2 loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack in Blue Cross Arena.

“The last three years at school I didn’t miss a game and then my first year pro I didn’t miss a game,” Criscuolo said. “Then I didn’t miss one until probably 55 or 60 games in last year. I feel like I take care of my body pretty well. It’s just a fluke thing.”

Criscuolo tried use his time on the sidelines wisely, so he said he spent time studying the game on video and from the suite where Amerks' scratches watch the action.

“You pick up a couple things and it allows you to make some plays, you see some things you don’t usually see if you’re on the ice all the time,” said Criscuolo, who tried to focus on faceoffs. “But I think the best you can do is sort of just watch the game and pick up little details.”

Amerks knock off defending AHL champ Toronto

Criscuolo has quickly regained some of his old form. In Wednesday’s 4-0 road win in Cleveland, he recorded a goal and an assist against the Monsters, ending the Amerks’ season-long three-game losing streak. He had an assist in Friday's 5-1 win against Toronto, helping on Zach Redmond's eventual game-winner.

“He’s one of those guys he just works his butt off,” Amerks coach Chris Taylor said. “Guys respect him.”

The first-place Amerks have cooled off a bit following their torrid start but remain two points ahead of Syracuse for first place in the North Division. Injuries and departures to the Sabres – most notably high-scoring rookie defenseman Lawrence Pilut, who could be up for good – have hurt them.

Criscuolo, who has strong chemistry beside winger C.J. Smith, could fill some of that void. But Criscuolo could also be recalled if he produces like last season.

Incredibly, the Sabres still haven’t summoned a forward from the Amerks this year.

“Once you get a taste, you know what to expect up there and you know that you can do it,” Criscuolo said of the NHL. “We didn’t win many games last year when I was there, but I think just being out there and playing with those guys and even just in practice, I think overall it was great experience for me and I think just helped me realize that if I keep doing the right things, I can get back.”

Paetsch in the lineup

When Amerks veteran Nathan Paetsch played his second game of the season last week, he skated as a winger, not as a defenseman, his regular position.

Paetsch, 35, has occasionally skated up front over the years, including his first stint with Rochester and during his four years in Buffalo.

“I wanted to give him a game,” Taylor said.

Paetsch has been a healthy scratch 28 times this season.

Notes

Amerks winger Alexander Nylander, 20, returned Saturday after a lower-body injury sidelined him three games. The former eighth overall pick scored Wednesday. … With center Sean Malone out with an undisclosed injury Wednesday, the Amerks recalled forward Vasily Glotov from the Cincinnati Cylones. Glotov, 21, has compiled six goals and 21 points in 29 ECHL games this season. The Russian rookie played one AHL game last year. … The AHL suspended Amerks forward Yannick Veilleux two games “as a consequence of his actions” Saturday. Veilleux, who sat out Friday, got into an altercation with Hartford’s Ryan Lindgren in the final minute. The league also suspended Hartford’s Peter Holland two contests for an illegal check to the head he delivered after joining that melee.

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