ROCHESTER – On a blue line featuring some of the American Hockey League’s most dynamic stars, Jack Dougherty’s talents can easily be overlooked.
Americans star Zach Redmond has scored 21 times in only 44 games and could break the AHL’s single-season record for most goals by a defenseman.
Redmond’s partner, Lawrence Pilut, has established himself as one of the league’s slickest defenders, compiling 22 points in his first 17 outings.
And before the Buffalo Sabres traded Brendan Guhle to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, the prospect ranked among the AHL’s best puck-moving defensemen.
All three earned a spot in the AHL All-Star Game.
Then there’s Dougherty, 22, a former second-round pick the Sabres acquired from the Nashville Predators in exchange for winger Nick Baptiste on Oct. 1.
“He just keeps it simple,” Amerks coach Chris Taylor said of Dougherty following a 4-2 win over the Cleveland Monsters in Blue Cross Arena on Feb. 20.
Dougherty’s game lacks flash. As a stay-at-home defenseman, he just kind of blends in. Through 38 appearances this season, he has compiled one goal and eight points.
“Reliable, consistent,” Dougherty said of his style.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Dougherty, however, possesses one gaudy number on his stat line: a team-best plus-19 rating.
In the analytics age, plus-minus has lost relevance. Still, when it’s that high, you’re probably doing a lot of things well.
“When you don’t notice a defenseman as much, but you just kind of notice his plus-minus keep going up and up and up, that’s a good sign of a defensive defenseman like him,” Taylor said.
But count Dougherty among those who pay little attention to the plus-minus metric.
“We’ve played this game long enough we can look at our game and feel that we’re doing the right things without looking at the stats,” Dougherty said. “I don’t look too deep into plus-minus because there’s four other guys on the ice with you who could also have an impact on the play and sometimes you’re just out there.”
Dougherty, who showcases strong mobility for a defensive-minded defenseman, has developed into a solid prospect. One scout said he could play NHL games some day.
“He’s one of those guys that stays inside the dots, doesn’t get outside the dots too often, that’s (where) big mistakes happen,” Taylor said. “He’s a guy that when he gets to the blue line, he gets pucks down to the net, he doesn’t overhandle pucks, he doesn’t put himself in bad situations.
“He’s always on the right side of the puck, so it makes things easier.”
It took Dougherty time to earn Taylor’s trust. A lower-body injury he suffered in his second appearance sidelined him 12 games. The Amerks have had a surfeit of defensemen all season – they started the season with 10 – so guys have been moving in and out. Dougherty sat out Saturday.
“We didn’t play him for a little bit,” Taylor said. “We had a lot of guys in the lineup at that point, we didn’t really know much about him. He’s slowly gained our trust. He’s become a big part of our team.”
Joining the Amerks has energized Dougherty, who said earlier this season he felt like he was “stuck in a rut” after playing two AHL seasons with the Milwaukee Admirals.
His teammates and the coaching staff, a group he said has “just a genuine wish to see guys succeed,” have helped Dougherty’s transition to a new team.
“Just figuring out what game they want me to play and what game’s got me to this level (has helped),” Dougherty said.
Last season, the Amerks didn’t have a 20-goal scorer for the second time in team history. This year, they already have two: Redmond and winger Victor Olofsson.
Olofsson, who’s in his first North American season, hit the mark Friday.
Three other Amerks – wingers Wayne Simpson (19 goals), Danny O’Regan (18) and C.J. Smith (18) – could each score their 20th goal soon.
The Sabres sent O’Regan back to the Amerks on Wednesday.
The Amerks haven’t had five 20-goal scorers since 2000-01, when Taylor scored 21 in his second season playing in Rochester.
Redmond needs nine goals to tie John Slaney's AHL record for goals by a defenseman, set with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 1999-00.